30 September, 2018

Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) - Justice

James 5:1-6
‘Start crying, weep for the miseries that are coming to you’ (James 5:1)
This might not be the most helpful way of starting a sermon. Begin by scaring or alienating everyone… But this short verse can also work as a wakeup call for those who are just about to fall asleep in the pews. And indeed, what a wakeup call this is; “cry and weep for judgment is coming”.

Today we return to read the Letter of James. In this letter the apostle has encouraged Christians to live a life worthy of their faith – a life that expresses through actions what we claim to believe in our hearts. So far in we have heard James talking about pure religion as caring for the least of our society; and we have heard him talk about the necessity for us to do good and give alms in order to have true faith. This morning James continues to teach us by giving clear and simple instructions about justice. We practice justice when we give to others what it is due to them, when we acknowledge and observe the rights of others, whatever these may be. So today we hear James speak about the justice Christians should show with particular regards to the rights of workers.

As we read his letter we ought to remind ourselves that the apostle wrote at a time when there were no such things as minimum or living wage, unions, or statutory sick pay. James was writing at a time when all categories of workers – servants, artisans and farm labourers – were quite often at the complete mercy of their masters and those who hired them. But instead of writing to the workers encouraging them to unite or to strike James writes to Christian employers and Christian land owners to warn them quite sternly that their faith won’t save them if they continue to cheat their workers of their rightful pay.

For centuries, the Church has named a number of sins as “sins that cry out to heaven” or “sins that cry out for vengeance before God”. We might be surprised that ‘taking advantage of and defrauding workers’ is one of them. But this fits in with what we hear from James today.
At its most basic, James’ message to those who trample on the rights of workers is this; you refuse justice to those who work for you, you refuse them their rightful pay, but God will punish you because of your injustice. Indeed, the wealth you stored up for yourselves by scrimping on wages will be evidence before God of your injustice. In this light, perhaps James’ strongest statement today is not ‘Start crying, weep’ but what comes after that ‘It was a burning fire that you stored up as your treasure for the last days’ (James 5:3).

Well, all this is quite lovely and terrifying but what is it to us? Most of us are employees; most of us feel cheated of proper pay; most of us are safeguarded by at least some basic employment law. So we could think that what James is saying is not applicable to us and largely redundant. But is it really so?

The fundamental goal for James is to show both to early Christians and to us that because of our faith in Christ our social ethics should be better than others. Not in a holier-than-thou sense, but as an acknowledgment that we can always strive for a better sense of justice, and a better society which increasingly reflects the Kingdom of God on earth. So, how can we apply James’ teachings to our daily lives?
We all shop. We shop even when we don’t need anything. And quite possibly we all like a good bargain. But who bears the cost of our constant hunt for the lowest possible price? Quite often are the workers behind the scenes – the underpaid, underage people who stich our clothes, the farmers bullied in unsustainable and unfair prices, and so forth. Ok, we might not be their direct employers, but James would have the same strong words for us too. 

So how are we to act if we want to heed James’ warning? Perhaps, as Christians we should look at ways that make commerce fair whilst also curbing our greed for hoarding bargains and goods which we do not actually need. As Christians we need to find ways in which fair trade goes on to from being something nice and trendy (which we might put on the sings of our town) to become the natural product of justice, the logical outcome of how we relate to others.
Let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

16 September, 2018

Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) - Faith and Works

James 2:14-18
‘Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead.’ (James 2:17)
Only last Sunday Father Peter began his homily saying that the readings did not offer up much for intricate study or for explanation from the preacher. This morning, as we return to the Letter of James, I feel that we are pretty much in the same situation… There are moments when convoluted discourses might actually detract from the simplicity of the Scriptures. James says to us, “Faith without works is dead”. To which I could reply “Amen” and leave my sermon at that. But, as you may guess, I am not going to do that, if anything, because these few short verses of have been at the centre of very heated controversies through the centuries, and so it might be good for us to explore a little more about what the Apostle meant when he wrote them.

