Pentecost 14 August 26, 2018

The Rev. Janet Campbell

PENTECOST 14  Proper 16  Year B

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:15-22; Ephesians 6:10-20;

John 6:56-69

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday August 26, 2018

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

 

In a parish I served

          for a number of years,

one of the Sunday liturgies

was a small informal celebration

attended by a variety of people,

among them

parents with young children.

 

Our custom after sharing the Peace

was to gather in a circle

around the Altar-Table

for the Eucharistic Prayer

          and Communion,

 

and to share Communion

by passing the bread and wine

from one to another

around the circle.

 

One Sunday,

a small member of our community,

a boy perhaps two years old

whose name I’ve now forgotten,

 

looked upward in dismay

as heedless adults

passed the basket of consecrated bread

to each other right over his head . . .

         

Around the circle went the basket . . .

 

and around the circle went the boy,

toddling after it

with grave determination

until someone noticed

his outstretched hands

and filled them with bread.

 

There was a child

who understood what mattered.

 

In one sense

he knew very little

about what we were doing and why

 

(he couldn’t have given

a theological account of it) . . .

 

in another sense he already knew

everything he needed to know . . .

 

his was an enacted theology . . .

 

The bread was for sharing –

           it was for everyone

                    and it was for him.

 

It was special bread,

and worth going after

          with all his being.

 

 

“Lord, to whom can we go?

You have the words /

you have the bread /

of eternal life.”

 

 

For the past few weeks

our lectionary,

the schedule of assigned readings

          for the Sunday Eucharist,

has been feeding us

with the words of eternal life

in

the 6th Chapter of John’s Gospel:

 

Jesus’ “Bread of Life” discourse

and the

startling claims

Jesus makes about himself . . .

his origin with God in the heavenly places,

his physical, fleshly sojourn

          in the world of his own creation,

his offering of himself

          in his life and in his death

                    for the life of that world,

his continuing presence in the Spirit

          to his followers in every age,

his imparting his own risen and eternal life to us

          in the bread and wine

of the communal celebration

                   we call the Holy Eucharist.

 

 

I venture to say

that we probably know as little

about what we are doing and why

as that small boy who chased hungrily

          around the circle after the bread

 

          (even though we may have done

          lots of theology about it) 

 

But there is really only

          one thing we

                    need to know:

 

This bread is for sharing

          and it is for everyone

                   and it is for us.

It is special bread,

          this bread of heaven,

          and worth going after

                    with all our being.

“I am the bread of life . . .”

Jesus said,

“the bread that came down from heaven . . .

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood

          abide in me, and I in them.”

 

 

Dom Gregory Dix,

one of the pre-eminent theologians

of the 20th century’s liturgical renewal,

in his classic scholarly book

The Shape of the Liturgy,

 

becomes suddenly poetic

in what is almost a hymn to the Eucharist.

 

He is speaking

of Jesus’ command at the last supper,

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

 

“Was ever another command so obeyed?”

Dom Gregory asks,

and recounts a myriad of times and circumstances

in which people have “done this,”

have turned to the Eucharist . . .

for comfort, for courage, in gratitude, in sorrow,

for grand state occasions in vast urban cathedrals,

on an ordinary Sunday in a tiny rural church,

at weddings and funerals,

in prison,

          in secret in a time of religious persecution,

for strength in sickness,

          in thanksgiving for a return to health . . .

 

On and on he goes,

for two whole pages . . .

beautifully, rhapsodically, almost,

 

a man abiding in Christ,

in love with the Eucharist,

his life grounded in this living bread.

 

 

I think of that passage

alongside Paul’s evocative metaphor

          of the whole armor of God.

 

Using the familiar image

          of the well-equipped

          (and threatening) Roman soldier,

he enumerates for the church in Ephesus

those spiritual qualities

that Christians living in a hostile world

must cultivate

if they are to stand firm

          against the evils

                   of the age . . .

 

those qualities of

truth, righteousness, peace,

faith, trust in salvation,

          life in the Spirit . . .

