Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, 8th August 2021
Readings: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51
Do you know what I mean if I talk about being “hangry”? Hangry is what you are when you get irritable, grumpy or cross, because you’ve not eaten.
We need food to live, but food is so much more than simply fuel for the human body. Food unites us, it draws families together – have you heard that expression, “The family that eats together stays together?” and it brings communities together. In the three years I’ve been in Lynn, I’ve enjoyed many a good meal or buffet with you all – whether that’s the Thursday lunches in the Hillington Square café, or the sausage rolls with the folding team for the West Lynn magazine, or any of the many other occasions we’ve shared in the Benefice in the past few years.
In the first reading we hear Elijah discover how important food is: having fled from his enemies into the wilderness, he is on the verge of collapse, emotionally and physically. But he goes to sleep, and after sleeping, eating, and drinking, he is ready to continue his journey.
Food – and water.
These are also two of the things that God uses to communicate his grace.
The water of baptism is what marks us out as Christians, what gives us new birth. Jesus said that we must be reborn with water and the Spirit – in baptism, we are washed in the waters of the font, and we are sealed with the Holy Spirit through the anointing with the holy oils.
[This is what will happen to Sue today in her baptism. Sue has been with us for some years now, and today she will make her profession of faith, be baptised with water, and receive the Holy Spirit as a child of God, never to be parted from him.]
This is what St. Paul is talking about in the second reading, when he urges us not to grieve the Spirit of God by holding grudges, losing our tempers, or giving into spitefulness. When we are baptised, we become part of the family of God, and although it’s true that some families fight, it isn’t how it’s supposed to be.
Water, then – and food.
These past few weeks we have been hearing the account from John’s Gospel of what’s often called his “bread of life” discourse – it begins with the feeding of the five thousand which we heard about two weeks ago, and has continued through to today, as we hear Jesus tell us explicitly that the bread of life, which came down from heaven, is his flesh, which he gives for the life of the world.
Over the years some people have suggested that Jesus is being metaphorical here – that eating his flesh stands for believing in Jesus’s teaching and following him. But there’s no suggestion that Jesus means anything other than what he says here. Of course, cannibalism was an extreme taboo in the time of Jesus just as much as it is today, and he would not have been advocating eating his actual flesh; but neither is he simply using his flesh as a metaphor for his teaching or his person, any more than eating means the same as following.
No, Jesus is looking ahead to the Eucharist, the greatest gift of all. The Church of England has always placed this sacrament as the most important with baptism – food and water together.
In baptism we profess our faith and we are born into the life of Christ; after Confirmation, that same faith leads us to receive Christ’s body in the Eucharist.
“The family that eats together stays together” – this is one of the reasons the eucharist is so vital to our faith. Jesus strengthens us to continue our journey; and he unites us, just as a meal unites those who eat it together.
Jesus is the bread of life, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Let us accept him as he offers himself to us – not turning away, not reducing our Lord to a set of teachings or an intellectual idea, but recognising, in the small disc of the host at communion, the bread of life that comes down from heaven.
Before communion, the priest shows us the host – he says, as I will say soon: “This is the lamb of God” and we respond “Only say the word, and I shall be healed.” When we do that, we aren’t simply speaking into the void, but we are addressing our Lord Jesus Christ, present under the appearance of bread, held up and showed to us at the altar. Look at him, and see – with the eyes of faith – the beauty of our God who gives himself for us.