The problem with this passage is that it seems to be at odds with the teachings of St Paul; particularly with those found in the Letter to the Romans. There Paul affirms that that works (and those things commanded us to do in the Old Testament) cannot save us, but faith alone is necessary for us to be counted as righteous in the eye of God. He says (among other places),
‘we are justified by faith, [and] we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom 5:1).
Yet, today we listen to James warning those who claim to have faith, but have never done a single good work, that faith alone cannot save them. As you can see there appears to be a tension between the two texts. This same tension between faith and works is often understood to be at the heart of the historic divisions caused by the Reformation. But all of this is largely a caricature of the truth. Although both Apostles speak about faith and deeds they had two different audiences and two different theological agendas to promote. Their teachings are not at odds, but rather, complementary to one another. 

We do not have time to enter into the details of Paul’s argument, but – reduced to its bare bones – in Romans Paul warns those who assume that abiding to the requirements of the ancient Law would save them that they are quite wrong. That is to say, we cannot please God just by doing good, but without believing; first and foremost we must put our trust in his Son Jesus Christ. Or, in very crass terms, if we do not have faith, we cannot buy our way into heaven. 

Conversely, James seems to say that as long as one is loving and generous, then he is saved by God, regardless of whether or not he has faith – Now, this would really be at odds with Paul and the rest of the Scriptures. But this is not what James is saying at all. Unlike Paul, he is not comparing those Christians who do little or no good deeds against unbelieving philanthropists who spend their lives in the care of others, or against generous people of other religions. This is not his aim. James is writing to people whom already identify themselves as Christians and should be saved by their affirmation of faith. James wants to contrast two types of people within our faith group; those who say they believe in God (even nominally, or on the census form) and then do nothing about it; and those who allow their belief to shape them into generous individuals abounding in good works. James affirms that the first group may say that they believe but their faith is dead because it does not produce any fruit. Whilst the second group readily demonstrate their living faith by the way they live and the things they do.

In other words, it’s of no use to us to say the Creed together Sunday by Sunday, affirming that we believe in one God, creator of all things, and then do not care about his creation; it’s of no use to us to pray for the Church and then not to tend to its needs; and above all, it’s of no use to us to pray for those in need, ask God’s blessing on them, and then do nothing practical for them. One of the verses that follow on from this passage expresses this concept quite well. At v. 26 James says ‘just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead’.

Good deeds are what gives life to our faith, so by practicing justice and generosity we cultivate our faith and allow it to flourish.

03 September, 2018

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) - Pure Religion

James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27
‘Pure, unspoilt religion… is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows… and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.’ (James 1:27)
A few weeks ago a fellow priest was filmed on a programme about pilgrimage while making the following statement; ‘I am not religious’. This was a last-ditch attempt to spark a meaningful conversation about faith with another pilgrim, but the contentious nature of that phrase remained the same – a priest of the established Church of this land said, ‘I am not religious’. The whole incident was rather telling; not so much about the priest speaking, but rather about how society views people who might describe themselves as religious. Being religious can be misunderstood as a bad thing; as an alternative description for either being blinkered, or outright killjoys with fundamentalist tendencies. And if that be the case – most definitely – who would want to be labelled as “religious”?

This morning we begin to explore the Letter of James. In writing this letter the Apostle James had in mind a Christian community formed by both long-standing, paid-up, members who needed a little refreshing course, as well as by people who stood on the fringes – sort of half-way in and half-way out of the Church – those who couldn’t quite commit themselves to be “religious” in the Christian sense. Sound familiar? James’ Church is our own Church too, in many respects. Every church community will have both those who attend Sunday services religiously (that word again!) and then forget about God for the other 167 hours of the week, as well as those who would put themselves down as Christians on a census form, but who would come to Mass once or twice a year tops – and, of course, everyone in between. Common to both of these groups is their unwillingness to let the Christian faith actually shape the way in which they live. And to both of these groups James writes a simple set of instructions, a basic guide on how to be a Christian and on what it means to be religious in the way God intended for us to be.

The passage we encounter this morning starts from the very beginning saying that it is not good enough for Christians to listen to God’s word and then do nothing about it. James affirms that if this is our attitude towards Christianity and the Church, this just won’t do; in fact, he says, we are deceiving ourselves (Cf. James 1:22). This type of faith will not save us. Instead, he says, as believers we have to do something, we have to be “religious people” – that is, not narrow-minded individuals, but those who act according to God’s instructions and God’s example. But what are these instructions? We find a clear one at verse 27; ‘coming to the help of orphans and widows’

As James puts it, God chose each one of us to be his own beloved child in the Lord Jesus. God made us his children in the waters of Baptism. Consequently, as his children, we are called then to do the same works of God our Father does. In the Scriptures God is described as the defender of those who do not have anyone to plead their causes – represented by orphans, widows, foreigners, and people on the margins (Cf. Psalm 85:5). Then, if God our Father does these things, we are to do the same, just as children learn core behaviours by imitating what their parents do. Christian social action becomes part of the way we worship of God; and the way we treat the least in our society becomes the measure of whether we are “religious” or not.

