Father, because you are a God of love
we can come without fear
and because we now you love us
we can come with confidence.
We come because you have called us to come,
and we have come because the Holy Spirit fill us
with longing to praise you.
Father, we come in hope, with joy
and to give you thanks and praise.
We come in the name of Christ,
the one who opened our eyes to your grace
and filled our hearts with your love.
Long suffering and of great goodness
we confess to you.
We confess with our heart
our neglect and forgetfulness of your commandments,
our wrong doing, thinking and speaking,
the hurts we have done to others
and the good we have left undone.
O God, forgive us, for we have sinned against you;
and raise us to newness of life.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord
May the God of love
bring us back to himself
forgive us our sins
and assure of his eternal love.
In Jesus Christ our Lord
All of us have preferences, things we like that others don’t, or even find repugnant. And I guess for many of us this particularly relates to food – in the way it smells and the way it tastes and sometimes even in the way it looks.
So hands up
how many prefer tea – and how many coffee?
If eating out – how many would prefer a pudding over a starter?
If having a takeaway – how many prefer pizza, Indian or Chinese?
We are all very different – with likes and dislikes. Personally, I cannot stand celery (makes me feel ill) but my husband absolutely loves it. Neither of our sons like mushrooms but we like to put them in as many things we cook as possible. But taste is just one of the senses we use when eating.
How about smell? Now I’m not about to ask you all another load of questions – but I’m sure that for everyone here there are many foods with aromas can bring back memories or cause you to salivate – or even perhaps have the opposite effect. For me, I love the smell of onions or bacon frying (not at the same time!) or the aroma of home baked lasagne. And the scent of mince pies cooking or warming through takes me back to childhood and my mum making home-made mince pies for Christmas – something that she did every year.
And of course, the ubiquitous freshly baked bread. There is something about the smell of bread that makes passing a bakery without looking or making comment quite difficult. Now there are scientific reasons why this is the case. Apparently as a by-product of the microbes’ metabolic processes, the yeast cells in leavened bread produce chemicals that break down during baking into delicious-smelling aromatics. The longer the fermentation, the more pronounced the yeast flavours become since the microbes have more time to produce these compounds. All I know is – it smells marvellous.
Now this is all well and good. But it doesn’t matter how good something tastes or smells if it doesn’t nourish and sustain us and, as Neil pointed out last week, it can’t do either of these things if we don’t actually choose to eat it. We all know we need a mixed diet for health and wellbeing and we need to make sensible choices. But how good are we are doing this – not just in terms of what we eat but also in our Christian lives and the choices we make in our worship.
So let’s turn to our reading today from John 6. It is interesting to note that the start of the reading in the lectionary is the same verse as the end of last week’s reading, reminding us that Jesus was part way through a conversation
It is always important to put things in context so, just to remind us – the chapter starts with the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus then tries to escape the crowds by crossing over to Caperneum but the following day the crowds realise where he has gone and follow him. Jesus then challenges them, saying they only want to be filled by loaves and then claims “I am the bread of life”. In today’s reading He takes it further. Let’s hear again what he says in verses 54-56
54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.
For those who were hearing this it must have seemed really strange – after all he says this after the Jews had started arguing how Jesus could say that he could give them his flesh to eat and blood to drink. It’s a rather visceral image and actually sounds a bit cannabilistic. And that is what the early church were sometimes accused of – stemming from a belief that Christians literally ate the flesh and drunk the blood of other human beings.
For those listening to him they must have been horrified – they take his words literally and are deeply offended. After all, Jesus was a Jew and followed the Jewish rituals – he was well aware of the rules in the Torah. In Deuteronomy 12 and Leviticus 17 the Jews are expressly forbidden to eat meat with any blood in it. The idea of consuming blood would have been absolutely abhorrent. It’s almost as though Jesus was being deliberately antagonistic in order to challenge them and make them think about what he was really trying to say.
After 2000 years of communion services, and the development of the liturgy around them, we have become used to the invitation ‘to feed on him in your hearts, by faith, with thanksgiving’ but to those first listeners it would have appeared completely repellent. So much so that in the following verses we see that some of his disciples decided they could no longer follow him. So what should we make of it?
