A Sermon preached by Graham Low on Wednesday 4 May 2022.
We are taken today into the heart of the mysteries which unfold in Chapter 6 of John’s gospel. We hear that the crowd is told by Jesus that it fails to see signs. Then there is reference to eternal life. Jesus is contrasted with Moses. And today we have heard the electrifying statement “I am the bread of life”. Questions abound in the following verses. For example, how can Jesus have come down from heaven (as it were the upper stage) if he is also Joseph’s son and the people know his parents (the lower stage)? We are told that this bread has come down from heaven and it must be eaten by those who wish to live for ever. From the earliest days of Christianity this passage from John, has been understood as a refence to the Eucharist, our central act of worship and thanksgiving.
Every time we come here to the Eucharist it is important to remember that we come seeking to align ourselves with Christ and the whole of his body everywhere. In doing so we begin by confessing whatever is amiss in our lives, we hear and respond to the word, we intercede, bread and wine are taken, blessed and returned to us at the communion, the final pledge of our consecration. This enables us, refreshed and renewed, to go into the world as witnesses to God’s love. In many ways the eucharist seems like a smooth transition.
But between the consecration and communion the smooth transition towards heaven is shattered. The bread is broken. First the hands of the priest break up the beautifully shaped wafer or bread, and then it is broken further by the teeth, the mouth, and the guts of the whole congregation. At this point the Eucharist sharply reminds us of the brokenness of the world, alongside the sacrifice of Christ. Suddenly we are reminded that brokenness and disorder are revealed in the midst of the apparent failure of Good Friday.
We know that elements of that bloody, ghastly, obscene, broken, situation have continued to occur down the ages and they now stare us today in Mariupol, as they have before in Hiroshima, or Bhopal or Auschwitz. There are no easy explanations or answers about this. We have no last word. But we have the cross. We are with each other, as it were holding one another’s hands. We are not to seek to escape into an easy lack of suffering, or our neat personal solutions or dogmas.
At the breaking of the bread we offer all the brokenness of our lives and of our world. It is not neat. There are no assured answers. Like Christ, we offer our lives in faith. We offer what of ourselves still needs to be broken: our riches, our false adulthood, our desire for glory, our greed. At this point we accept Christ as the only thing of final importance, poured out in love for us all, poured out to make us whole again.
As I have said, this breaking, this discontinuity, reminds us again that earth is not yet heaven, much as we may wish it to be. People would not join Jesus’ dance: instead he was rejected, persecuted, thrown out and killed. From then on, the church has always been called to try and work for the world on his behalf, but has repeatedly been broken, even by martyrdom of people like Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero and Jerzy Popieluszko, as well as countless unknown people, rejected at home, at work and in the world.
The bread is broken, the wine is poured out, the invitation is made. The banquet is ready. We are called to come as guests with our whole selves: no part of ourselves, our riches, or our pride, is to remain intact and taken away as it was before. We come wearing the wedding garment of sincerity. We come laying down our whole life, as Christ did. If we do bring the whole of ourselves then the assurance is that we shall never be turned away, however inadequate we may be.
Those who appeared to deserve a place at the wedding feast but only gave a half-hearted response were turned away. The rest, quite ordinary, broken and seemingly inappropriate people, responded gladly and were made welcome. None of us is worthy to come under the Lord’s roof, or to have him under ours; but he speaks the word for us and we are healed. That is enough. Amen.