The second instruction we find is to remain ‘uncontaminated by the world.’ As James puts it, our social environment and the wider community we live in are instrumental in forming our characters – and quite often not in a good way. Because of the bad things we experience and the evil that we may endure, over the years, we could change, becoming more cynical and selfish, less disposed to do good, and increasingly blind to the needs of others. But this, James says, should not happen among Christians. God our Father is not influenced or contaminated by the world, nothing can sway him from his generosity and his purpose of doing good… we read, ‘with [God] there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow of a change’ (James 1:17). Therefore we – his children – must make sure that nothing in this world could poison our hearts with bitterness and cynicism.

‘Pure, unspoilt religion… is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows… and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.’
Being religious is not a call to be fundamentalists or to be narrow-minded people. In the Christian sense, being religious is a balancing act between worship in church and doing good in the world. It is a loving response to God for choosing us to be his children; the way in which we imitate our heavenly Father, and the way in which we grow into the likeness of God.

All this is summed up in one verse from Jesus in Matthew’s gospel; ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt 5:48).

27 August, 2018

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) - An unacceptable saying

John 6:60-69
‘After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.’ (John 6:66) 
We often read together stories from the gospel where the Lord Jesus is revered, sought by many, and listened to. When we hear of opposition, this generally comes from outside, from the people who do not accept him and look for to his demise. John 6 – which we finish today – has so far fitted into these parameters. Jesus has worked miracles, he has been pursued by the crowd who even wanted to make him king by force (Cf. John 6:15), he has taught countless people and he has revealed himself as ‘the living bread that came down from heaven’ (John 6:51). Whilst opposition has come from the usual places and it was summarised last week in a simple question, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ (John 6:52).

However, as we reach the end of the Bread of Life discourse we encounter something different – an unexpected turn of events where both openness and opposition to Jesus come from among the same group, from among his disciples. The reading picks up from where we left it last week and says, ‘After hearing his doctrine many of the followers of Jesus said, “This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?”’ (John 6:60). 
The disciples hear Jesus saying ‘my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink’ (John 6:55), they hear him talk of his body as the Bread which give life to the world (Cf. John 6:51), and they are stunned by these words. A rift opens among them. On one side, many disciples – not one or two, but “many” – are sceptic about how Jesus could ever give his own self as food, and they brand his teaching as “intolerable language” – in other translations this is rendered as “unacceptable saying”, or a “hard teaching”… On the other side, we have Peter and the other eleven disciples – whom, far from being perfect, trust in the Lord’s word and remain with him. The rift among the disciples hangs on this; Jesus said, 
‘Very truly, I tell you... Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink’ (John 6:53-55). 
Think about it. Of course this is could be seen as an unacceptable saying. Many disciples thought they were following a religious leader who would have restored freedom to the people of Israel with his revolutionary ideas. But what they hear now from him is a speech about giving himself up as food and drink to those who believe… What on Earth could this even mean? As a consequence, the gospel tells us, a good number of disciples leave Jesus – they literally do the opposite of conversion; they turn away from him – and stop travelling with him.

The words of Jesus plunge disciples into crisis, and still to this day the Bread of Life discourse is the stumbling block for many Christians. The teaching about the Sacrament of the Eucharist, about Jesus’ Body and Blood, has become a visible rift within the Church for the last 500 years at least – but it has been present since the very beginning. The fact that Jesus is present on our altars with his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity is an unacceptable doctrine for many but the cause of hope, consolation, and joy for others. It all depends what side of the divide we decide to go for.
‘The Eucharist is the place where one comes to eternal life. Encountering the broken flesh and the spilled blood of Jesus, “lifted up” on the cross (vv. 53-54), [we] called to make a decision for or against the revelation of God in that encounter (vv. 56-58), gaining or losing life because of it (vv. 53-54)’ (F.J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, p. 224).

