Saturday, October 23, 2021

Job 38 for Trinity 20 at Coventry Cathedral

 

Let me take you on a short journey in time.

It’s millennium year and I’m curved around my cello, part of an orchestra drawn together for a community production of Noye’s Fludde, with my children all having solo roles. It has been a wonderful week but we’ve reached the last night, and the final chorus

We sang it as our opening hymn

The spacious firmament on high, with all the blue ethereal sky and spangled heavens, a shining frame, their great Original proclaim

The words present that popular idea of the music of the spheres as if the whole galaxy is an orchestra, and I exchange glances and smiles with our conductor as I reflect “as above, so below”

If you’ve spent much of your time researching 17th century literature, that kind of thing is bound to happen...but for that moment as the music swells around me, it almost seems true. Everything makes sense. Divine order holds the universe in being. I have my place in the orchestra of creation, just as I do in the Britten performance. It all makes sense.


Except, of course, that life rarely presents itself in harmonious order and while we all indeed have our place – our vocation – a song that only we can sing, it’s often very hard to see the overarching patterns around us.

It has been a problem since the dawn of time.

Enter Job, who has had a long long wait for God to answer his appeal to make sense of things.


The famously upright man who had rejoiced in all the gifts that he’d seen as a reward for his virtuous life has found himself, overnight, blighted by the full weight of what seemed to be divine disfavour. (It’s small consolation for us, as the readers, to know that the whole thing is part of a divine experiment, dreamed up by Satan to determine whether faith in God can survive random misfortune...an experiment that God consents to. What, we may ask in outrage, is THAT all about?)


Job maintains a dogged stoicism – The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord – until the end of chapter 2 – but things keep on happening and it is altogether too much to bear so he begins to answer back.

He looks around him and sees injustice and suffering wherever he looks.

He is angry with God – no, furious!

Having listened to the apologetics offered by his three friends, the men known as “Job’s Comforters”, he is anything but comforted.

Let that be a lesson to any of us who find ourselves sitting beside those who are suffering.

There is no point in offering pious platitudes, in a desperate effort to make the unbearable somehow bearable. We can NOT claim that everything happens for a reason – or that God never gives anyone more than they are able to bear. The facts quite simply do not bear that out.

Last Sunday as we gathered for our annual Baby Loss service, what mattered was not to try and find tidy answers but to be real about the pain and sadness each family was carrying.

They didn’t need sticking plasters – which would never cover the gaping wounds of their loss.

Rather, they needed an assurance that they do not travel alone.

That’s probably true for everyone whom we encounter, who are staggering under a burden of grief.

We CANT fix it and we are unlikely to make things better by resorting to easy words.

Pain is pain and while it can be hard to watch with those who suffer, that’s

pretty much the best we can hope to offer. The ministry of human presence a reminder that God never leaves us alone in the dark, whether we feel God or not.


Back to Job. His friends haven’t helped at all, and the poor man is convinced that everything he had believed about God’s righteousness was based on error, that God is simply capricious …It’s centuries before Shakespeare has King Lear proclaim

As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport – but that’s very much where Job is heading. He begs for answers, rails against God, laments that there is NO order, that nothing makes sense any more and God – well, God is silent


That’s possibly a situation that feels quite familiar to you…especially if you are bruised and battered by the loss and loneliness that have besieged many during covid-tide. We have, individually and collectively, faced so much that feels unfair, as we have grieved for loved ones sick and dying alone, have wondered what price humanity in a society that, in establishing priorities in a uniquely challenging landscape, seems to have placed economic survival above human suffering.

Much theology is already emerging from the experience of the pandemic, and I’m sure there will be more….because we so badly need to find meaning for our pain. Just like Job.


Despite what some parts of the Christian world might assert, there’s no guarantee that loving God and seeking to serve him will result in a charmed life and often in the immediacy of pain and loss it can be hard to feel the reality of God’s love. This is the absolute opposite of what the disciples hope for when they ask Jesus if they can be his right hand men. They imagine that closeness to their Lord will lead them to vicarious glory – while God has something very different in mind, in the upside down economy of the Kingdom where those aspiring to greatness must become servants and God’s empty Godself of all power except the power of love.

We aren’t wired for that

We find it hard.

We prefer a different world view, in which virtue is rewarded and God’s plan is clear for all to see, written across creation.


And, as God answers Job, it seems that this is what God expects us to do.

To look up, look around, and SEE.

