Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity
1st Aug 2021
9th Sunday of Trinity
Jesus said to them “I am the bread of Life”. John 6.35
Our Gospel from John explores the theme of Jesus as the ‘Bread of Life’ John’s Gospel surrounds Jesus’ identity with the so-called ‘I am’ sayings. The ‘I am’ phrase had previously only been used a way of identifying with God the Father, who could not be directly named. When Jesus proclaims ‘I am the Bread of Life’ he promises the Church a sustenance which had in the past only been given as manna in the desert. Jesus is now our ‘Bread of life’ and his offering of himself, his ‘flesh’ is given for the life of the world. In Christ our lives find their true belonging and their sustenance. It feeds us and sustains us even when we do not know it.
I was drawn some years ago and entering upon the ministry here at Holy Cross to a little book ‘I am Somewhere Else’ by a Methodist Minister, Rev. Barbara Glasson. She was given the opportunity to put this ‘bread of life’ theology into practice. Given by the Methodist Church a small old shop in a derelict part of Central Liverpool she was asked to ‘make something of the situation’ and to create around this unpromising situation a new and different kind of church. She was an experienced pastor, but had always worked within church situations that were formal and predictable, and that had structure, services, formal duties. Now she was pitched into the unknown. But given that this was Liverpool, and lying somewhere close to the heart of Liverpool’s shopping district this was a place where all sorts of wanderers, all kinds of different people passed by. The derelict shop was refurbished and set up as a drop in. Most of those who came in were homeless and on the margins and in dire need of that same ‘Bread of Life’ of which today’s Gospel speaks.
It was some time before Barbara realised that the situation (God) was calling her to a ministry divested of its usual structures and stripped down to the bare essentials. God was to be discovered through every human encounter – through the meeting of strangers and fellow travellers. This wasn’t just a ‘drop in’ but a church whose minister was found to be there at all hours watching and praying and waiting. This was a an ‘inside out’ kind of church. One day she she was offered a bread oven by a nearby bakery which had closed down she had it set up. Each day she and her followers made bread. And the bread was shared over a soup lunch and a few loaves distributed to those who needed them. And it was in the making and the sharing and the eating of the bread which told you all you needed to know about the provisionality of life, and the importance of finding our life in the lives of others in others in the welcome of the stranger. The provisional is a key word which speaks of course of a provider but also of the unpredictability of things and so the importance of the present moment and the need not to act for the fulfilment of God’s promise and to enact his eucharistic life today.
In contemporary life, many promises are made for the consumer which cannot possibly be satisfied, particularly the buying into the illusion of a life oblivious to its brevity. In this vein a Company of Funeral Directors offers a funeral pre-payment plan entitled ‘Dignity in Destiny Limited’. My mother was shocked to discover that as she ordered a burial plot for my dead father, she had also to face the fact of its providing a second ready-made space for her own remains. Dreadful that in the death of another you come face to face with your own mortality. Barbara Glasson reminds us that “….life dawns on us as we grow in self-awareness. We do not know why we are alive but with every breath we breathe we experience life as a given. Sometimes we are thankful for it and sometimes it scares us witless”. But we must always act as though new life in the present was entirely needful.
If Jesus, ‘The Bread of Life’ is our sustenance, it must be a sustenance that is given ‘just as we are’. And in the middle of where we are and of how things actually are. Life is not all black and white, ready-made as a kind of pre-planned insurance policy. It contains so much is unpredictable, confusing, difficult to bear and to understand, and containing far less fixity and security than we would wish. It is, in short, provisional. It was with this in mind that Barbara advanced the idea of her bread-baking church. The Church which had turned itself inside out was the church which lay open to the elements and took a risk on its own existence, but which was confident and bold in its expression.
In such a way we at Holy Cross we are nourished and empowered as we receive the God’s bread in Jesus – his ‘Bread of Life’ in the Holy Sacrament at this altar. We come both to be fed and to acknowledge our need of God’s feeding. We come to receive life from the source of all life:
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.
And coming as we do from an Anglo-Catholic tradition we remember that the restoration of the sacramental tradition in the 1850s was purposeful. At its heart lay the embrace of the experience of being fed sacramentally with the body and blood of Christ. It was to re-establish something felt to be lost : that before our worship was ever ceremonial or occasional it was first and foremost a living encounter with a God, who in Jesus Christ – the life of the world – feeds us now and ever more, wherever and with whomsoever we find ourselves.
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