The words of Jesus may be a difficult saying to understand, but that should not be an obstacle to faith. Jesus calls us to believe in him and in the mystery of his Body and Blood, not to have a PhD in sacramental theology. Therefore, when he says to us ‘my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink’ we have a straightforward choice. We can stubbornly rely on ourselves and our cynicism, believing only what we can prove or understand (like the many disciples did), or we can courageously embrace the faith, aiming to rely solely on the Lord Jesus and on his words no-matter-what – never ever letting go of him.

It could be that the Lord Jesus is addressing us today as he did to the Twelve, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ (John 6:67). But, through Saint Peter, the gospel gives us the words with which we should answer him. Kneeling at the altar rail to receive the Body and Blood of Christ it is as if we were saying, ‘Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life’ (John 6:67).

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) - How can this man give us his flesh to eat?

John 6:51-58
[They] started arguing with one another:
‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ (John 6:52)
In 1263 the small Italian town of Bolsena became the backdrop for one of the most famous miracles of the Middle Ages when, in the ancient church of Saint Christina, the consecrated host inexplicably began to bleed during Mass. The host, the Bread of the Eucharist, bled over the priest’s hands and over the corporal – the square linen placed on the altar. The corporal stained with Lord’s blood was taken to the city of Orvieto and enshrined as a relic in the cathedral where it attracted both pilgrims and sceptics who wanted to see this wonder for themselves. Almost 800 years later that corporal is still there on display; still the cause of much devotion for believers and of speculation for sceptics. Perhaps more remarkable (and relevant for us) than the miracle itself is the back story of the priest who was celebrating Mass when all this took place; the man whose hands were touched by the blood flowing from the host. He himself wasn’t the stuff of miracles or a famous wonderworker; he was just a pilgrim on his way to Rome named Peter of Prague. He was devout and committed priest but, as the story goes, Pater also harboured doubts that the Lord Jesus could be truly present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. And so, this miracle that touched him so literally was soon perceived by people as God’s own intervention to restore the faith of one of his doubting servants. But it didn’t stop there; news of this baffling event spread like wildfire and the Miracle of Bolsena became the cause of much devotion and catalyst for renewed faith in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Today the lectionary presents us with the most important instalment of the Bread of Life discourse from John’s gospel. And as we listen to the Lord Jesus saying, ‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven’ (John 6:51), we too might start to feel a little like Pater of Prague. In fact, we might be tempted to dismiss the entirety of John 6 as nonsense or as a convoluted metaphor, by echoing the words of Jesus’ opposers who say, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’

For three-quarters of the Church’s history the vast majority of Christians have believed that Jesus comes to be really and truly present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist; have believed that the bread and the wine offered on the altar are permanently changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord; and have believed that through participation at the altar (by receiving Holy Communion) soul and body are nourished with Christ himself. Then came the various waves and controversies of the Reformation, and with them arrived terrible confusion for the average person in the pew as well as doubts about the presence of the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. Ironically, it was precisely those reformers who advocated a form of Christianity based simply on literal teachings of the Bible who brought many Christians to doubt the very words of Christ himself and to ask sceptically once again, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’

The result of this dreadful confusion is that so many devout and committed Christians nowadays harbour doubts like Peter of Prague; so many are left confused. They stay away from the Mass, regarding Holy Communion as an optional extra, rather than a necessary, personal, and intimate encounter with the Lord Jesus. A repeat of the Miracle of Bolsena would be a great blessing from God, and it may help Christians to recover faith in the Eucharist. But where would it leave us in the long run? Do we really need another Eucharistic miracle in order to reaffirm the belief that Jesus is present for us on the altar? The truth is that we don’t. If we needed miracles, then God would provide them. We have something greater than miracles here; we have the word of the Lord Jesus… and if we can’t trust the word of Christ, who could we trust?
‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ People might ask, but to this question Jesus simply and unequivocally replies, “the bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Cf. John 6:51) and,
‘my flesh is real food 
and my blood is real drink’ (John 6:55).
Whenever we approach the altar rail at Holy Communion, or whenever we approach the tabernacle, Jesus is there for us – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The one who loves us, is here for us. The one feeds us, is here for us. The one who saves us, is here for us.

Though the lowliest form doth veil thee
as of old in Bethlehem,
here, as there, thine angels hail thee…

…here for faith's discernment pray we,
lest we fail to know thee now.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou art here, we ask not how.