The Jesuit writer Gerard Hughes writes early in his book “God, where are you”

We can only meet God as the God who is immanent. It is through our encounter with God, immanent in all things, that we catch a glimpse of God who is transcendant”

In other words, creation is a series of sign-posts toward the God who is both present in and far beyond everything that God has made.

The God who speaks to Job from the whirlwind


I love that.

While Elijah in his cave discovered that God was NOT in the whirlwind but in the still small voice of calm, Job is buffeted about by his own experience of grief and loss. His life, his emotions, are one big whirlwind – but God’s voice is louder still…

And, in the end, he advocates for Job...and against those friends who had sought to diminish the enormity of the situation by tidy, religious answers. Instead, taking me back to the music of Noye’s Fludde, God offers what amounts to a poem reflecting the unanswerable beauty of God’s creation.

Life, God suggests, is not a puzzle to be solved but a mystery to be recognised and entered into.

This is a mystery. It is not explained or defended; God merely asserts it. The world, full of beauty and creativity and danger, was not made merely for human consumption.

The story is bigger than us, and none of us are the main characters (see Job 38:12-39:30). God does not so much answer Job’s questions as re-frame them and offer Job a new way to see the world in which his grief and his experiences are not the end or the entirety of the story.


Of course, the divine speeches do not answer Job’s questions—nor ours, I imagine. But they give us a glimpse of the deepest and richest of all of God’s storehouses of knowledge. Lest we imagine that the divine speeches exist to stop us from asking any more questions, God seems intent on engaging Job in an actual dialogue, and draws him back to the conversation again and again.

There’s absolutely NO problem from God’s perspective our ranting at him...in sharing our confusion, our pain, our grief.

Being real, as Job was real, is a keystone of our relationships with one another and with God, so please, I beg you, keep talking...to God and to each other about order, justice, and the structure of creation itself. And keep on looking around you.

Th ere’s so much to marvel at, so many traces of God’s beauty in the beauty around us, even in the rhythms of loss and decay and death. All things in their season.


To end, here’s Gerard Hughes again

Now I know that you are always greater than anything I can think or imagine...I am glad that I cannot locate you, define you, describe you.

Now I can thank you for the mystery of my being

You are the God of every situation. God in our darkness drawing us to light. God who is for us, even when we are against ourselves…

Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Camel and the Needle - Address for Welcome to Sunday 10th October 2021


Have you ever been so anxious to hear the answer to a question that you’ve actually run to discover it?
Maybe when you were a child…when you wanted to know if it was OK to go to a friend’s house for tea, or whether the post had arrived on your birthday?
Maybe later, anxious for news of exam results, or an absent loved one expected home?
But now…
Now, I wonder what question might so excite you that you RAN to get the answer…Is there anything that you would want to know so badly that you would fling yourself at the feet of the one who might just be able to tell you?

Actually, if I had just one question to ask God, then the one that the rich young ruler poses might well qualify
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
That surely is THE question…the one to set us tossing and turning at night…the one to force us from our beds….the one that really REALLY must be answered for each one of us.
Isn’t that what we’re for? To work out our eternal destiny?
What must we do?
His question, - our question.

But if that is the question, then I have bad news for all of us.
Though there is an answer…we probably won’t like it.

It’s one of those times when the gospel seems like anything BUT good news.
Listen to this.
Go, sell what you have and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven…
Oh. My. Life!
Over the years I’ve tried so hard to make a comfortable home wherever I’ve landed…a home defined by the presence of people and things that matter to me.
Keepsakes from friends and family.
Pictures and objects I’ve chosen with care
Books. Oh so very many books.
Go sell what you have
I wouldn’t know how to begin.
In fact, it might just be that I’m possessed by my possessions, for it certainly seems unthinkable that I should throw all my treasures aside…
Even for the sake of treasure in heaven.

