29 April 2009

‘I am the bread of life’

Patrick Comerford

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

5 p.m.: The Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

Acts 8: 1b-8; Psalm 66: 1-6; John 6: 35-40

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

‘I am the bread of life ... I have come down from heaven.”

As you are all preparing for end-of-year exams, I am sure none of you is going to be tricked by the apocryphal story of a trick exam question asking students outline the institution narrative in the Fourth Gospel, and to draw comparisons with the institution narratives in the Synoptic Gospels and in the Pauline account.

It is not that there is no institution narrative in Saint John’s Gospel, but that the whole Gospel itself can be read through the prism of understanding the Eucharistic.

And the Johannine writings are, in part, attempting to address the divisions within the Church among those who should be united around one bread and one table, forming one body.

There is a hint of those divisions to come within the Johannine community in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this evening, as Barnabas Philip goes out to preach to the Samaritans, who are excluded from the covenant community, from the community of faith, who were regarded as worse than Gentiles.

There were those who argued that to be a true member of the Church, of the community of faith, one had first to become a Jew, a member of the first community of faith.

The Hellenised Jews and those of Gentile origin in what we now know as western Turkey and Greece often felt they were being looked down on, that they were being excluded from first class membership of the community of faith.

And, as all outsiders would, when they read Chapter 6 of Saint John’s Gospel, they would have identified with the people who had followed Jesus out from the city into the wilderness or to the mountain top.

They would have identified readily with those who had gone to the margins for their faith, to follow Christ.

But, of course, the covenant with Israel was also sealed with a marginalised people, a people who had been forced out, who had crossed the water and gone out into the wilderness so that they could worship God. And that covenant is sealed on the mountain top when Moses comes face-to-face with God on Mount Sinai.

The people who have crossed the water, gone out into the wilderness, to meet and listen to Jesus on the mountain top – they too are being nourished with the bread of life, with manna in the wilderness, and being invited into a covenantal relationship with God.

When others try to marginalise us, when others seek to exclude us, when we feel we are in the wilderness, when we feel counted out because others seek to form an exclusive and closed group, Christ breaks through those barriers, and seeks to count us in, to offer us a place among God’s covenant people, and to invite us to eat with him at the heavenly banquet.

And now, may all our thought, words, and deeds be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at the Eucharist on 29 April 2009.

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