The Word Made Flesh

The Word Made Flesh

Twentieth Sunday of the Year. Fr Aelred Connelly preaches on the duties of a Church born at the foot of the Cross and nourished on the Bread of Life.

In John’s Gospel Jesus is presented to us as the Word made flesh. He is the living bread which has come down from heaven. Elsewhere in the Gospels he teaches us to pray to the Father, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ This humble petition acknowledges our dependence on God as the loving giver of all the good things we receive. The greatest gift is Jesus himself, God’s only son, who now gives us the gift of his very self.

The Word made flesh gives us himself as a food and drink, foreshadowed in the wisdom of the Old Testament in today’s first reading: ‘Come and eat my bread, drink the wine I have prepared.’ This wisdom is the loving and creative Word of God which we celebrate as Dominicans every day in the Divine Office, where we celebrate publicly the liturgy of the Church.

This needs to permeate our whole life and work as we hear in today’s second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, ‘Sing the words and tunes of the psalms and hymns when you are together, and go on singing and chanting to the Lord in your hearts, so that always and everywhere you are giving thanks to God who is the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.’

We literally give thanks in the Eucharist. This is where Jesus gives us the bread which is his flesh for the life of the world. We may ask how can he give me his flesh to eat? He can do this because he is the very Word of God made flesh. He will give his own life on the Cross for the life of the world. He has become one like us in all things but sin. In his free and loving act he takes on the total burden of human sin and evil into its cosmic dimensions, into and including the descent into Hell.

Then he is raised to glory by the Father in the Spirit on the third day, thus breaking the bonds of sin and death. In John’s Gospel this is achieved in the hour of his glory as he is raised up to draw all men to himself. Thus the crucified and risen Word made flesh offers himself in anticipation to his followers:

I tell you most solemnly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you. Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.

This can only come from the one who would reveal to his mother at the foot of the cross, ‘This is your son’, the one who worked the sign of the water into wine at her behest in Cana of Galilee (‘my hour has not yet come’). Now it has come on the cross, and he commits her to be the Mother of his Church, the believers born of the waters of baptism from his side and the blood of the Eucharist.

This is where the promise, ‘As I, who am sent by the living Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me’ finds its literal earthing as the blood and water are poured out.

Here, perhaps, is born the Church, those who are called to eat the bread and drink the wine of his flesh in faith. They must also proclaim the Good News in a world of bad news.

We are especially mindful of all our brothers and sisters of every faith, and those of none, suffering in the present conflict in Israel, Palestine and the Lebanon, and of others elsewhere. They share in the suffering of our crucified and risen Word made flesh. There alone do we find hope that the present violence and conflict cannot be the only way forward.

While praying and working for peace and justice for all the nations, faith communities and ethnic groups in this troubled region and elsewhere, we have a particular responsibility to our Christian brothers and sisters in Israel, Palestine, the Lebanon and Iraq who are bearing a very heavy burden of suffering at this time.

We pray especially for them.

Readings: Proverbs 9:1-6 | Ephesians 5:15-20 | John 6:51-58

fr Aelred Connelly is a member of the house of St Albert the Great, Edinburgh, and is chaplain to a Young Offenders' Institution.