That’s no surprise to Jesus.
Listen to his comment to the disciples
It's harder for a rich person to enter God's kingdom than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
That doesn’t sound promising.
Of course, you may have heard that there was a gate in ancient Jerusalem called "The Eye of the Needle," which was so narrow that a camel couldn't pass through it unless all its baggage was removed, at which point it could just get through painfully, laboriously on its knees.
We could deal with that scenario.
We might not like it, but it could be managed.
It would suggest that we, the wealthy, could enter God’s kingdom, if we weren’t too attached to our possessions….
But, oh dear, sadly research confirms that there was NO SUCH GATE.
Maybe that’s not surprising.
If Jesus had been talking about a well known local landmark, his hearers wouldn't have been reduced to incredulous questions
"Then who can be saved?!";
But that’s not the way of it.
There is no "Eye of the Needle" gate that camels can crawl through.
Jesus means what he says.
It’s that hard to enter the kingdom…

Nor can we claim immunity on the grounds that we’re not actually wealthy at all.
It may not feel much like it, but if you’re in any doubt then when you next have access to a computer, try entering your income on the website “Global Rich List” and see where you end up. Your income is measured against those of the whole of the world’s population…and the results are shocking. Even on a stipend that never seems to go quite far enough, I find myself in the top 3.6% in the world.
That’s rich, then.


But maybe I could bear to give away all my things.
After all, I’d still have my children, wouldn’t I?
Surely we can assume that family values are Christian values, Christ’s values
That must be a given.
But no
Jesus positively encourages his disciples to abandon their families, their responsibilities, all those precious human ties.

They (and we) are to strip ourselves of everything by which we identify ourselves…Possessions, relationships…the lot.
And stripped of everything, we are then to follow
Deeply disquieting stuff.
I don’t know how it’s left you feeling, but I don’t think I can do it.
Truly, I long to follow – I yearn to find my way into the kingdom of God…but I don’t think I’m brave enough to leave so much behind.

But this is the gospel!

It’s supposed to be good news!

So where do we find that, today?
We find it, first, as Jesus considers the young man
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him”
He has tried so hard, hasn't he...so determined to DO everything he can to get things right. Jesus knows exactly what course the conversation will take…he understands just how fettered the young man really is…but he loves him.
He loves him, and he loves us – with all our good intentions, our deeply buried longings, our welter of doubts and fears.
He loves us so much that he cannot, and does not leave us imprisoned in those many much-loved cages we’ve fashioned for ourselves.
We cannot on our own break free – but if we recognise that we are trapped, - then we’ll find there’s good news here, right enough.

The rich man, secure in his wealth, was asking the wrong question:
What can I do to inherit eternal life?
He assumed that it must be down to him, a matter of action plans, and personal control…and so he was crushed when it seemed that the necessary action was beyond him.
But actually, that’s the point.
That there was nothing he or we could do.
To let go of all that we have, all that supports and impedes us, all that deludes us into thinking we can somehow earn our place in the Kingdom – that’s still too much for us.
We cannot save ourselves.

But I promised you good news, and it’s here in the astounding paradox of grace.
The answer we struggle with turns out to be the best news of all.
We CAN inherit the Kingdom, not through what we own, not through who we are, not even through what we can give up…
We can inherit the Kingdom when we recognise our own helplessness….when we accept that there is, truly, nothing we can do
For mortals it is impossible, but not for God. For God, all things are possible

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Sermon for Rosie's 1st Mass, St Eustachius, Tavistock, 26th September 2021

                        

Almighty God,
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you:
pour your love into our hearts and draw us to yourself,
and so bring us at last to your heavenly city
where we shall see you face to face;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever

How did you get here today?

I don’t mean the literal journey, though for some of us, with petrol-shaped anxieties, that might be a tale worth hearing in itself… but what I REALLY want you to think about is why you’re part of a shrinking minority who chooses to spend a Sunday morning doing things that feel increasingly alien, hearing stories from two thousand years ago and receiving them as if they were the key to life itself. 

Actually, of course, we who are here today could surely put up a fairly robust argument to confirm that those stories are indeed just that – the key to life itself...but we have to accept, we’re not currently doing too well in persuading others.


So, yes – back to your own journey.

How did you get here?

What were the steps, who were the people whose influence edged you along the way of faith?


 Before I say any more, I’d invite you to just spend a moment answering that question in your heart and giving thanks for your own personal cloud of witnesses, the everyday saints whose prayers sustained you, whether you knew it or not. Parents, godparents, there might even be a priest or two who cheered you on.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it often takes a whole community, whether gathered or dispersed across space and time, to lead someone to faith. 

So – stop and thank God for each one of them.


Now, back to the journey. Perhaps you had a moment when it all suddenly made sense? Something you might identify as a “Conversion experience”, - to lapse into church jargon. That wasn’t how it worked for me. For me it was simply an ever deeper conviction that the words that I sang week by week as a chorister, the work of 17th century poet-priests that somehow touched places in me I hadn’t even acknowledged, were speaking of a greater reality than anything else in my life. That’s what I mean about saints dispersed across time. When I stand in glory, I’ll be looking out for George Herbert, John Donne, Johann Sebastian Bach because the beauty of their words pointed me to the beauty of a God beyond all language, all artistry...They showed me truth in ways with which I could not argue, and that truth has stayed with me day by day by day.


