Christ was born over 2000 years ago. Centuries before, God had called Abraham to be the founder of a new people. Through the ages God taught them and prepared them for the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ, and His saving work.
Jesus lived only for 33 years, the last three of them spent in teaching, preaching and training a special group of followers. His mission of saving mankind from the slavery of sin was fulfilled at a terrible cost - shedding of his blood to the last drop on the cross.
But His Father accepted His Son’s offering, and He showed His acceptance by raising Him from death to a wonderful new life, which Christ promises to those who believe in Him.
While He was still with His followers Christ made a thrilling promise to them:
I am the true vine, and it is my Father who tends it. The branch that yields no fruit in me, He cuts away: the branch that does yield fruit, He trims clean, so that it may yield more fruit. You, through the message I have preached to you, are clean already; you have only to live on in me, and I will live in on you. The branch that does not live on in the vine can yield a fruit of itself; neither can you, if you do not live on in me.
“I am the vine, you are its branches; if a man lives on in me, and I in him, then he will yield abundant fruit; separated from me, you have no power to do anything. If a man does not live on in me, he can only be like the branch that is cut off and withers away; such a branch is picked up and thrown into the fire to burn there.
“As long as you live on in me, and my words live on in you, you will be able to make what request you will, and have it granted. My Father’s name has been glorified, if you yield abundant fruit and prove yourselves my disciples. I have bestowed my love upon you, just as my Father has bestowed His love upon me; live on, then, in my love. You will live on in my love, if you keep my commandments, just as it is by keeping my Father’s commandments that I live on in His love.” (John 15, 1-10).
But these words of Jesus, exciting as they sound, have little value today if they apply only to that little group to whom they were spoken 2000 years ago. Do they have any meaning for me today? Can I live with that life today? Can I produce in my life the fruit Christ’s promises?
These are questions that each one who meets Jesus Christ needs to answer. For on Jesus’ own word, He had left something more than fine teachings; He has left something more than a mere book. He says that He gives life – His own life – to men. If this is true, then Jesus Himself must live on among men today. It must be possible for me to Meet Jesus not only in books; it must be possible for me to MEET JESUS Himself living, yes, living even today.
Men do not live alone. Families, even, do not live alone, but form a society, a tribe of people. We have seen that God dealt with mankind in this way. He prepared a people for Himself. And through His own Son born into that people, He wants to bring all the races of the earth to form one people – the People of God.
Each race, as it becomes God’s people in this way, will retain its own characteristics which God himself gave it; and each race will enrich the People of God with the special contribution that it alone can bring. In its turn each race will be tremendously enriched by the new life it finds therein.
The People of God has no army, no political ambitions. It is a people with one aim and purpose; it wants every man woman and child on earth to live and die in the friendship and love God, their Father as His sons and daughters, as members of God’s own family.
The People of God is made up of all those who live with the new life won for them by Christ. “I am the vine, you are the branches. You have only to live on in me and I will live on in you. If a man lives on in me, and I in him then he will yield abundant fruit.”
Thus the work of Christ, the second Adam, was to found and establish a new human race, a new People of God.
But this new people must be visible and recognizable; it must be loyal and true to Christ’s spirit: it must appear as the work of God, not of Man: only then will I trust myself to it in such a vital matter. It must also by readily available so that I can easily go to MEET JESUS in it.
And this is what Jesus did when He established His Church and appointed His apostle, Peter, to govern it as St. Mathew related in his Gospel.
Jesus put this question to His disciples: “Who do the people say the Son of Man is?” “Some say John the Baptist,” they replied. “Others say, Elias, still others Jeremias, or some other prophet.” “But you,” He went on to say, “who do you say I am?” Then Simon Peter spoke up “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus acquiesced and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of John. It was my Father in heaven that revealed this to you, and not flesh and blood. And I, in turn, say to you: You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew. 16, 13-19)
Christ confirmed this promise in the last days of His life on earth when He said: “Simon (Peter), son of John, do you love me more than these others do?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love you.” Christ then said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A third time He said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was very sad because He said to him for the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21, 15-17)
From that time, Peter became the head of the Church. Christ’s representative on earth. Peter, was followed by his successors and to-day a direct line can be traced from Peter down to the late Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, who came to India in 1964, John Paul I, John Paul II and the present Pope Benedict XVI.
Jesus had prepared a small group to be his apostles, ambassadors, to continue his mission. We have seen how miserably they failed Him when He was arrested, and how they trembled for their very lives. But before He finally returned to His Father, Jesus gave them their mission in clear words:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me; you therefore must go out, making disciples of all nations, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all the commands which I have given you. And behold I am with you all through the days that are coming; until the end of the world.” (Matthew. 28, 18-20)
Jesus passes on a command to all who will follow Him: “as the Father sends me, I also send you.” The followers of Jesus Christ can never be satisfied to keep his treasure for himself. He must share it with others.
