Summary: When viewed from one angle, some things can look quite strange, but when viewed from another they can be quite different: as it is with the Mass. Given in a Young Offender’s Prison.
Given at HM Prison Moorlands, Doncaster, 20th August 2000
In the name of the +Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
There has been a bit of fuss and bother in the newspapers recently about goal celebrations. Have you seen it?
Time was when a goal was scored there would be a polite round of applause from the terraces and a quick pat on the back for the scorer – well perhaps not quite as subdued as that, but it was still a long way from the ecstasy displayed whenever the goal goes into the back of the net these days. Flat on the grass, team-mates leaping all over the lucky man, or some other bizarre dance or ritual based on a joke that no-one outside of the dressing room understands.
The newspapers were full a week or so ago with a photograph of two players, from Leeds United I think, kissing each other full on the lips. The headlines were suggesting that this was right out, bringing the game into disrepute and suggesting in quite a homophobic way that there was something dodgy going on.
Now, I don’t think for one moment that this was anything strange, deviant or even sexual; I don’t suppose that anyone in the ground thought so either, as they were either too busy jumping up and down in elation or had their head buried in their hands in dispair. This was two men on a field in public overjoyed by scoring a winner, and a split second of happy contact between mates. Nothing more.
It was just that the photographer happened to click his camera shutter at that precise moment, and some anti-gay newspaper editor chose to interpret the resulting photograph as something for which it is not.
This misinterpretation of matters is what we encounter in this morning’s gospel: the Jews thought that Jesus was advocating cannibalism, and you can almost sense the outrage in their voices as they ask themselves what on earth Jesus means when he tells us that he is the Bread of Life: “We’re Jews and we obey really strict food laws, you can’t ask us to eat human flesh!”
Of course, just like the footballer’s kiss, Jesus’ words were misinterpreted and taken out of context: Jesus is not literally bread, although I am sure he was his Mother’s Pride, because mere bread fills for the time being but still leaves you hungry by the time of your next meal.
No, the bread that Jesus speaks of here is spiritual food, and nourishes you within, and once you have tasted the spiritual food, you will never be spiritually hungry again, as he said: “he who eats this bread will live forever”.
At the altar in a few minutes we will be revisiting that spiritual food, as we share the consecrated bread and wine of the eucharist: the act of consecrating, making holy, making special, takes the ordinary – bread and wine and makes it extraordinary: the body and blood of Jesus, and it is this bread, this spiritual food which will satisfy that spiritual hunger that we all have inside of us…
Earthly hunger can be satisfied by a large meal, or put off for a while by a cigarette, but Spiritual hunger, longing to be loved as only Jesus can love us can only be satisfied by the spiritual bread: the spiritual bread of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Like the footballer’s kiss, when viewed from one angle, this is simply an hour spent together singing a few songs and eating some bread and wine, but when viewed as it really is, it is something quite different: it is our sharing in something very special indeed – sharing in eternal life.