St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302
Firstly, if we think that we have understood who Jesus is, we haven't. Jesus uses unsettling language about who he is and how we should model our lives on his. The God whom Jesus reveals cannot be tamed or confined to easily digestible language. God is not made in our image and likeness. He wants us to be remade in the image of the divine. And we always prefer to resist that call to leave behind the comfortable slavery of our own personal Egypt. Low expectations mean little disappointment. The Jesus who is the Bread of Life asks us today to step out into the desert. We will follow him by setting out into the unknown, not by seeking reassurance and comfort.
What we think good enough is, by far, not good enough for Jesus. If we want to allow Christ to remake the Church in this country, we have to believe that the journey through the desert is a blessed time, a time of remaking, not a time of punishment. And that we can trust that he can nourish us in the desert – as Elijah discovered
The synodal pathway in the Irish Church is not merely some patronising move by the clergy to let lay people have more say. If that is all we can imagine, then we become merely a faith-light debating room where the learned and the articulate vie for prominence. Any synodal pathway is based on letting the Holy Spirit have its say and its sway. That will mean giving prominence to voice of the gentle, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for what is right – for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. A synodal pathway which is not powered by the Bread of life will starve to death in a desert of their own making. If we think we know where God ought to be leading us, we will end up worshipping our own golden calf. The longer we think we know best, the longer we will wander in the wilderness as God tries to teach us who is Lord of the future.
Secondly, at the Last Supper, after taking the bread, Jesus gives thanks. The core of our Eucharistic prayer at Mass is giving God thanks and praise. Even though the Last Supper took place on the eve of his death, Jesus gave thanks to the Father. Mary's response to her vocation was to proclaim the greatness of God. St Paul told the Thessalonians that they should give thanks in everything (1 Thess 5:18). As a Eucharistic people we gather here give thanks that Jesus has offered himself – in the words of St Paul – in our place as a fragrant offering to God. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that helps us make sense of the pain of being human. Jesus did not come to wave a magic wand and remove suffering. He came to carry the cross so that we could face our own calvaries and come through them to resurrection. Jesus offers us his broken body so that we might live for ever. That is a challenging belief, and we struggle to take it seriously. But that is the mystery we celebrate in the Mass. But for the mystery of the cross, we give God thanks and praise.
Thirdly, Jesus tells the crowd that they will have to be formed if they wish to understand God's ways. He tells us that we will have to be taught by God and learn from the teaching of the Father. Christian prayer is not merely coming to God when we want something to fulfil our plans. Ultimately, Jesus revealed in prayer, scripture and the sacraments is where we are taught by God. The Church has to rediscover how to communicate not just religious information but divine formation and transformation. Reception of the Eucharist is not merely the receiving of a static Christ in the form of a host. Participation in the Eucharist means daring to let the whole Christ remake all of who we are.
St Paul talks about those who hold on to grudges and anger. They are trapped in their own slavery in Egypt and too paralysed to leave that behind. Paul talks about that as grieving the Holy Spirit who knows that we can be freed. The acid of anger contains no nourishment. That is why our Mass begins with a penitential rite and why the liturgy has room for offering one another a sign of peace. If we want to share in the journey of liberation, we have to be prepared to leave behind the very real pain of the past. Jesus offers us an eternal future, not a permanent hell. If we are fed by the bread of life, broken for us, the broken pieces of our lives are not the defining characteristic of who we are. Jesus offers us resurrection and not a never-ending Calvary.
For the next two weeks, we will continue to journey with Jesus who talks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He will not apologise for his strong, demanding teaching. He will focus on breaking and sharing – not on hoarding and hiding. If we can allow Jesus to be the bread of life and the food of eternal life, then we can face the future with confidence. If we trust only in our own plans and ideas, we are too wedded to the past. And a Jesus-centred Eucharistic people has room for old wise heads but most of all for those who are young at heart and who dare to believe in God's dream. We will be renewed when we allow such young prophetic voices to be heard. In every age of the church, Christ spoke loudly when uncomfortable human voices have asked outrageous divine questions. The Bread of Life wants to inspire hungry young hearts. Jesus knows where he wants to lead us. He just asks us to listen through prayer and the sacraments. In the noise of our current culture, he gathers us each week so that we can hear and become good news for our time.
Are we prepared to listen and to journey with Jesus?
+ Donal McKeown