Sunday, 19 August 2018

Bringing forgiveness and
healing to this broken
world in the name of Christ

‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven’ (John 6: 51) … bread on the table in a restaurant in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 19 August 2018,

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XII, Proper 15B).


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

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

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

This morning’s readings – the Old Testament, Psalm and Epistle reading – ask us to consider where we find wisdom, and the Psalm reminds us that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.’

But the purpose of wisdom, which Solomon asks for alone, is so that good and evil can be distinguished, especially when it comes to the needs of the people.

In the Gospel reading, Christ teaches us and shows how he cares for the needs of the people, both spiritually and physically.

In our Old Testament reading (I Kings 2: 10-12, 3: 3-14), Solomon is at the beginning of his reign when God appears to him. Solomon asks for the gift of wisdom. God grants this request, but also adds riches and honour above other kings, which Solomon did not ask for.

Psalm 111 thanks God for his great deeds and reminds us: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Psalm 111: 10).

In our Epistle reading, Saint Paul tells the Church in Ephesus that wisdom is a characteristic of Christian living, and that we are privileged to share in God’s wisdom and insights through Christ. Before Christ comes again, we are, effectively, to know the difference between wisdom and foolishness, to be filled with the Spirit instead of drunkenness, showing this joy among ourselves, and giving thanks to God at all times for the whole of creation.

Our Gospel reading (John 6: 51-58) continues the discourse after the feeding of the multitude, in which Christ describes himself, saying ‘I am the living bread’ (verse 51).

Last Sunday, we heard Christ say to the multitude: ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6: 35). And he emphasised it, not once but twice, when he said: ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’ (verse 41) and again ‘I am the bread of life’ (verse 48).

Now, in this morning’s reading, Christ develops that theme when he says: ‘I am the living bread’ (verse 51).

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.). So, 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, what does it mean to acknowledge Christ as ‘the bread of life’?

I was at a wedding recently that was celebrated in the context of the Eucharist or the Holy Communion.

In his sermon, the priest compared God’s self-giving to us in Christ’s body as an expression of God’s deepest love for us with the way in which a couple getting married give themselves bodily to each other … the most intimate loving action to be shown to each other.

Of course, for the love of God and the love of one another are inseparable.

Let me offer three illustrations that show how this is so.

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

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

They are 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.

But their thinking was not about doctrine alone. It was also about living the Christian life.

So, for example, Saint Basil 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.’

Sacramental practice must be related to the practice of Christianity, and doctrine and belief must be related to how we live our lives as Christians.

2, The ‘folly and madness’ of Bishop Frank Weston

I have also stayed in recent years in Saint Matthew’s Vicarage in Westminster, where Frank Weston (1871-1924), Bishop of Zanzibar, is said to have written a key, influential speech just a year before he died.

Bishop Frank Weston held together in a creative combination his incarnational and sacramental theology with his radical social concerns, expressed in his keynote 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.

He concluded that address: ‘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.’

He told people at the congress: ‘Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.’

Something similar was said in a recent letter in The Tablet [4 August 2018] by Father Derek P Reeve, a retired parish priest in Portsmouth: ‘The … Lord whom we receive at the Eucharist is the one whom we go out to serve, and, dare I say it, to adore in our neighbour …’

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

3, Practical expression of Christian values in public action

Some years ago, the Anglican priest and Guardian columnist Giles Fraser visited the migrant camps in Calais and worshipped with them in the makeshift chapel served by Eritrean priests.

His visit stirred controversy in English red-top tabloids. There was speculation at the time in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and other papers that the BBC was going to film Songs of Praise in Calais, which caused furtive but feigned panic about public money, the licence fees, being used to tell the migrants’ stories.

Despite hyped-up talk long before the ‘Brexit’ referendum about ‘swarms’ of migrants supposedly trying to reach British shores from Calais, only four per cent of Europe’s asylum seekers are applying to stay in the UK.

That debate in Britain was in sharp contrast to the humanitarian work of Irish naval vessels on the high seas at the same time, saving hundreds if not thousands of lives in the Mediterranean waters between Italy and North Africa.

The crews of those naval vessels are hallowed expressions of public values in this society … and a practical expression of Christian values in public action.

Appropriately, the Post-Communion Prayer this morning prays: ‘God of compassion, in this eucharist we know again your forgiveness and the healing power of your love. Grant that we who are made whole in Christ may bring that forgiveness and healing to this broken world, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.’

Some conclusions

There are three points that might be drawn from this morning’s Gospel reading:

1, God gives to us in Christ, and in the Sacrament, so too we must give lovingly.

2, Doctrine and belief must be related to discipleship, indeed they are meaningless unless they are reflected in how we live our lives, a point made by Saint Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians.

3, Our sacramental practice must always be related to how we live our lives every day so that we make Christ’s love visible.

To summarise, our doctrines and creedal expressions, our attention to Scripture and our attention to sacramental life find their fullest meaning in how we reflect God’s love for each other and how we express God’s love for those who are left without loving care. For they too are made in God’s image and likeness, and in their faces we see the face of Christ.

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

‘Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever’ (John 6: 51) … bread on sale in a shop in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John 6: 51-58:

51 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.’

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ 53 So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’

‘He provides food for those who fear him’ (Psalm 111: ) … bread on a shop shelf in Powerscourt, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you are always more ready to hear than we to pray
and to give more than either we desire, or deserve:
Pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid,
and giving us those good things
which we are not worthy to ask
save through the merits and mediation
of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

‘Bread of the world in mercy broken’ (Hymn 403) … bread in a Greek baker’s window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

643: Be thou my vision, (CD 37);
346: Angel voices, ever singing (CD 21);
425: Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts (CD 25).

‘Bread of the world in mercy broken’ (Hymn 403) … bread in the window of Hindleys Bakery, Tamworth Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

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