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Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity

5th Aug 2018


Sermon for the 10th Sunday of Trinity Year B

 

“Whoever eats 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.

 

“The gifts God gave were to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4.11-12.

 

The readings speak of what makes Christian Faith so distinctive among the religions of the world with the emphasis on the spiritual and the physical together. Lying at the heart of our belief as Christians is the fact of God, of Jesus becoming human, which we call the Incarnation. Our readings are reflections and proofs of the existence of God and of the way in which God the Father choses to express his purposes in the physical world and in physical ways. The emphasis is upon the human body and its needs as an analogy for the life of the eternal soul that exists within. This is reassuring. Our God is not One who stands aloof from the human situation. Jesus is God become like one of us, and this relationship is vital to the Christian understanding of who God is and how God wishes to communicate to us.

 

Between 1947 and 1949, Barbara Hepworth produced around 80 coloured drawings (entitless 'The Hospital Drawings') of surgeons at work in an operating theatre. She would spent up to ten hours in theatre, drawing and observing. This period of activity followed the friendship that resulted from the hospitalisation of her daughter with the surgeon who treated her at the Elizabeth Orthopaedic Hospital in Exeter, Devon. The drawings were also an expression of celebration for the founding of the brand new National Health Service. .

 

Barbara Hepworth said: “There is, it seems to me, a close affinity between the work and approach both of physicians and surgeons, and painters and sculptors”. But on close observation something else was also noticed. Hepworth’s beautiful drawings, depicting medical practitioners, gathered around the patient at different angles, their accurately captured hands, their piercing eyes, and their solemn but purposeful work, operating with great precision, allude to an atmosphere of silent reverence and the Christian sense of the sacramental.  The practice of the caring and mending of bodies is felt to be somehow holy. As we think on these things, we may be reminded each day in King’s Cross of how many hundreds of thousands who pass through our streets each day have either obvious and physical or not so obvious and inner pain, or who at least carry around with them the distress of life, whether in the determined faces of those commuters going to work in the morning or perhaps the old man sitting in the park all alone and then the many men and women with little else but the next can of cider or of a drug induced semi-comatose existence way out on the margins.

 

Our lessons this morning remind us of the close association of the physical body and the eternal soul. Christians will always say that here is no way of understanding our human existence except in the embrace of both. If I am a soul as well as a body, then I no longer speak of the body in purely physical or animal terms, nor do I understand my life to be bound to physical life and death only. Life is not to be considered as linear but dynamic and caught up in eternity. I am not alone but part of a miraculous whole. Jesus speaks of everlasting life both as projected into the future and as shown in the here and now. The numbers of people in parishes across our land used to be accounted not as persons but as souls. The existence of the soul opens up new dimensions for our life’s purpose and its hope. It opens up a relationship of trust with God which is spiritual and physical in its willingness to offer the day to God. Our communion hymns give some expression of this:

 

Bread of Heav’n on Thee we feed,

For Thy flesh is meat indeed:

Ever may our souls be fed

With this true and living Bread;

Day by day with strength supplied,

Through the life of Him Who died.

 

This is to speak of what is, for the Christian,  life’s true and sustaining principle. Christian Faith sees our human destiny and our life’s worth lying in our interrelatedness and in the binding of all human destinies in the one hope. But this is not just to be a matter of words or a mere formula, but something alive and real, the call to a realignment of human relationships in the likeness of Christ. The Church lives this reality as a Eucharistic community. It shares itself amid the world around it in churches like this one.

 

As this broken bread was scattered as grain upon the mountains, and, being gathered together, became one, so may thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy Kingdom; for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever and ever.

 

From The Didache, a First Century Christian Document.

 

The two abiding references to the human body in the Bible are found, one in the Old Testament and one in the New. The Old Testament eternal reference is the depiction of the people Israel, in the Exodus, a whole nation banished to wander the desert in search of the ‘promised land’. The New Testament reference is to the Christian witnesses as forming ‘The Body of Christ’ who receive the sacrament as we will this morning, the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, and are called at the same time to live that life and to respond to the very joy and the pain which surrounds us at all times. – “Behold what you are…” as St Augustine put it “become what you receive”.

 

The measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Amen.