12 August, 2018

Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Revelation/Apocalypse 11:19,12:1-6,10
Psalm 44(45):10-12,16
‘On your right stands the Queen in gold of Ophir.’ Psalm 44(45):10
If we opened our Bibles and searched through their many pages we would not find a straightforward description of what we celebrate today; the Scriptures do not give us an account of how the Mother of God was taken up body and soul into heaven.. What we would find instead are scattered clues, glimpses, and prophecies about the Assumption; clues, glimpses, and prophecies which have lead the Church to affirm that at the end of her earthly life Mary was assumed into heaven (and so was preserved from the decay of the tomb) to be with her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and to be crowned a Queen of all creation.
But it is not all plain sailing. Even though the Assumption has been celebrated by since the 4th or 5th century, it has caused many debates among Christians; and that, which should be the cause of rejoicing for each and every Christian, has often ended up being as a serious bone of contention. Having said this, I don’t think that either Mary in herself, or the belief that she was taken up to heaven are the true reasons for debates and divisions. She who is mother of all believers cannot be the source of quarrelling among her children. Rather, I think that opposition the Assumption of Mary springs from two deeply-engrained misunderstandings many Christians have about faith.

The first misunderstanding is essentially a corruption of the traditional belief that the Scriptures contain everything that is necessary to Salvation. It says that Christians should sign up, as it were, only to those matters of faith that are readily and explicitly proposed in the Bible – those things which are plainly laid out in the Scriptures and nothing else. The Assumption of Mary is not in any book, so it cannot possibly be a matter of faith – indeed, for a few Christians, it cannot possibly be real, period. Yet, we believe that the Lord Jesus promised to his Church that the Holy Spirit would lead us in understanding all truth (Cf. John 16:13) – “all truth”, even those things which the Scriptures reveal only through clues, glimpses, and prophecies; those things and that need some prayerful reasoning to be understood.

So it is with the Assumption. It is the Holy Spirit who speaks to interpret the Scriptures. It is him who leads believers in piecing together clues, glimpses, and prophecies to understand the mystery… For example, let us look at today’s readings. It is the Holy Spirit who tells us that, when Psalm 45 describes the coronation procession of an Old Testament princess, it is really pointing forward to the entrance of Mary into heaven and to her coronation as Queen of all creation. It is the Holy Spirit who tells us that in our first reading the ‘ark of the covenant’ found in the heavenly sanctuary (Rev/Ap. 11:19), and the ‘woman clothed with the Sun’ (Rev/Ap. 12:1) are both images of the true ark of the New Covenant, the Mother of God in heavenly glory. And, again, it is the Holy Spirit who tells us that Mary’s words, ‘from this day forward all generations will call me blessed’ (Cf. Luke 1:48), are completely fulfilled the moment she set foot in heaven, the true home of the blessed.

The second misconception is rather more insidious than the first, and certainly more difficult to eradicate. It concerns the person of Mary as a woman, and with her, perhaps every leading woman in the Scriptures. Let me explain. If we opened our Bibles we would see that, actually, ascending or being taken up to heaven is not something completely unheard of. Three examples come to mind. Early in the Biblical narrative, Adam and Eve’s great-great-great-great-great-(I think!)grandson, Enoch, is assumed into heaven because of his spotless way of life. Angels pick him up and take him to be with God (Gen. 5:24) – in a few medieval illustrations Enoch is dragged upward by his hair… This event was so astounding that it is recounted even in the New Testament; the Letter to the Hebrews says
‘By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and “he was found no more because God had taken him’ (Heb.11:5). 
Later on, in the second book of Kings, it is the turn of the great prophet Elijah to be assumed into heaven in style; he rides upwards towards paradise carried on a chariot of fire (Cf. 2Kings 2:11) provided by God. Finally, Jesus ascends to heaven after his Resurrection. He is not carried there; he goes to the Father out of his own divine power, taking with him our human nature and opening the way for all believers to be with him at the heart of God (Cf. Luke 24:50-53). Let us consider for a moment these examples in which human beings have ascended or were taken up to heaven before Mary. Enoch, Elijah, the Lord Jesus. Heaven is starting to look like an old boys club. I jest, I know, but these examples illustrate very well a male-dominated misunderstanding whereby a few Christians believe that God acts through, exalts, and rewards only men.