But that’s my story – and today I want you to engage with your own.

Because however you got here, by whatever route, it was the RIGHT ONE FOR YOU.

God never calls us to live someone else’s life, to follow every step of another Christian’s journey. 

Yes, we can be an inspiration and encouragement to one another – that’s a very important part of vocation – but there is no such thing as an identikit Christian, or, thank heavens, an identikit priest.


God calls us to be fully ourselves for God.


That’s something that Rosie, like each and every one of us, will continue to learn.

There are parts of ourselves that we may need to let go of, those parts that tend towards selfishness, and lack of love - but never in order to try and be someone else. 


You – yes YOU Rosie Illingworth, priest in the Church of God, are God’s Very Good Idea…

But so am I

and so is each one of us.

Because only you can sing the song God wrote for you, only you can do the work God has lined up for you…


Of course, recognising God’s call on our lives is not always a positive experience. If you’re one of those who found themselves at an identifiable turning point, I wonder how it felt. 

We know St Paul was knocked flying, and centuries later C S Lewis was a contented atheist who wrote of his own conversion with gritted teeth.

In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England 


Yup. C S Lewis. The man who gave us Aslan, whose Narnia stories have brought generations of children to "desire a better country"", whose Mere Christianity remains on best seller lists, whose “A Grief Observed” is one of the most helpful books ever written on bereavement.

He didn’t find it easy, coming to terms with the reality of God. - so a bit of struggle really is OK. 

And yet, and yet – he knew there was no point in taking evasive action.


God’s will is for all of us to know and love, even as we are ourselves are loved and known – and God’s will WILL ultimately hold sway...as God pours an immeasurable, unbounded tide of love into our hearts and draws us inexorably ever closer.

In our Collect today we’ve prayed for that to happen – and in that prayer our longing for God and God’s longing for us, meet so we know that our prayer will be answered


Back to here and now, and the course of our own journeys. Whatever route you took, it probably hasn’t been plain sailing but we are here, and we are together.

Isn’t that wonderful

And, of course, today is just another beginning.


For those of us who’ve travelled with Rosie on this journey to priesthood, it’s tempting to think that we might have arrived. After all she IS, by God’s grace, now a priest, and today she comes home to herself in a new way as she celebrates Holy Communion for the first time. Family, Church family, friends – we can all permit ourselves a bit of wild celebration. This weekend MATTERS. God’s Church has been blessed and changed forever by this new priest – who, wonderfully, gloriously, is the Rosie whom we love and we are excited and delighted to see what she and God will get up to together in this new phase.


Because, of course, the journey continues.


That restlessness that Augustine identified centuries ago when he first wrote “Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless til they find their rest in you” is the hall-mark of the human condition. You see it wherever you look, as people try desperately to find ways to satisfy that yearning, that sense that something is missing. It’s there in the relentless consumerism that fuels so much of contemporary culture; in the feverish determination to get abroad somehow, as if landing on a sun soaked beach is, overnight, the answer to all life’s ills; even in the elevation of family from one of life’s great gifts to the Be All and End All. 

When humanity forgets to look for God, their need for God remains.


And that’s what makes today so important.

You see, today we don’t just hear ABOUT God – or even just about Rosie’s journey with God.  Please do ask her about it sometime... give her a chance to obey the command of the ordinal,  that as a priest she is TO TELL THE STORY OF GOD’S LOVE and tell her yours as well

To do that is pure joy – and yet, today, there is more.


Today, and every Sunday as we gather for worship, those stories become real, lived experience  and we get to meet with God.

We meet with God in one another – made in God’s image, sharing God’s love.

We meet with God in God’s Word, to challenge and change us.

Though we know that the Church never has the monopoly of God’s love and grace we can tend to stay where we feel safe and comfortable, and behave as if ours is the only way that God will draw people to himself – so there’s our challenge this morning.

“Whoever is not against us is for us” 

That’s a clear call, to keep us seeking people of good will with whom to serve the world for the sake of the Kingdom, remembering that

God is always bigger, more generous, and more present – even, or perhaps especially, in unexpected places.


Are you excited now?

Was the journey worth it?


But there’s yet more!


