1. Sunday after Trinity – or Corpus Christi
Frequently I hear people exclaim, “It’s all a mystery to me”. Why cannot our age handle mystery? As if we believe that if something doesn’t work when we press a button or turn on a switch, it’s not worth knowing about. But wiser heads have always known that there’s more to life than what we see around us. And who better to put the point than William Shakespeare – in his play Hamlet “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Although written in the sixteenth century those words, that human knowledge is limited, could almost be a judgement on our own age. Although there is no necessary opposition or contradiction between the things of the Spirit and the world of science and technology, the simple minded seem to live lives bounded by the Internet and the Cell phone. Yet, for those with the eyes to see, there is a great world of mystery around us, starting with the mystery of Creation itself. Of course much that is of the profoundest significance in our faith is mystery.
It is mystery that God in his goodness should send his divine Son Jesus to earth to share our life, when he certainly knew what the outcome would be – the busy world had no time for man on earth – it is mystery that the same Jesus, true God and true man, comes to us in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, but assuredly he does, and though we may not be able to find the words that would satisfy the paid up sceptics of our day, we Christians know it to be true. In the same way, just as, if we have been loved, we know that to be true as well, even though the world may mock us.
Here at the altar Our Lord comes to us in bread and wine, to make us complete again, and to show the extent of his love for us. Over the centuries, bishops, theologians, teachers, have all sought to find the words that will explain and describe what actually happens in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, yet ultimately it all breaks down. There is a time for putting words aside, and accepting that they are imperfect pointers towards the truth. This truth put so simply yet so profoundly by the English poet John Betjeman (1906-1984), at the end of his much loved poem Christmas. Describing people going to midnight mass, the final stanza reads as follows:
“No love that in a family dwells
No carolling in frosty air
Nor all the shaking steeple bells
Can with this single truth compare
that God was man in Palestine, and
lives today in bread and wine”.
Words cannot be a substitute for the loving act of communion and our participation in the living Lord. In the Feast of Corpus Christi, which comes near the start of the Pentecost season, we rejoice that Jesus gives us the means to dwell in him and he to dwell in us. Do not ask how the bread and wine of the Eucharist becomes his Body and Blood: too much ink has been spilled on that question already. Rather, simply, with me, say that we know it to be true, and we know it to be the truth because it is a promise made by Jesus. When you hear well meaning people say “It is only symbolically true” or “A Jew could never have said something like that, and meant it” then, in love, you need to say that his promised word is good enough for me.
The English Queen Elizabeth the First wrote a little poem about the Eucharist. I believe that it is a powerful affirmation of the reality of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and that they are words that we can, that we must, make our own:
“He took the bread and broke it
His was the word that spoke it.
And what that word doth make it.
That I receive and take it”.
Fr. Edward Bryant