Well – there area couple of points I’d like to make
First of all, it is important to note that at this stage in John’s narrative the Last Supper has not taken place – in fact it is quite some way off. But note, whilst the Last Supper appears in John (albeit is a slightly different order to the other gospels) the eucharistic language is not used – but rather we get three chapters of teaching. We get the Eucharistic passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke and it is from those narratives that we can see the link to Jesus’ teaching in John 6. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and with it we can see this link – the Jews in this passage did not have that context. .
However, in the same way that celebrating communion is about being invited into relationship, into union with Christ, the passage here is also about being invited to be in that life giving, life affirming and everlasting relationship. Tom Wright says that, as well as a spiritual element, there is a physical act to receiving the body and blood of Christ as outlined in this passage – in fact the word ‘eat’ literally means to chew – as if your life depended on it But whilst this part of chapter 6 certainly brings to mind the Eucharist, it is not primarily about the Eucharist. It is primarily about Jesus himself as the food of eternal life from the Father.
The Eucharist is life-giving because it is Jesus who gives it, and it is life-giving because it is Jesus himself who is given – it is life-giving because it draws us deeper into relationship with Jesus, so that we may “abide” there The crucial thing is to have Jesus an integral part of your life, for Him to be part of you, sustaining and nourishing you every day. The language Jesus uses is a very graphic way of saying that you need to take him into your innermost being – to abide in Him and to allow him to abide in you.
And if we align this with the talk of manna earlier in the previous verses, the daily gift from God to sustain the Jews in the Exodus I think there is a clear argument that we need to come to Jesus every day, to be filled and sustained by Him. Jesus declares himself to be the living bread that came down from heaven – in the same way that manna came down daily. It was only when considering this that the phrase in the Lord’s prayer “Give us this day our daily bread” took on new meaning. Now we have to be careful – there is a real danger in trying to read into passages meanings that aren’t there – and the original language makes it clear that the prayer is talking about physical sustenance so I don’t want to try and read too much into this – but I think it is a good prompt that our daily bread is more than just actual food and drink.
Finally, John’s Gospel starts with the verse ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God’ and goes on in verse 14 to say ‘ The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ By the time John starts writing about these events in Jesus’ life he has already made it clear that Jesus is God. In the verses preceding our reading today Jesus himself has made it clear to those listening about his claim to be God. The use of the phrase I AM repeatedly underlines this. Not only is Yahweh the great I AM, a phrase that Jesus uses again and again, but he has already made reference to Moses – to whom God spoke and said I AM whom I AM. So John has already made cler Jesus is divine. Here Jesus himself is declaring his deity.
This is not an easy passage, and over the years has caused much controversy and debate. But this is not simply a text about an appropriate theological understanding of the elements at the communion table. It is not simply a text about how real Jesus’ incarnation is — flesh and blood – the Word made flesh. It is not just about the means to eternal life. It is richer in that it invites full relationship and participation in the life-giving power of Jesus.
So as we finish today, we need to bear in mind that the basic ingredient we need for a wholly satisfying life is Jesus – the bread of life. We all need to make wise choices when it comes to living our lives – in the food and drink we consume, in our attitudes, in what we do with our money or how we feed our minds. In the end it is always a choice. The same is true for our spiritual lives, Jesus offered and continues to offer his very being to anyone who wants life. The question is, are we ready to receive it?
Prayers of Intercession
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Blessing and dismissal
We go from this place in the knowledge of his resurrection,
In the promise of his power
And with the assurance of his living presence with us.
We go from this place,
But we go with him
In him and for him
Because he goes wit us
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord
In the name of Christ Amen
The community of S17 has drawn together during these unusual times in a very special way. This is reflected in the great work of the S17 COVID-19 Community Support group.
The group aims to support those in the community who may be in need and to provide a support network to the S17 community at this time.
“If there are needy people in our community let’s ensure we help them out with things like bringing shopping to their door.”