Today above all, we meet with God in the bread of Communion. 

As Rosie speaks those precious words of blessing and consecration for the first time, we know that Jesus will honour his promise to be here with us in the breaking of bread.

I expect we all have very different ideas about how that promise is kept,  but I’m absolutely certain that however we got here this morning, whatever tangles and traumas may make up our lives today, as we open our hands and our hearts, whether we feel his presence or not,  Jesus will come to us.


Receive that precious gift  from the hands of your new priest, for it is a fragment of God’s life and love offered to us in a morsel of bread. Such a small thing, yet all the food that we need to continue on our way, until in due time we come at last to the heavenly city, where we will see God face to face and know God’s love for all eternity.


Sunday, September 12, 2021

Proper 19 Trinity 15 Year B James 3:1-12 Mark 8:27-38

 May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.


I pray that, or a variation on it, practically every time I preach.

Words and thoughts go together, not just in the pulpit – and may honour or dishonour God as they leave our mouths and begin to set up the reverberations that can continue beyond any expectation, or any desire.


Of course, words can be slippery creatures, their power magnified in this age of instant communication. As one who tends to over-communicate, I have to remind myself that when I tweet “That was the WORST DAY EVER!”, actually meaning “Things went a bit wrong for a while this afternoon...” there will be people who assume that a Serious Disaster has struck...As one who thinks aloud, I need to preface some responses with “I’ll know what I think when I hear what I say” - and that’s just when dealing with well-intentioned, day to day conversations.

This week guidelines issued to candidates standing for General Synod from a particular tradition in the Church of England, suggested careful phrases behind which to disguise their views, and likely voting preferences on some of the bigger issues that divide the Church today. That anyone should seek to win votes IN THE CHURCH on the basis of a clever deception seems deeply troubling….giving away something about the inner reality of those who suggested this behaviour.

You see words, even words intended to deceive, may reveal more than we plan…

James’s insistence that you should not be able to truly praise God and curse our neighbour underlines this. Our words will often show others more of the truth of who we are than we would ever choose, for good or ill.


Sometimes, this is a lovely surprise, as I discovered a week ago, as it was getting dark. I was walking down Hill Top, ...and saw a group of youths coming towards me who looked, if I’m honest, really rather scary.

There was no diversions possible so I pressed on, with an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, and one hand clutching my keys firmly, just in case.

As we passed one another, one lad, seeing my cross and collar, called

“God bless you, Mother” - a joyful blessing revealing a kind heart that was at odds with his tough guy exterior, and reminding me that words can be a window onto our true selves.

The words of our mouths, the thoughts of our hearts – and of course, the direction of our lives.

Things we simply MUST take seriously, aligning them as best we can with the way of the Kingdom, the way of the Cross.


You see, no matter who we are can get things disastrously wrong…

Enter, Peter who in one short reading swings from trimphant epiphany as he recognises the truth of Jesus as Messiah and Lord, to missing the point entirely, and finding himself equated with Satan.


It’s easy to imagine how it happened. Try putting yourself in his place just for a minute.

Imagine, you have enjoyed the daily companionship of Jesus…have listened to his teachings…broken bread with him…watched him transform the lives of men, women and children by his presence as much as his miracles.
You have gladly given up everything for the sake of his company – just to be with him, to be known as one of his followers.
I would guess that each of us is here because at some level we’ve made the same choices as Simon…

But what if we had to take Jesus out of the equation…if we had to imagine life without him. I’m sure that is what prompted Peter to take him to one side and try to persuade him to see sense.
The very clarity of vision which had enabled him to recognise the Messiah meant that he was horribly clear what life would be like for him if Jesus went to his death.
He was very sure that he understood how a Messiah should behave – and “suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes and being killed” simply wasn’t on the agenda.
Of course, there was this baffling line about being raised on the third day – but that just didn’t make any sort of sense…it certainly wasn’t something to rely upon.
No…Peter was adamant.
Death should not touch his Messiah.
Full stop.
No argument.
God forbid!

Oh…where 
would we be without Peter?
So often, he models
faults that we too struggle with…and, once again, his words are a dead give-away of the fightings and fears within that I recognise only too well.
Here he has decisively proved that one can proclaim Christ as Lord without really grasping what that means in real life. Peter is convinced that his Messiah will triumph through strength…He’s completely floored by the way of the Kingdom.

