Sunday, 22 August 2021

God’s presence among
us is not just for us but
for the many, the masses

‘But the one who eats this bread will live for ever’ (John 6: 58) … ‘The Eucharist’, one of 20 white porcelain ceramic panels by Helena Brennan at the Oblate Church in Inchicore, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 22 August 2021, the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XII)

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Castletown Church

11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Readings: I Kings 8: (1, 6, 10-11,) 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; John 6: 56-69

There is a link to the readings HERE

‘When a foreigner … comes from a distant land because of your name … (respond) so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name’ (I Kings 8: 41-43)

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

We are coming to the end of the ‘Bread of Life’ discourse in Saint John’s Gospel, and return to Saint Mark’s Gospel next Sunday. In this morning’s reading, Christ says that taking part in the Eucharist establishes a lasting relationship, a community of life, a mutual indwelling, between him and believers.

But his teachings are difficult, and many turn away. This morning, we might ask ourselves: What do we say or do that turns people away from the Church, that turns people away from Christ?

In our first reading, the Temple has been built, the Ark has been brought to Jerusalem, and it is now moved in procession to the Holy of Holies or ‘inner sanctuary.’ A cloud fills the house of the Lord as a sign of God’s presence (verses 10-11).

Solomon asks God to respond to the pleas of foreigners and prays for ‘all the peoples of the earth’: ‘When a foreigner … comes from a distant land because of your name … (respond) so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name’ (I Kings 8: 41-43).

Our Psalm (Psalm 84) reminds the people that God dwells among them (verses 1-2), and that to live in the ‘courts of the Lord’ is a blessing and a joy to the heart. Those who live there have security and happiness. ‘Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow has a nest for herself’ there (verse 3).

The psalmist rejoices in well-known words that ‘a day’ in God’s ‘courts is better that a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness’ (verse 10).

So, where God dwells, the many, even the most insignificant of creatures, should find sanctuary, should find a home.

These are challenging readings when it comes to our treatment of foreigners who arrive in our land, and we might bear them in mind in the weeks to come as Ireland prepares to accept refugees from Afghanistan.

Do we see our proper treatment of the outsider, the many, as a religious and moral duty? Do they see in our response to them a reflection of our highest religious, moral and ethical values … a reflection of what we understand God expects of us?

In the Gospel reading (John 6: 56-69), we are coming to the end of the ‘Bread of Life’ discourse in Saint John’s Gospel, while Christ is teaching in Capernaum.

When he leaves the synagogue, many of Christ’s followers find his teaching difficult or offensive, and turn away. Christ asks the Twelve whether they too wish to leave him. But Saint Peter replies on their behalf: ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’ (verse 68).

The call to follow Christ is difficult. His demands are hard to accept and follow. Love is not always easy and romantic. There are times when loving one another, let along loving others out there in the world are so, so difficult, No wonder so many of his listeners turn away this morning.

What if the reason they turn away is because they find it hard to accept that Christ is for the many, not for the few, that God dwells among even the smallest and most despised of people, and not just the self-selecting, self-chosen few?

The many and the disciples are two different groups. We often misunderstand and misuse the term οἱ πολλοί (hoi polloi, ‘the many’). In Gilbert and Sullivan operas, it is pronounced as ‘the high pol-oy.’

In English, the phrase has come to be used with distaste for the masses or common people, in a derogatory way that is similar to ‘the great unwashed,’ ‘the plebs,’ ‘the rabble,’ ‘the riff-raff,’ or ‘the herd.’

Pericles uses hoi polloi in his ‘Funeral Oration’ in the Peloponnesian War, when he praises the Athenian people and democracy, contrasting ‘the many’ with ‘the few,’ the oligarchy (οἱ ὀλίγοι, hoi oligoi).

In the film Dead Poets’ Society (1989), Meeks raises his hands and asks: ‘The hoi polloi. Doesn’t it mean the herd?’ Professor Keating replies: ‘Precisely, Meeks. Greek for the herd. However, be warned that, when you say “the hoi polloi” you are actually saying “the the herd.” Indicating that you too are hoi polloi.’

In the Eucharistic prayers, we use words such as: ‘this is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.’

Christ shares himself as the Bread of Life not for the few but for the many. In the Gospel, he says: ‘for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Matthew 26: 28); ‘this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many’ (Mark 14: 24).

It is clear that the Eucharist, while celebrated among the disciples or within the community, is for the benefit of ‘the many.’

If we take part regularly in the Eucharist, we realise that it is not all about me at all. This bread is broken and this cup is poured out not just for us but also for the many.

Regular reception of this Sacrament is a reminder that the Church exists not for you and for me but for the world, and that the Church is not for those who decide subjectively they are the ‘called’ and the ‘saved,’ but is there to call the world into the Kingdom.

God dwells among his people, as Solomon realises in this morning’s first reading, so that ‘all the peoples of the earth’ may know they are loved and may know his name.

The Post-Communion prayer today (Trinity XII) prays that we know God’s forgiveness and the healing power of God’s love not only because we are ‘made whole in Christ,’ but so that we may bring God’s ‘forgiveness and healing to this broken world.’

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

‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me’ (John 6: 56) … an icon of Christ the Great High Priest in a shop window in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 6: 56-69 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 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.’ 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ 68 Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’

‘This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate’ (John 6: 58) … bread in the Avoca shop in Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green (Ordinary Time, Year B)

The Collect of the Day:

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.

The Collect of the Word:

Everliving God,
by whose Spirit
the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified:
hear the prayers we offer for all your faithful people,
that in the ministry to which you have called them
each may serve you in holiness and truth;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post-Communion Prayer:

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.

Hymns:

398, Alleluia! sing to Jesus (CD 24)
581, I, the Lord of sea and sky (Castletown), CD 49
403, Bread of the world in mercy broken (Rathkeale), CD 24



Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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