I’ve been thinking this week, probably since our twwg meeting last Sunday, very much about the Eucharist – Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, Mass – whatever you like to call it. And I’ve been reflecting that it is now so far removed from life today for most of our communities around us. Why then do we still make it so central to our worship?
If we do make it central – have we become too selfish? Jesus says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven – Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. Watching Jesus give sight to the Blind and making lame walk would have been amazing. But now he isn’t making any sense. Just beyond our reading today many of these disciples will say among themselves – this teaching is too difficult. Who can accept it? The twelve will stick with Jesus but many others will fall away. Knowing Jesus as a great teacher is one thing but talking about your flesh as food and your blood as drink must have sounded like the rabbi had lost it.
For many preachers, this month, the last few weeks and another to come are quite difficult. Every week we have heard Jesus talk about bread. I am the bread of life. We are on our third week of a single chapter of St John’s Gospel and it can get quite difficult to think of how to explain the same saying yet again. But this only goes to emphasise the importance of this teaching for our lives and for our souls. And alongside these Gospel readings we have been hearing from the book of Ephesians telling us how to live the practical life, a practical life with Christ and the dire consequences if we don’t.
We don’t preach hell and damnation so much any more. But if we did it would be now. And perhaps we should because this faith we follow this coming to church business is not about meeting with friends about feeling better about ourselves or getting comfort and good feelings. Its about life and death. It’s about eternal joy or eternal damnation. Our very souls are in jeopardy here and Jesus is trying to tell us that and he is using the ordinary stuff of life: bread to try to get through to us the importance of faith and the importance of accepting him fully into our life and into our bodies
In our gospel Jesus has given the people physical food. We are only a few short verses from the feeding of the five thousand. And he uses that to teach that he can give them spiritual food as well. He said ‘do not work for food that perishes, but the food that endures for eternal life. He wants those who are listening to him not just to eat some bread and fish and to go home, to hunger again. He wants them to develop a spiritual hunger and thirst that only he can fill. To teach this he uses the Passover story which was about moving from slavery to freedom to show how faith in him also moves his followers from death to life. it’s a spiritual lesson difficult to grasp.
The Eucharist is not about Jesus sacrificial death alone. Our faith is not in Jesus’ death and resurrection alone but in Jesus whole life… His whole life rather than just the events of the last days institutes this sacrament of communion.
The words from this gospel are given in the very first year of Jesus’ three years of ministry. John’s Gospel with these bread of life passages coming so early in his ministry makes it clear what the other three gospels only hint at. The Eucharist is not about Jesus sacrificial death alone. Our faith is not in Jesus’ death and resurrection alone but in Jesus whole life. From Bethlehem to Golgotha, and beyond to the empty tomb and Jesus’ appearances to his disciples. His whole life rather than just the events of the last days institutes this sacrament of communion.
Everything Jesus did, who he was, and how he acted is part of God’s revelation to us. We are to take Jesus’ whole story and make it part of our story. God took Jesus’ whole life: blessed it, broke it and gave it to us. We are to let that story of God’s love for us take us, bless us, break us, and give us back to the world. And this is something that happens in the liturgy. We don’t just listen to the words ‘take eat’ but we actually get up and come to the altar, take and eat bread that has been broken and given. We enter into that story and then we are called to take that whole story out into the world as part of our story and the world’s.
We are to let that story of God’s love for us take us, bless us, break us, and give us back to the world. We don’t just listen to the words ‘take eat’ but we actually get up and come to the altar to take and eat bread that has been broken and given. We enter into that story and then we are called to take that whole story out into the world as part of our story and the world’s
The communion that Jesus spoke of in John’s sixth chapter describing himself as living bread is something which has woven itself deeply into the human story. Think of all the the places you have taken communion. The people you have taken communion alongside: People still living that you don’t see anymore. People now long dead and seen only by God. Then imagine all the places where God has experienced this communion: In war torn places. In the ruins of churches. In places of natural disaster. In prisons. In homes. Jesus is the bread which came down from heaven whose presence sustains in every place and every situation in which we find ourselves. It is no wonder that Jesus’ command to take. bless. break and give is still so obeyed.
And we ned this strengthening of body and soul. Of Jesus encountered in the Eucharist. When we are apart from God we find it easier and easier to remain apart from God and to rely on other lesser answers to our deep hungers and thirsts, hungers and thirsts which only Jesus can satisfy. This is where the comparison to physical hunger and thirst helps us. As we know that we need the nourishment of food and drink again and again. We may eat a good meal now. But we will need another tomorrow, and one in between as well. In that same way we need the spiritual nourishment again and again.
There are two important components to the Christian walk. The first is coming to faith in Jesus: for which we have sacraments of baptism and confirmation to mark us as Christ’s own for ever. But coming to faith is just the first important step on which is to be a life long journey. To continue the journey to really progress in the life of faith, you need some practices in daily life to make this real.
Our Bishop: Bishop Tim is encouraging us all to find the way right for us to consider practices for a Jesus centered life. He suggests following a rule of life perhaps basing on the benedictine rule of life as our diocese began its life as a Benedictine abbey. Central to these practices is worship. The other practices are to turn: learn: pray: bless: go and rest. For this week we are just focusing on worship and how Jesus feeds us in this Eucharist just as he promised in his teaching: I am the bread of life. But perhaps we might like to explore that rule of life a bit further. Perhaps you might like to have a workshop I am quite happy to do that. If you would like that have a word with me afterwards.
I know that I am preaching to people who made their way to Church this morning for the very word and sacrament about which I am preaching. But I also know that from time to time each of us can find ourselves feeling distant – distanced from God. And so this is a word to the wise: know that when that happens, staying away from the altar is not the way to find healing. Keep coming. Keep asking for and expecting the peace which Jesus alone can give. You need the nourishment you find here as much as you need something to eat and to drink.
We are all in contact every day with people who have found themselves apart from church. and this is the place where God can speak to our hearts through our readings, the sermon and the Spirit’s presence in our worship. This is where we can be fed so that we can go out and do God’s work: Opus Dei and feed the lost, the destitute, the poor and the hungry. This is not a faith for us to keep in our hearts but it is the very commission of God to all of us to go out and bring to the fold. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Here is the place where we can receive the bread and wine of communion and so experience Jesus’ very real, sustaining presence, in an irreplaceable way the nourishment you need for your hungry soul and to go out and feed others. It is returning again, week after week for Jesus’ presence in word and the sacrament of the Eucharist that we are conformed to be more and more to be like Jesus. And in those times in life when challenges arise and we are not sure we have what it takes, we return again to be sustained by Jesus’ presence. And if we begin to feel unworthy of God’s love, we know we can always return to the altar, confess and receive forgiveness – then through Christ’s presence in the sacrament we are fed for the coming week.
For Jesus gave us this bread so that we might live, but he also gave us this bread so that we may help others live too and to serve him and all others whom he loves but are lost in everything that we do.
So come to the altar this morning. Be blessed. Be fed, and then go out into the world and live his risen life in your life and the life of others. Amen.