However, when we reflect on the failures of these first followers for Jesus, and when we remember how weak all men of all ages are, we can only tremble a little for the fate of the Church that Jesus Christ put into the hands of mere men.
The history of Christ’s followers has its dark pages for human failures are part of its story. But Jesus made a promise that guaranteed that He will always be available for the honest and sincere seeker – even if individual Christians fail. He said : “I will be with you all days even to the end of the world.”
Christ knew well the weaknesses of the men whom He had purchased back to the son-ship of His Father at the cost of His life’s blood. So He promised to send the Holy Spirit when He retuned to the Father to dwell in the hearts of His people to enlighten them and to strengthen them.
Before He left them He said: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another to befriend you, one who is to dwell continually with you forever. It is the truth-giving Spirit, for whom the world can find no room because it cannot see Him, cannot recognize Him. But you are to recognize Him; He will be continually at your side, nay, He will be in you. I will not leave you friendless; I am coming to you.” (John 14, 16-18)
And again He said to them, “Now I am going back to him who sent me…And yet I can say truly that it is better for you that I should go away. He who is to befriend you will not come to you unless I do go, but if only I make way there, I will send Him to you. He will come, and it will be for Him to prove the world wrong about sin…”
“I have still much to say to you but it is beyond your reach as yet. It will be for Him the truth giving Spirit, when He comes to guide you into all truth. He will not utter a message of his own, he will utter the message that has been given to Him, and He will make plain to you what is still to come. And he will bring honour to me, because it is from me that He will derive what He makes plain to you. I say that He will derive from me what he makes plain to you, because all that belongs to the Father belongs to me.” (John 16, 5-8; 12-15)
Christ, therefore, sends the Holy Spirit into the world to guide and strengthen the new people of God.
All that has been said so far in this section is important, because it begins to show us how Jesus lives on today. Those who believe in Jesus Christ do not put their trust in a dead Christ, but in a Christ who lives on and shares His new life – with the new People of God.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. You have only to live on in me, and I will live on in you.”
The question that now rises is: How and where can we MEET JESUS today?
We now come to the very heart of Christianity. We come to what is called the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where Jesus Himself is present in a most extraordinary but real way.
On the night that He was arrested Jesus had a last meal with His chose followers.He knew what lay ahead of Him and He looked down through the centuries seeing all of us who would come after Him. His love for us would not allow Him to leave us alone. It would find a way to remain with us.
He was about to go out into the night and offer His life to the last drop of His blood as a gift, a sacrifice to His Father for us all. During the meal, “He took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them saying, `This is my body given up for you. Do this as a memorial of me.
“Then He took a cup (of wine) and offered thanks, and gave it to them saying, `Drink, all of you, of this for this is my blood, of the New Testament, shed for many to the remission of sins.’
Christ had taken the ordinary food of the Jews, bread and wine. He said over it, “This is my body. This is my blood,” changing it into His own body and blood – with all the appearance and taste of bread and wine remaining. He offered it to His followers, as “Prasad”. He told them to do this always as a memorial of himself. The Catholic Church is faithful to this when she offers the same sacrifice daily in the holy Mass or Eucharist.
In making the central act of His life take the form of a sacrifice, Christ built on a need that men of all ages and races have felt – namely, to take something of value and offer it to God as a sign of their total self-gift.
A small child may offer flowers to God, others may offer fruit or oil or sweets, others may offer animals. But always present is the desire to give one-self fully to God, expressed in the offering of a gift.
The gift is offered to show the person’s recognition of his or her total dependence on God; it is offered in thanks-giving for all God’s goodness to him or her; it is offered in an attempt to win God’s forgiveness for sins committed against His love and it is offered as a prayer asking God for whatever the person needs in his daily life, family, work or efforts to serve God faithfully.
This kind of offering is called a sacrifice or “balidan”. It expresses such a deep need in the heart of man, that sacrifice, in one form or another, is found in every part of the world and in every age.
The sacrifice of all sacrifices was Christ’s offering of His own body and blood on the cross. He is our priest offering sacrifice on our behalf, and the victim. What He offers is not fruit or flowers or an animal, but His own body and blood.
“We can claim a great high priest, and one who has passed right up through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God. It is not as if our high priest was incapable of feeling for us in our humiliations; He has been through every trial, fashioned as we are only without sin. Let us come boldly, then before the throne of grace, to meet with mercy, and win that grace which will help us in our needs.