And then Jesus tells him what it means to line up words and deeds in perfect accord…To actually LIVE the gospel...right through to death and beyond.
If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will gain it”
It’s all a bit Alice in Wonderland isn’t it?
If we pursue our goal, we will never reach it…but if we focus instead on a different way – why then all, all will be ours.

Dear Peter!
He knew the right words, but the living reality was altogether too much for him.

He wanted to keep his version of Jesus safely confined in a box tailor made for the purpose. That can be a problem for us too. We don't fully understand God and so we try to fit God, in all his greatness, into our understanding. We baulk at the effort of expanding our views to encompass God..., rand whether we want to or not, our words will probably demonstrate this.

Yes. Your words as much as mine.

Whether you’re setting out to teach or not.


Take this seriously. PLEASE.


The words of our mouths, the thoughts of our hearts, the course of our lives...need to line up.


That the old “sticks and stones” adage is often dreadfully, catastrophically, WRONG. Wounds left by words can hurt far more, and may never fully heal.

Each of us carries a potentially deadly weapon around with us, every single day, and sometimes it seems so much easier to blame than to praise, though we all know from experience the disproportionate power of criticism, which stays with the recipient long after affirmation has been dismissed. That’s a strange bit of human wiring – but one we need to recognise and attend to all the time. While St Francis encouraged his followers to practice “Custody of the eyes”, our readings today remind us that we alone can keep custody of the tongue – and it’s important that we do so.


How will you use your gift of speech to encourage, what kind words will you share this week?

Remember, our words reveal the truth of our being, and the complex reality of our life as citizens of the Kingdom.

May all that we speak be to the glory of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Proper 14 for the Cathedral Eucharist 8th August 2021 "I am the bread of life"

 I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”

When I was a student I had a good friend named Jack. He was extremely tall (particularly when standing next to my 5’4”) and carried not an ounce of surplus weight. He was a great cook and a famous host, but the meals I remember him by most clearly were those I never actually got to eat. You see, Jack was generous with his invitations to afternoon tea, and his rooms were only a short walk from one of Cambridge’s better bakers. When he was expecting guests, Jack would set forth to Tyler’s, on a mission to buy bread for the tea-party. Unfortunately, on more than one occasion the smell of the new bread, and its fresh-baked warmth proved too hard to resist, and he would arrive back in his rooms with only the stub end of the loaf, having consumed the rest on the walk between bakery and college. Legend has it that on one occasion at least, he visited the bakery 3 times before actually making it home with an untouched loaf. Bread from Tylers was pretty wonderful, but for someone Jack’s size, one loaf was only a short-term solution.

I often think of Jack as I break the bread at the Eucharist.
Of course, we generally use wafers, and sometimes people complain sadly that they bear no resemblance to real bread at all. Perhaps that’s a good thing. There’s no room for confusion. We’re not eating a “proper meal” together, but taking part in something quite different, whose value lies far beyond any standard nutritional benefit. The fragment of unleavened wafer we receive becomes something much greater than itself, for it is here that we are offered Christ, in all the fullness of his risen life.

In our gospel this morning, John sets out to demonstrate that Jesus is the One for whom Israel was waiting, and to do this he aligns Jesus with Moses...To understand his technique, 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 living in 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 the place they had been promised.
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 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.

There is a story* told about a Eucharist that took place in prison camp – where rations were low, and morale lower.
Neither bread nor wine was available but the longing for Christ, the prayers of the faithful and the words of the priest together made this a true Communion.
Listen
It was Easter in the camp. There was not a single cup.
No bread or wine. The non-Christians said, "We will help you; we will talk quietly so you can meet for worship." Too dense a silence would have drawn the guards' attention as surely as the lone voice of the preacher. "We have no bread, nor water to use instead of wine," the preacher told them, "but we will act as though we had."

"This meal in which we take part," he said, "reminds us of the prison, the torture, the death, and final victory of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The bread is the body that he gave for humanity. The fact that we have none represents very well the lack of bread in the hunger of so many millions of human beings…but in Christ all our hungers are satisfied. The wine, which we don't have today, is his blood and represents our dream of a united humanity, of a just society, the hope of the kingdom to come...."

He broke the bread and held out his empty hand to the first person on the right, and placed it over his open hand, and the same with the others: "Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me." All of them raised hands to mouths, receiving the body of Christ in silence. The communion of empty hand..."

Was Christ present there? Need we really ask that question?

“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.
In that tiny fragment of bread, we receive Jesus himself, all we will ever need to sustain us on our pilgrimage.
Bread is the traditional 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!