10 August 2015

Preparing to preach about
‘the living bread’

‘I am the living bread’ (John 6: 51) … bread in the window of Hindley’s Bakery in Tamworth Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

I am preparing two sermons for Sunday next [16 August, 2015], the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity.

One is a short reflection at the early morning celebration of the Eucharist at 9 .a.m., in Zion Parish Church, Rathgar. The second is my sermon for the main parish service, Matins, in Zion Church.

The readings are: I Kings 2: 10-12, 3: 3-14, Psalm 111; Ephesians 5: 15-20; John 6: 51-58.

In the Gospel reading, Christ describes himself as “the living bread” (verse 51).

As I work on these sermons and reflect on this key “I AM” saying in Saint John’s Gospel, I am reminded of two great saying.

Earlier this year, I was in Cappadocia, primarily because of my interest in Patristic studies and an interest in seeing sites associated with the Cappadocian Fathers.

Three key patristic writers and saints are Saint Basil the Great (329-379), Bishop of Caesarea, his brother Saint Gregory (335-395), Bishop of Nyssa, and Saint Gregory Nazianzus (329-390), who became Patriarch of Constantinople.

They challenged heresies such as Arianism and their thinking was instrumental in formulating the phrases that shaped the Nicene Creed.

Saint Basil is also remembered for his challenging social values: “The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”

So faith and belief must be related to how we live our lives as Christians.

And secondly I am reminded of Bishop Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar from 1908, who held together in a creative combination his incarnational and sacramental theology with his radical social concerns. These formed the keynote of his address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923. He believed that the sacramental focus gave a reality to Christ’s presence and power that nothing else could, and said: “The one thing England needs to learn is that Christ is in and amid matter, God in flesh, God in sacrament.”

However, he concluded: “But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, then, when you come out from before your tabernacles, you must walk with Christ, mystically present in you through the streets of this country, and find the same Christ in the peoples of your cities and villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums … It is folly – it is madness – to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children.”

So sacramental life is meaningless unless it is lived out in our care for those who are hungry, suffering and marginalised.

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