Belief in the Assumption of Our Lady shatters this misinterpretation. The Assumption shows us that God acts through, exalts, and rewards everyone whom he freely chooses – regardless of whom they are. Mary cooperated with God’s new creation like no other human before her (‘let it be so’ she said to the Angel Luke 1:38); she brought God’s Son into the world; she emotionally suffered with him on Calvary; she stood by him even as her soul was pierced by a sword; and she gathered the disciples around her in prayerful anticipation of Pentecost. It is only right that a woman who, through the grace of God, participated so closely in the work of redemption, should be the first to experience the fruits of redemption – the life of heaven.

So, if we let go of our misconceptions in order to embrace true faith, what would the Assumption of Our Lady have to say to us? It is a token of our future. It is a sign of hope for all who believe is Christ, a cause of joy for all who struggle through life, a sign of consolation when we encounter sorrows. Our blessed mother is in heaven, free from the corruption of the grave, and from there she helps us with her prayers, guides us with her love, and cheer us on as we too journey home.

Virgin Mother, Mary blessed,
raised on high and crowned with grace,
May your Son, the world's redeemer,
grant us all to see his face. Amen.

29 July, 2018

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) - One Lord, one faith, one baptism

Ephesians 4:1-6
There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope. (Eph. 4:4)
Over the last Sundays we have been reading the Letter to the Ephesians which speaks to us about God’s desire to restore and gather up all things in Christ. It is in the context of this divine plan that we are able to discover our true identity as adopted sons of the Father, who sees each believer in that ‘one new single New Man’ (Eph. 2:15) the Lord Jesus creates within himself. In other words, Ephesians tells us that we are one with Christ, and, because of this, we are worthy of the same incredible love the Father lavishes on his only-begotten Son.
Today St Paul continues on the theme of oneness by articulating how our sense of unity in the Lord Jesus should influence the way we relate to other Christians. Oneness with Christ and oneness with other believers are indissolubly linked due to the simple fact that we are all members of the same body. This is a recurring concept in Paul’s letters. To the Galatians he writes, ‘there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3:28); to the Corinthians he says, ‘we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free’ (1Cor. 12:13)… and, when talking about Holy Communion, he also adds, ‘The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? [Therefore] Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread’ (1Cor. 10:16-17).

Oneness in Jesus destroys all barriers among believers and unites us together into the ‘one single New Man’, the one body of Christ. In this sense, oneness means that, as Christians, we all belong to one another, regardless of our quarrels, schisms, and theological differences. If we understand this, then, a deep sense of wonder should pervade the way we look at each-other as Christians – and particularly so when we look across denominational divides. Yes, we are different. Yes, oftentimes we can agree on very little. Yet, in the words ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph. 4:5) we are one. So it should not come to us as a surprise (or a historical fluke) that each Sunday we still say in the Creed, ‘We believe in one… Church’. We do not say, “We believe in a church that sometimes gets things horribly wrong”; we do not say, “We believe in the Church of England”; and we do not say, “We believe in a church founded by Henry VIII or Elizabeth I”. To say ‘We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church’ is an act of faith in as much as we believe that the body of Christ transcends denominations; it is an act of hope as we look forward to a time when the full and visible unity of the Church will be restored; and it is an act of humility in as much as we affirm that, as Christians, we all of equal value as members of the same body.

‘There is one Body, one Spirit’, says Paul. Then, how are we to act in response to this belief that we are all one in the Lord Jesus? How are we to express oneness in the face of so many centuries of Christian divisions?
Paul’ advice to us may seem a little vague but it is rather practical. He says, ‘bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience’ (Eph. 4:2). This means that we should accept and welcome other Christians through love – but not just any type of love; “charitably”, meaning through perfect love. Easier said than done, I admit that, especially when we live in a society where people are often expected to assert individuality and independence over, against, and even at the expense of others. But my guess is that Paul is also aware of this difficulty al well. By saying bear with one another’, keep the peace, and preserve the unity of the Spirit’ (Eph. 4:3) the apostle starts from the bare minimum. Paul encourages us to at least be aware of the Christ’s presence in the other when we meet with other believers and to acknowledge this presence through actions and attitudes inspire by love.

The bottom line is quite simple. The Father loves us in seeing Jesus in us, so we too must love others by endeavouring to see Christ in them.