We may look around on a sunny day – when we have one – and think how wonderful creation is, and as believers praise God ; but it is worth remembering sometimes that life, as we know it in all its forms, need not have happened at all. Indeed the scientists tell us that the chances of life evolving the way it has are very slim. And we Christians would go one step further, and say that God did not need to create life at all, and certainly has no need to create us weird wilful human beings. Yet he did. We believe further that God created us to be aware of his existence, to be able to respond to his love with love.
But love is something we have to choose to do freely, or it is not love; and that is the point of this the last of my Homilies on the Mass. Just as a marriage is not a true marriage if either person is forced into it, so our relationship to God, our response to God’s love, must be something we freely choose to do. That’s why we have Joshua in our 1st Reading (Joshua 24:1-18) telling the people “choose who you wish to serve” And this is what coming to Mass is. It is us choosing to serve and love God. We may try to thank God for all that we have been given – in our own private prayers of thanksgiving wherever we happen to be – in loving and caring for others in all sorts of different ways – and in simply enjoying life to the full. But all this, however hard we try to do it, is inevitably mixed in with a lot of human failures and mess-ups, and is therefore a pretty tiny response to the immensity of love and creative power, that is God.
That is why God comes to us as Jesus, to offer us love in human form, a love that is more accessible for us to understand and to respond to. What is more, we are allowed, indeed even invited, to be drawn into union with that perfect love, and are told that, as we do so, all our imperfections are washed away in the immensity of his love. And the way Jesus draws us into his love is by giving us the Mass. He says, just before the words in today’s Gospel (See John 6:51-69)“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him. As I, who am sent by the living Father draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me.”
This is why the great Eucharistic Prayer that consecrates the bread and wine always includes first, praise to God for his Creation, “You are indeed holy O Lord and all you have created rightly gives you praise”, and then links that creative work to Jesus, “for through your Son Jesus Christ…. you give life to all things..” Once then Jesus becomes present with us at Mass in this wonderful way, we can choose to be drawn into union with him, or we can just watch without really appreciating what is being offered to us. We heard in the Gospel that “many of his disciples left him”, so we should expect that to happen today, and it still does; but we also heard Jesus asking his disciples to choose what they wanted to do. He challenges them, and so challenges us “What about you, do you want to go away too?” And Peter responds on our behalf “Lord who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life.”
It is only as we choose to follow Jesus at Mass, not just coming to Mass but choosing to be one with Jesus at Mass, that we are then drawn into union with Jesus and his love, and can make his offering of love the centre of our offering of our lives to him. As I said earlier, our offering by itself can never get anywhere near a full response to God’s creative love, but once our offering is united with the perfect offering of Christ on the cross, then even though what we offer is so little, it is enough. So the priest can say on our behalf “as we celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of your Son…. We offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice” and later “May he (that is Jesus) make of us an eternal offering to you.”
That is the glory of the Holy Mass, that in and through Jesus we can be drawn into that eternal circle of love that is God. Everything we are, everything that we love and enjoy, is part of God’s offering to us, and all week every week that love is pouring into us and through us. Then, once a week, just for an hour or less, we are invited to be part of that process by which all that glory, all that love, is offered back to him in and through Jesus.
This offering of love is so immense that sometimes the Church uses the word “oblation” to express it – “Look upon the oblation of your Church”. The word actually simply means offering, but it is meant to remind us that this offering is completely different from the ordinary offerings of our daily life. It is, as the priest says or sings, “through him (that is through Jesus) and with him, and in him…. in the unity of the Holy Spirit”, and only in this way, that we can fully offer back to God all that he has given us.
As George Herbert put it in his great poem
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
|Guilty of dust and sin.|
|But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack|
|From my first entrance in,|
|Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning|
|If I lack’d anything.|
|‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’|
|Love said, ‘You shall be he.’|
|‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,|
|I cannot look on Thee.’|
|Love took my hand and smiling did reply,|
|‘Who made the eyes but I?’|
|‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame|
|Go where it doth deserve.’|
|‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’|
|‘My dear, then I will serve.’|
|‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’|
|So I did sit and eat.|