Todays readings for 13th Sunday after Pentecost. 1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14 Psalm 111 Ephesians 5:11-21 John 6:51-58
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton.
This is the fourth week, in a row, that we have been talking about this discourse in John about Jesus being the bread of life. The context of the whole is that of proximity to the Passover, that Jewish meal that, then as now, symbolises salvation, God bringing out God’s own people. For the Christian the relevance is that it is through this new meal, that God draws us to be the people of God. First we thought about the feeding of the five thousand, which revealed God’s generosity and the subsequent claim of Jesus to be “I AM” or God god’s-self. We then thought about the manna that fed God’s newly assembled people as they wandered in wilderness, and Jesus tells us that he is the bread of life, and more than that he is the bread of life for eternity. This week the passage circles back on some of those images and introduces a shocking new image and a shocking new verb to go with it. ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ We have been lulled, by Jesus’ constant talk of bread, to think this is a nice domestic metaphor. Indeed it is not, it is a shocking revelation. The word, made flesh and dwelling among us is offering that flesh and blood to join us into the life of God. Do you feel confronted by this image? The people of Jesus’ day, according to John certainly did. And, you know, that makes me glad, it proves that all this figurative language, these metaphors that Jesus uses are difficult and contentious. And I think that by far the most difficult aspect of what Jesus says is that combination of the real visceral description of a body here on earth, combined with the idea of eating and drink flesh and blood which is certainly figurative. It does help us however to understand that many things in the gospels are not meant to be taken literally even when they seem to be fairly concrete. The thing that Jesus seems to be saying is that it is by his incarnation, the word made flesh, that we are fed and given life. The life that he is speaking of is eternal or more literally, ‘of the ages’. And this life is more than the physical life that they already have-clearly- because Jesus says to these living breathing people that unless they eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, “you have no life in you”. Are you confused? They clearly were, and they disputed among themselves about this. That also makes me feel better because we human beings have been disputing about the sacrament of Holy Communion ever since. Jesus then gets back to this platonic idea of true food and true drink. This is eternal food not temporal food, not like the manna that their ancestors ate. If eating flesh and drinking blood is the shocking concept, the shocking verb is “trogo” to gnaw or chew. It’s the Greek word that would be applied to a dog with a juicy bone. So Jesus takes us out of polite society and tells us to gnaw on him. The thing that this makes me think is that we have to spend a life time chewing over the things that Jesus says and does. There is no quick fix here, a wafer that dissolves instantly and a minute sip of wine does not convey the kind of eating and drinking that Jesus is talking about. Jesus is talking about something that results in us abiding in God. And this resting, dwelling is a continuous state, now and into the future. It seems to me that here, Jesus makes it plain that eternal life is not something in the future, not ‘pie in the sky when you die’, but something that we are part of, now, here on earth. In John’s gospel there is none of the ‘Kingdom of God’, or ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ language that the synoptics employ but rather this concept of abiding. We live in and through Jesus, we gnaw on him, we rest in him, we abide in the life of God and we have an eternal nature. In what sense we are eternal is not clear in this passage only that we are “into the ages”. So what does this mean for us, here in Camberwell? Surely it means that what we do here in our bodies has implications for the world around us. We are Christ’s body both in this place and eternally. We eat his flesh and drink his blood around this table, and go out, fed, to be Christ’s physical body in our world. Our act of Holy Communion is not only a marker of who we are, it is not only the key to our own eternal existence, but the key for the existence of the world around us. There is no separation here between the physical and the spiritual, and we need to be people who integrate that in our lives. Jesus is the life of the world. So how do we live this reality? We are God’s people who are part of the life of the world so everything we do needs to be life giving. We need to live out God’s generosity in our community. This takes many different forms, the generous feeding of the poor, which becomes the offering of the body and blood of Christ for them. A generous offering of forgiveness and mercy is also the body and blood of Christ poured out for others. A generous giving of self might be helping others whether they are the homeless, asylum seekers here, the desperate in camps around the world, or people starving in third world countries. Living as the body of Christ might mean being kind to all you meet, showing God’s love in acceptance and care. Living as the body of Christ is praying for those for whom there is no other way of helping. We all have different functions. The body of Christ is made up of an infinite number of different beings. The one thing that we all hold in common is that we are all called to choose life. We are called to make choices that are life giving for others. There is nothing passive about either receiving the body and blood, nor our acts of being in the world. This is somehow eternal, what we do in our earthly life- we have to keep on eating and drinking, chewing on the word of God, and abiding, resting, staying in God- is also our eternal reality. And for our earthly lives we continue taking that physical reality, that incarnated Christ into the world and bringing the world in to the reality of life in God. Marty Haugen puts it this way: ‘Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven light years away, but here in this space, the new light is shining, now is the kingdom, now is the day. Gather us in, and hold us forever; gather us in, and make us your own; gather us in, all peoples together, fire of love in our flesh and our bone.’