“The purpose for which any high priest is chosen from among his fellowmen, and made a representative of men in their dealings with God, is to offer gifts and sacrifices in expiation of their sins. He is qualified for this by being able to feel fro them when they are ignorant and make mistakes, since he, too, is all beset with humiliations, and, for that reason, must needs present sin offerings for himself, just as he does for the people. His vocation comes from God; nobody can take on himself such a privilege as this. So it is with Christ. He did not raise Himself to the dignity of the high priesthood; it was God that raised Him to it, when He said, You are my son, I have begotten you this day…”
“Christ, during His earthly life, offered prayer and entreaty to the God who could save Him from death, not without a piercing cry, not without tears: yet with such piety as won Him a hearing. Son of God though He was, He learned obedience in the school of suffering, and now His full achievement reached, He wins eternal salvation for all those who render obedience to him.” (Hebrews 4, 14-5, 9)
The wonderful thing is that Christ found a way to prolong His powerful sacrifice so that we can all take part in it down through the ages.
One day, some time before His death, He spoke strange words to His followers. They were so strange that some could not believe them, and sadly they left Him. He said: “The real bread from heaven is given only by my Father. God’s gift of bread comes down from heaven and gives life to the whole world. Then, Lord, they said, give us this bread all the time. But Jesus told them, it is I who am the bread of life, he who comes to me will never be hungry; he who has faith in me will never know thirst. (John 6, 32-35)
But now the people were complaining of His saying. I am myself the bread which has come down from heaven. Is not this Jesus, they said, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother are well known to us: What does He mean by saying, I have come down from heaven? Jesus answered them, Do not whisper thus to one another. Nobody can come to me without being attracted towards me by the Father who sent me, so that I can raise him up at the last day. It is written in the book of the prophets: And they shall all have the Lord for their teacher. Everyone who listens to the Father and learns, comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except Him who comes from God: He alone has seen the Father. (John 6, 41- 46)
“Believe me when I tell you this; the man who has faith in me enjoys eternal life.”
“Your fathers, who ate manna in the desert, died nonetheless; the bread which comes down from heaven is such that he who eats of it never dies. I myself am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If any one eats of this bread, he shall live forever. And now, what is this bread which I am to give? It is my flesh, given for the life of the world.”
“Then the Jews fell to disputing with one another. How can this man give us His flesh to eat? Whereupon Jesus said to them Believe me when I tell you this; you can have no life in yourselves, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood. The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day. My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, live continually in me and I in him. As I live because of the Father, the living Father who has sent me, so he who eats me will live, in his turn, because of me.”
“Such is the bread which has come down from heaven; it is not as it was with your fathers who ate manna and died nonetheless; the man who eats this bread will live eternally.” (John 6, 41-59)
The promise of Christ to be the bread of life, and that “the man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day,” - this promise becomes more easily understood at the Last Supper when He took the bread and wine and changed it into His own body and blood and gave it to His followers to eat and drink. But it remains a mystery that our minds can only accept with the special help that God gives to us.
Christ became the very food and drink of our souls to give us all the strength and courage we need in our daily lives and to find our way to the Father.
The People of God are rich and have been highly favoured by Him. He has called them to Himself. He has sent His own Son Jesus Christ, into their midst. And that Son has paid the price of their sins with His own body and blood.
In Jesus Christ we have a way back to the Father. This is the Christ-Marg. Jesus said of Himself : “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
In Jesus we know that we are loved and wanted by the Father: “God so loved the world that He gave up His only begotten Son, so that those who believe in Him may not perish, but have eternal life.”
In Jesus we have wonderful new life. We share in God’s own life. We are made completely new. He said. “I have come so that they may have life and have it more abundantly.”
The people of God are so rich because of all that God has done and continues to do for them. In view of all this, there is only one thing a man can do – that is to give thanks to God – to show God that he is grateful for all His love. This is what the People of God does in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is also called the Eucharist – which means simply to give thanks.
This is the central act of Christianity. It is thanking God for all the riches He has given us. But it is not simply a prayer that each one says by himself or herself, relying on one’s own strength alone.
It is instead, a community action in which all of us together in Jesust and with Jesus offer our whole life with His life to the Father. Then to show His acceptance of our offering, the Father gives us the body of His Son in the form of bread, the “Param-prasad”, to be the food of our souls. In the Mass we can truly say with Saint Paul, “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me.”
Christ is not dead, for He lives on in His Church to give life to all who come to Him. And in His Church, His central action is the Sacrifice of the Mass where He offers Himself and the whole People of God with him to the Father in a most wonderful act of thanks-giving and worship to God whose love for us all is wider than the whole universe.
It is time to stop and think quietly about Christ and His Church, the People of God. Does this idea of the People of God mean anything to me? Do I need to offer sacrifice? Do I need to thank God for anything? Do I need the Bread of Life to strengthen me in my journey through life?
Lord, again these are tremendous claims that are made.
Is it possible that Christ lives on in His Church?
Is it possible that You have a special people of your own?
It is certain, I know that I have much to thank You for.
I do wish to thank You.
Can I thank You, with Christ, in the Sacrifice of the Mass?
Is it possible that Your Son should give me a new life,
by sharing His flesh and His blood?
Lord, these are questions that touch the depths of my heart.
Give me the light to see clearly.