05 August 2018

‘The bread of God comes
down from heaven and
gives life to the world’

‘The bread of God ... gives life to the world’ (John 6: 33) ... fresh bread in the window of Hindley’s Bakery in Tamworth Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 5 August 2018

The Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 13B).

11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.

Readings: II Samuel 11: 26 to 12: 13a; Psalm 51: 1-13; Ephesians 4: 1-16; and John 6: 24-35.

‘I am the Bread of Life’ (John 6: 35) ... an image from Saint Luke’s Episcopal Cathedral, Orlando (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

This morning’s Gospel reading (John 6: 24-35) is set on the shores of the Lake of Galilee, and this reading opens with an interesting question from the crowd on the lake shore: ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ (verse 25).

In between all the rowing backwards and forwards, between Tiberias and Capernaum, the people in the crowd were so busy with eating their fill, with their own small world, that they have missed out on the bigger picture – they have taken their eyes off Jesus.

The question they now put to him is very similar in its thrust, in its phrasing, in its direction, to another set of questions in another Gospel story. In the parable of the Goats and the Sheep, or the Judgment of the Nations, in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 25: 31-46), the righteous ask:

‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry, and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you to drink. And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ (Matthew 25: 44).

And again, the condemned ask:

‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ (Matthew 25: 37-39).

Sometimes we can be so focussed on our own agenda, our own practices of religion, that we can be in danger of losing sight of who Christ should be for us.

Those questions in this morning’s Gospel reading and in that parable of the Goats and the Sheep are very disturbing.

‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’

When did I last see Christ among the strangers and the unwelcome, among the ragged children and refugees, among the sick who are without medical cards, among those isolated in rural poverty or loneliness, in the prisoners in their own homes? When did I last see you drowning in the sea off the coasts of the Mediterranean?

‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’

When did I see to it that they not only received the crumbs from my table, but received the Bread of Life?

In this morning’s Gospel reading, we hear how God still wants to provide for us, no matter how we behave, no matter what our circumstances may be.

Christ’s words are addressed not to the Disciples, who later on are going to find his teachings difficult (see John 6: 60, Sunday 26 August), but to the crowds, the multitude, the many, those who are on the margins and the outside, the very people the disciples first thought of sending away.

First, as we heard last Sunday (John 6: 1-21, Sunday 29 July), Christ feeds the many, the crowds, the 5,000, with bread on the mountainside that is multiplied for the multitude .

And then, in this passage, even though they took their eyes off him, Christ now continues to promise to feed them with real food.

He promises them ‘the true bread from heaven’ (verse 33) and he tells them:

‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (verse 35).

Care for the body and care for the soul go together to the point that they are inseparable.

Here in verse 35, we hear the first of the seven ‘I AM’ (Ἐγώ εἰμι) sayings in Saint John’s Gospel, ‘I am the Bread of Life,’ and it is repeated in the Gospel reading next Sunday (John 6: 35, 41-51, 12 August 2018, see verse 48).

These seven ‘I AM’ (Ἐγώ εἰμι) sayings are traditionally listed as:

1, I am the Bread of Life (John 6: 35, 48);
2, I am the Light of the World (John 8: 12);
3, I am the gate (or the door) (John 10: 7);
4, I am the Good Shepherd (John 10: 11 and 14);
5, I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11: 25);
6, I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14: 6);
7, I am the true vine (John 15: 1, 5).

These ‘I AM’ (Ἐγώ εἰμι) sayings are statements that give us a form of the divine name as revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 3: 14).

Jesus is the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the best wine, the true vine.

So often Christ talks about himself in Saint John’s Gospel in terms of food and drink, bread and water and wine. We are invited to the banquet that follows the harvest, we are invited to the wedding with the Bridegroom.

But so often too, he emphasises that his invitation is to the outsider: those in the highways and the byways who are invited to the wedding banquet (see Matthew 22: 1-14; Luke 14: 15-24).

The Gospel message is especially for those in the wilderness.

Where do you think the wilderness places are today in our society, on our island, in the world?

For it is there that God seeks to provide the blessings that come with his manna from heaven, and seeks to give life, not just to us but to the world: ‘For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’ (John 6: 33).

How do we, as those who have been baptised and invited to the Eucharistic banquet, show that those who are invited to come to him, that the whole world which is invited into the Kingdom of God, ‘will never be hungry, and … will never be thirsty’?

Would it make any difference if the world was truly called into the kingdom?

If we believe that it would make, literally, a world of difference, then how do we show it?

Or would things just go on as they are going on?

As the Church, we seek not new members, but new disciples.

Perhaps there was no point in the people crossing the water from Tiberias to Capernaum, there was no point in them asking to continue to be fed on the bread that Christ offers, there was no point in them listening to what Christ had to tell them, unless they believed in it all to the point of putting it into practice.

Christ is the bread of life and the life of the world, and we must see this bread not as some arcane, insiders-only rite. We must also offer the life that he offers us to the world.

Would it make any difference if the Church not only preached what it believes, but worked actively to see these beliefs put into practice?

Our response to the love we receive from God – a risky outpouring that is beyond all human understanding of generosity – can only be to love. In the Epistle reading the Apostle Paul begs us to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called, bearing with one another in love (verse 2).

That call to love is not just to love those who are easy to love. It is a call to love those who are difficult to love too, to love all in the world … and to love beyond words.

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

‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ (John 6: 25) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John 6: 24-35:

24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ 26 Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ 28 Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ 29 Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ 30 So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat”.’ 32 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ 34 They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

35 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’

‘Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness’ (John 6: 31) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions,
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
438, O thou who at thy eucharist didst pray
403, Bread of the world in mercy broken (Askeaton)
425, Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts (Tarbert)

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.

They found him on the other side of the lake (John 6: 25) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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