 

As we seek to grow up

into the full stature of Christ,

those are qualities we must cultivate

within ourselves,

with God’s help . . .

if we are to

stand firm

against the evils

of this age . . .

 

 

And all the while,

a steady diet of the bread of life

imparts to us that which we can only receive as gift . . .

the mystery of the living Christ,

the mystery of living in, abiding in, the living Christ.

the mystery of the living Christ abiding in, living in, us.

 

The humility of Christ Jesus,

who came into the world

not for his own sake,

not for something to be gained for himself,

but for what he had to give to the world . . .

life . . .

true, authentic, full, abundant life in God.

 

He came in humility

with the offering of that life,

which we were free to receive

or reject.

 

And many did, and do, reject it,

for it is a teaching

difficult to accept.

 

I wonder if the most challenging aspect

of that teaching

for his own Church

 

is not

“How can this man give us his flesh to eat – ”

 

but the communal, the social nature

of the gift . . .

 

which has for so long 

been considered

a private, devotional encounter . . .

 

I remember the disconnect

I felt on a Sunday

several years ago – not here –

when,

as the whole community came forward

in its procession to the altar

to eat and drink,

 

a piano played

and a voice began to sing,

“I come to the garden alone . . . “

 

“No,” I thought,

“We come together.

The Eucharist is a communal encounter

of Christ with his living Body the Church.”

 

Christ giving each of us his very life,

offering this intimate indwelling,

not primarily

          for our own sake,

          for our own gain,

          for our own comfort,

          for our own healing,

 

although this bread and wine we share

provides each of us

all those things . . .

 

feeds the hunger of our hearts . . .

assuages the thirst of our souls . . .

 

in all those times and circumstances

enumerated by Dom Gregory Dix . .

 

 

 

But celebrating the Eucharist,

we receive the body and blood of Christ

together, in community,

so that,  

abiding in the self-offering Christ,

and Christ abiding in us,

we are together shaped week by week

          into Christ’s body,

 

the Body of Christ given

for the gain, comfort, healing,

          of the world . . .

 

The Body of Christ

showing forth the

true, authentic, full, abundant life

found in God . . .

 

The Body of Christ

standing firm

against the systemic evils of our age,

the “cosmic powers of this present darkness”

 

And not only standing firm,

but offering ourselves,

in all humility,

our souls and bodies,

to be bread taken, blessed, broken and given,

          as life for the world.

 

 

What we do here

every Sunday

is a sign . . .

 

this open table,

this open community,

this generous eating and drinking,

 

a sign of how the world is to be,

in all times and places,

for all people . . .

 

 

Our reading of John’s 6th Chapter

began with the

feeding of the 5,000

with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish . . .

 

a sign revealing the abundant life

available in and through Jesus.

 

The Eucharist is the continuation

          of that sign through time,

the ongoing feeding

          of millions and millions of people

                   through the centuries

                   with the very being of Jesus,

 

that one loaf of living bread,

taken, blessed, broken and given,

and given, and given, and given . . .

 

The bread is for sharing

          and it is for everyone.

Participating in this sign,

at this welcome table,

where all who come

receive the same bread,

drink from the same cup,

 

we proclaim that

all bread is for sharing

          and it is for everyone.

 

In our own neighborhood,

Tacoma and its environs,

with its own great hungers and needs,

we, Christ Church,

are but one small loaf . . .

 

but offered to God,

to be taken, blessed, broken, and shared,

we can be, are,

bread for the world.

 

That small boy

who was so hungry

to share in the bread of life . . .

 

is, by now, probably in college

          or maybe has already graduated . . .

maybe has small children of his own . . .

 

a man, now,

still nurtured, I hope,

he and his children,

by a steady diet of the bread

full of eternal life.

 

May they always hunger for it,

and be fed.

 

And may we become like that boy,

like that man,

knowing this one important thing . . .

 

This is the bread that came down from heaven,

for the life of the world. 

 

This bread is for sharing

          and it is for everyone

          and it is for us.

 

This bread is worth going after

          with all our being.

 

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