BORN INTO ETERNAL LIFE
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON SUNDAY AUGUST 9th 2009
John 6: 40 “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life”.
During the week I received in the mail an order of service for a funeral in another parish outside San Diego. Where it gave the details of the deceased it said at the day of his death “Born into eternal life”. This is quite wrong! We do not enter eternal life when we stop breathing – we enter eternal life when we are baptised. When we are baptised is that moment when we receive both the pledge and the promise of eternal life with God through Jesus.
St John 6:40, is not the only occasion when eternal life is promised because we believe in Jesus. There is the well-known passage, John 3:16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life”.
In today’s Gospel, eternal life is referred to several times:
Firstly – Jesus says that is his purpose and mission to give us eternal life – and not only his mission, but the will of his Father.
Secondly – our response to this great gift is that we should believe in Christ. Baptism is the first time a profession of faith in Jesus is made for a Christian.
Thirdly – and significantly – Jesus connects eternal life with receiving Holy Communion:
“If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever – and the bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh”.
The Greek word “flesh” in John 6:51 is quite specific, and can only be understood in a sacramental way. IE, in Holy Communion we receive the very Body of Christ. We hardly chomp on his flesh – but we receive his body through the sacrament. The Sunday readings these past few weeks have focused on the mystery of the Eucharist, and the fact that in God’s providence we receive the Body and Blood of Christ our Saviour in Holy Communion
The Old Testament readings have given us the story of the wanderings of the Jews 40 years after Exodus as an image of the Eucharist with the fact that they were fed by Manna.
In Deuteronomy 8, the image of the Exodus and the 40 years in the desert is expanded. It refers to the Manna from Heaven as a pledge of God’s love to his people. Because they were his people He fed them with bread from Heaven – the Manna.
The Latin word for “Pledge” is “Sacramentum” – from which we get the word “Sacrament”. We refer to the “Blessed Sacrament” and “The Most Holy Sacrament”. But the Eucharist is not the only sacrament. Today we celebrate another sacrament – Baptism. This is the primary sacrament – for it makes us a Christian, and is necessary in order to participate in all the other sacraments. By its nature and what Christ has said, Baptism is a pledge and promise of eternal life given to us.
When we look at the Exodus that event is not only a symbol and prototype of the Eucharist – it is also a symbol and prototype of Baptism. As they wandered in the desert water sprung from the rock at the command of Moses, to satisfy their thirst – a symbol of Baptism.
The great symbol of Baptism is the passing through the Red Sea – when the Jews passed from slavery to freedom. This is a particular image of Christ passing from death to life, and also of Baptism. Thus at Easter, when we celebrate the Resurrection, we recall the Passover, for it occurred at the time of the Passover. It was not only Christ’s passing from death to life that is symbolised by the Exodus but also that through Baptism we pass from death to life.
Just as that first Exodus led to the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, so when scripture talks of heaven it uses the image of the Jerusalem and the Promised Land with milk and honey – as quaint as that may seem. It also comes in hymns – I think particularly of the well-known hymn “Jerusalem the Golden, with milk and honey blest”.
Saint Paul identifies the Exodus particularly with both Baptism and Holy Communion in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4:
“Our fathers all passed through the sea, and all were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink”.
Here Saint Paul consciously paints a picture of what the Exodus means for Christians, and paints a picture of life for the very first Christians in Corinth – families and individuals baptised into this new life of Christ and sharing in the Eucharist. And both are pledges of eternal life.
Thus the waters of Baptism are a promise of eternal life to Finn Thomas Anthony Schreiber who will be baptised today.
That is how we make sense of Ephesians 4, in which Saint Paul sounds off against the naughty Ephesians: “You were sealed by the Holy Spirit”. Therefore live up to what you received – start living eternal life now.
That is a challenge every baptised Christian must continually heed. We were baptised and received eternal life – we must live now as people who have received eternal life. When we baptise a child it surely reminds us that we all have to live as children of God – walking in love, as Saint Paul: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us”.
One final consideration from the readings:
In Saint John 6:51, Jesus says: “I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven”. This is a direct reference to the Incarnation. IE, in his birth Jesus wasn’t merely born of the Virgin Mary. He always existed and in his birth came down from heaven. As the Creed says:
“And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man”.
Yes, Jesus is the Living Bread come down from heaven. The connection with the Eucharist is both deliberate and obvious: “The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us” .
He continues to do some whenever Christians gather for the Eucharist.
God the creator uses things of his creation to give us his love, to express his love for us. The human race itself through the Blessed Virgin Mary becomes the vehicle of God’s grace – so the sacraments use things of creation – bread, wine, water, oil – to convey God’s love and grace. And supremely, the gift of eternal life.
Yes, we are born into eternal life at the beginning of our life as Christians – not at the end.