On Thursday of this past week, I placed emphasis on the New Testament book entitled “Acts of the Apostles”. Excerpts from the text “Acts of the Apostles” is proclaimed as the scripture for daily and Sunday Masses during Easter.
“Acts of the Apostles” includes extraordinary testimony to the events that happened after the Lord Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, including how the apostles who witnessed this event understood Christ’s resurrection. The book also has as its great theme the continuation of the revelation of Christ in the Church. Once, in historical circumstances, in a real time and place, God, who is a real, living divine person, (not an idea or feeling or cosmic force) revealed himself in the body of Christ’s human nature and now the same God, the same Christ, reveals himself in a new kind of body called the Church.
This challenges our tendency to reduce the Church to merely an institution or social club or expression of ethnicity. The Church is not these things- so, what is the Church? The Church is the extension, the continuation, of the revelation of God in Christ in space and in time.
The Church is the way in which the Lord Jesus bears his divine life and presence into the world.
Those who would claim the name Christian and with that name, membership in the Church, intend to conform their lives to Jesus Christ in such a way that their lives are transformed and they become bearers of the life and presence of Christ into the world. In this way, through the Church, God in Christ acts to save and to redeem.
This is the great theme, better said, revelation of the Acts of the Apostles.
All this week the Gospel passage for daily Mass has been an excerpt from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John.
The 6th chapter of the Gospel of John is an extremely intense excursus or teaching on the mysterious revelation of Christ’s living in divine presence in the Eucharist, in the Blessed Sacrament.
Christ insists that he will make of his own body and blood the “bread of life” that is, food, and with this food he will sustain his disciples in the world and prepare them for a world which is yet to come. Many who hear this teaching are not simply perplexed, but repulsed, and as a result, they break communion with Christ- they refuse to believe the teaching and in doing so they refuse Christ himself!
In response to this refusal, Christ does not back down or adjust his teaching to conform to his listeners sensitivities. Instead, he affirms his teaching about the Eucharist with even greater intensity and zeal. The disciple must not only accept his teaching about the Eucharist, but they must also accept the Eucharist itself- and accept the reality of the Eucharist for what Christ declares it to be- his real and true and living divine life and presence- not merely a symbol of who he is, but the substance of who he is.
The Eucharist is not an encounter with a symbol of Christ, it is an encounter with Christ himself.
Christ’s teaching on the Eucharist is one of many “hard sayings” of Christ, teachings that will not and cannot be adjusted or changed because we find them difficult to do or troubling to believe. All the “hard sayings” of the Lord Jesus indicate to us that essential to an encounter with Christ is that we have to change- our minds, our behaviors, our emotions, indeed our whole of way life.
No one who encounters Christ is ever meant to be the same and in that encounter, Christ does not just “accept us as we are” but reveals to us greater and more important possibilities for our lives than we would ever dare to consider.
Perhaps we would prefer a Christ who would change for us and a Church that would serve merely to give sanction to our qualifications of the Lord’s teachings, but such a Christ would be an anti-Christ and such a Church would be an anti-church.
It is a Christ who demands little of us that is most assuredly a fake and it would be a Church that would oppose itself to the Lord that would most assuredly be a fraud.
We either accept the Lord’s teachings or we refuse him. The Gospel presents Christ to be as relentless in its pursuit of us as it is as demanding in the clarity of the Lord’s expectation.
In response to the Lord’s teachings we will either give our lives over to Christ or we will take leave of him.
There is no other option. There is no other way.