Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Body of Christ (Keele University Chapel)

This homily was preached at Keele University, on the occasion of their Chapel summer celebration, entitled "The Body of Christ"

The Body of Christ is a fairly obvious simile to choose for an ecumenical celebration. The idea of unity in Christ, yet diversity of role and expression of faith in him is one which has obvious appeal. And more, it suggests complimentarily and collaboration, mutuality and shared purpose. It has much to commend it.

However, Catholics are not especially satisfied with similes. We prefer metaphors. And for us, metaphors are always more than just metaphors.

The thing is metaphors are more literal than plain likenesses, more concrete than comparisons, more real, more physical, more solid than simple similes.

And this is where the second reading comes in. It is the story of a barbecue - good enough for that reason - but more, it is a story of the risen Christ. His risen body is not an image, or simile or even metaphor. His resurrection is not an illustration of life after death or the immortality of the soul. His risen body is a real body, so much so that he eats grilled fish.

One if the Fathers of the early Church put it this way: "The word became flesh, not message". Or we might phrase it slightly differently, and say that the Flesh is the Message, the Word is not written on Paper, but in a Life.

Ideas are important, theology and theorising indispensable, and debates on dogma and doctrine not to be downplayed or denied.

But the Word of God is flesh not theory, action not idea. Incarnation is the birth of a real person in a time and a place, Salvation is in the wounds and blood, sweat and tears, Redemption is in the rising of a physical body who eats grilled fish on a lake side barbecue.

When we speak of the Body of Christ, we are not using a convenient image, but we are speaking of something real, a physical reality. The apostles saw no vision, they shared no concept of eternity. They talked and ate with him. And if we are part of that Body, we share in his physical reality. We talk and eat with him.

And so the life of those who share his feast is more, far more, than the comfort of unity in diversity. It is more, far more, than mapping our groups and organisations on an image of his Body. No, it is agony and toil, it is sorrow and joy, it is work more than words.

It is a heart which beats, and bleeds with love for us, and washed in his blood, which challenges us to be His Body.

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