Today we have Together at Ten - our shorter, informal service, designed for families - though there are often few present. Earlier today I was tweeting about my lack of ideas, and someone suggested this wonderful poem by Charles Causeley. I loved it as a child...and perhaps the image of Jesus STILL offering bread to those who refuse to admit their hunger may help the congregation to think some more about what it means to feed on the Bread of Life.
In any case - it's good to reconnect with the poem.
THE BALLAD OF THE BREADMAN
Mary stood in the kitchen
Baking a loaf of bread.
An angel flew in the window
‘We’ve a job for you,’ he said.
‘God in his big gold heaven
Sitting in his big blue chair,
Wanted a mother for his little son.
Suddenly saw you there.’
Mary shook and trembled,
‘It isn’t true what you say.’
‘Don’t say that,’ said the angel.
‘The baby’s on its way.’
Joseph was in the workshop
Planing a piece of wood.
‘The old man’s past it,’ the neighbours said.
‘That girls been up to no good.’
‘And who was that elegant fellow,’
They said. ‘in the shiny gear?’
The things they said about Gabriel
Were hardly fit to hear.
Mary never answered,
Mary never replied.
She kept the information,
Like the baby, safe inside.
It was the election winter.
They went to vote in the town.
When Mary found her time had come
The hotels let her down.
The baby was born in an annexe
Next to the local pub.
At midnight, a delegation
Turned up from the Farmers’ club.
They talked about an explosion
That made a hole on the sky,
Said they’d been sent to the Lamb and Flag
To see God come down from on high.
A few days later a bishop
And a five-star general were seen
With the head of an African country
In a bullet-proof limousine.
‘We’ve come,’ they said ‘with tokens
For the little boy to choose.’
Told the tale about war and peace
In the television news.
After them came the soldiers
With rifle and bombs and gun,
Looking for enemies of the state.
The family had packed up and gone.
When they got back to the village
The neighbours said, to a man,
‘That boy will never be one of us,
Though he does what he blessed well can.’
He went round to all the people
A paper crown on his head.
Here is some bread from my father.
Take, eat, he said.
Nobody seemed very hungry.
Nobody seemed to care.
Nobody saw the God in himself
Quietly standing there.
He finished up in the papers.
He came to a very bad end.
He was charged with bringing the living to life.
No man was that prisoner’s friend.
There’s only one kind of punishment
To fit that kind of crime.
They rigged a trial and shot him dead.
They were only just in time.
They lifted the young man by the leg,
Thy lifted him by the arm,
They locked him in a cathedral
In case he came to harm.
They stored him safe as water
Under seven rocks.
One Sunday morning he burst out
Like a jack-in-the-box.
Through the town he went walking.
He showed them the holes in his head.
Now do you want any loaves? He cried.
‘Not today’ they said.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Over the past 4 weeks, we've heard Jesus saying a lot about bread...and it's very easy to hear his words through those special, church-friendly filters that we seem to have fitted at baptism...filters which can sometimes be so effective that we don't really hear at all
“I am the living bread”
"Ah yes," we say, calmly, "Jesus the living bread. Of course!"
But what is he actually saying...and what does it mean for us,as we try to live his way of Love today?
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."Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day
except that we believe that somehow, it means EVERYTHING...and we come together to eat this bread week after week after week.
It's a huge part of why we are here this morning.
Let's try, though, to jettison those church-friendly filters and engage again with the words that John gives us this morning as he sets out to demonstrate that Jesus is the One for whom Israel was waiting, and to do this aligns Jesus with Moses...This is to be another story of liberation and pilgrimage...a journey through hardship to the homeland that has been promised.
We need to remember that for the Jews, the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) provided a constant frame of reference. The contents of these books were not abstract concepts for the Jew - these were living words, pregnant with layers of meaning, and each new generation of Jews felt themselves part of the story in some way.
And so John has Jesus evoke memories of the defining period in Jewish history, the Exodus from Egypt, and recall God’s provision of manna, “bread from heaven”.
This was the freedom food, which enabled God’s people to travel onwards to their promised destination.
The food which sustained them, and made it possible for them to live as a people on the move, following wherever God lead them.
But, though this food seemed miraculous, it had to be consumed on the day it appeared, or it rotted and became worthless.
The Israelites were not allowed to build up supplies in case of crisis. They just had to trust God’s provision, day after day after day.
Now Jesus compares himself with that bread…in terms guaranteed to have any observant Jew sitting bolt upright on the edge of this seat
I am the bread of life.
I AM is the name God gives himself when he meets Moses, at the burning bush
Say I AM has sent you.
And so Jesus identifies himself with God and urges the crowd
“Stop looking only to your physical needs!
Your ancestors ate manna but they still died!
You who ate when I fed the 5000 will die in time!
But belief in me is ‘food’ that leads to eternal life.”
Jesus, the bread which now comes down from heaven sustains those who eat for ever.
This is no less the food of pilgrimage, no less a food provided directly by God,- indeed this food represents God’s very life, available to be absorbed by all God’s people.
Jesus is offering himself to his disciples…whoever eats me…
Imagine the impact of that, with Jesus himself standing beside you, on a hot day in Palestine, as the crowds press around, murmuring in doubt or disapproval.
A living, breathing man inviting you to eat him.
Shocking, unthinkable words.
Frightening, unwelcome words – in the same way as those words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper
“This is my body…this is my blood...”
John wrote several decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection, as part of a community that would have regularly celebrated the Lord’s supper together. For them, as for us, Jesus’ imagery - eating flesh and drinking blood - had come to life in a new way as the church shared the meal Jesus instituted.
So it is, week by week, when we gather and make Eucharist.
We bring ourselves, just as we are, broken, flawed, hungry for love and reassurance.
We bring the mess and muddle of our lives and lay them with our gifts upon the altar.
And as the bread and wine are consecrated and transformed, as Christ becomes truly present in those ordinary things made holy by the power of the Spirit, so we find ourselves joined with Christ and with one another.
No I don't understand what is happening – but I know with all that is in me that this is true.
As we eat this bread we encounter Christ and are changed by that encounter
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”
Hear Christ speak these words to you as you make your way to the Communion rail.
Open your hands to receive your Lord
Here in this fragment of bread is Jesus himself, all we will ever need to sustain us on our pilgrimage.
Bread is, we know, the staff of life, but the life that this bread represents is everlasting.
It is the life of God himself…and we are invited to share it.
Thanks be to God!