Monday, August 10, 2015


The Institution of the Eucharist - Fra Angelica (1441)
The Gospel for this week continues the theme of the previous week as it elaborates still further the symbolic image of ‘the bread of life’. In these verses, the image of wine is added. Both symbols figure very prominently in John’s Gospel, and relate unmistakably to the distinctive Christian rite of Holy Communion. This rite appears to have been well established among the followers of Christ at a very early stage, and since it is likely that John’s Gospel was composed somewhere around six decades after the death of Jesus, it seems certain that these verses were written in full knowledge of this fact.

One conclusion we can draw from this, is that the Eucharist was not the ceremonial application of a new theological doctrine or creed. Rather, the commemoration of Christ's 'Last Supper', in a rapidly ritualized form, had the power to speak directly to the deep spiritual needs and hopes of  Christian converts in the ancient world. The theological effort to understand its mysterious nature, such as we find in John's Gospel, flowed from an immediate acknowledgement of its significance. This is how it has always been, and continues to be.

Solomon Dedicates the Temple -- James Tissot (1902)
With unusual literary skill, the fourth Evangelist weaves the teachings of Jesus with their essential Jewish background, and his subsequent Crucifixion and Resurrection, into a remarkably unified narrative. This narrative has provided Christians over two millennia with an indispensable source of insight into, and reflection upon, the central practice of their faith.

In the 'Continuous' Old Testament reading, the story moves from David to Solomon, the most distinguished successor in this royal 'line'. The alternative 'Thematic' readings gesture towards an important connection with the Gospel. The brief references to bread and wine that occur in the short passages from Proverbs and Ephesians alert us to the fact that the Eucharist is not simply a distinctive religious ritual. It is intimately connected with living life wisely.

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