Sunday, 16 August 2015

‘The bread which you do not
use is the bread of the hungry’

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

Patrick Comerford

Zion Church, Rathgar, Dublin 6,

Sunday 16 August 2015,

The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

9 a.m., The Eucharist.

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

May I speak to you + in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I know it is not traditional to have a sermon at this early celebration of the Eucharist in Zion. But I thought for a moment or two it might be appropriate to share some of the thoughts I have for my sermon later here this morning at Matins.

Our Gospel reading this morning develops one of the great “I AM” sayings in Saint John’s Gospel, the first of these seven sayings, which we heard last Sunday.

In last Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus said to the multitude: “I am the bread of life” (John 6: 35). And he emphasised it, not once but twice last Sunday, when he said: “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (verse 41) and again “I am the bread of life” (verse 48).

He develops that theme this morning when he says: “I am the living bread” (verse 51).

These are emphatic declarations. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus says “I am” 45 times. But he uses this particular way of saying I am 24 times. He says “I AM,” ἐγώ εἰμί (ego eimi), explicitly including the Greek pronoun “I” (ἐγώ ego) which is not necessary in Greek grammar at the time.

Why? What is Jesus saying?

I don’t mean to be obscure about the finer points of Greek and Greek grammar. But it is a point that was immediately obvious to the first readers of Saint John’s Gospel.

In the Hebrew Bible, the meaning of God’s name is closely related to the emphatic statement “I AM” (see Exodus 3: 14; 6: 2; Deuteronomy 32: 39; Isaiah 43: 25; 48: 12; 51: 12; etc.). In the Greek translation, the Septuagint, most of these passages are translated with as “I AM,” ἐγώ εἰμί.

The “I AM” of the Old Testament and the “I AM” of Saint John’s Gospel is the God who creates us, who communicates with us, who gives himself to us.

But it is worth asking ourselves as we prepare to meet Christ in the Eucharist this morning, what does it mean to acknowledge Christ as “the bread of life”?

Earlier this year, I spent some time in Cappadocia, in south-central Turkey. I was there because of my interest in sites associated with the three Cappadocian Fathers.

These were three key Patristic writers and saints: 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. He wrote: “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.

Bishop Frank Weston, who was the Bishop of Zanzibar from 1908, held together in a creative combination his incarnational and sacramental theology with his radical social concerns formed the keynote of his address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923. He believed that a true sacramental focus gave a reality to Christ’s presence and power that nothing else could.

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 … 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, from Basil the Great in the fourth century to great mission pioneers in the Anglican Communion in recent generations, sacramental life is meaningless unless it is lived out in our care for those who are hungry, suffering and marginalised.

“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” (John 6: 51).

And these are some of the points I hope to explore in my sermon later this morning.

And so, may all we think, say and do be + to the praise, honour and glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Collect:

O God,
you declare your almighty power
most chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
Mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace,
that we, running the way of your commandments,
may receive your gracious promises,
and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord of all mercy,
we your faithful people have celebrated
the memorial of that single sacrifice
which takes away our sins and brings pardon and peace.
By our communion
keep us firm on the foundation of the gospel
and preserve us from all sin;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This reflection was shared at the Eucharist in Zion Parish Church, Rathgar, Dublin, on Sunday 16 August 2015.

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