A sermon preached by Graham Low on 8 August 2021.
To be known by our connections with other people – he works with my cousin; she works with Professor X; he’s a friend of the Mayor’s – can be both a blessing and a curse. When we are defined by the company we keep, or perhaps avoid, we can feel uncomfortable, whether we are being diminished or honoured. Nevertheless, the company we keep is in part what makes up our identity.
We have just heard that Jesus was discounted by some because of his family connections. Though we are told that he honoured Mary and Joseph, who had a part in shaping his identity, his fundamental identity came as son of God. As we have just heard he is “the one who is from God: he has seen the Father”.
Letting go of labels about our identity may be a relief or a threat. But however we may feel about our personal and professional relationships, we are offered a new identity in Christ. He offers us a place in his kingdom with the promise of eternal life. This offer is a gift, freeing us to be what God desires us to be and not what others may expect of us.
That sharing in what we have been given comes to its focus as we meet for the eucharist. Here we give thanks over bread and wine, in the presence of the Lord, and seek to make a connection between our world and God. This is about connecting human experience with the eternal gift of God. This has a profound meaning for us. When we try to make this connection we start to see the world differently. As believers we come to realise that in every corner of the world, in every experience, God the giver is present. Thus, in everything we handle, every experience we have, God the giver is with us and is shaping us.
Jesus gave thanks over bread and wine on the night before he died. By doing this he makes a connection with the furthest place away from God, which is suffering and death, and with the limitless giving of God. By doing this he brings darkness and God together so that we may always have a link with God. In this way all things, all people, all places can be seen to have a sacramental depth. They have a holiness. They open us to God the giver.
By thinking in this way about the eucharist we can see something of a Christian view of the environment. In the course of an ordinary day we don’t think constantly about God being within and around and in the depths of everything we experience and all the material things we use. We tend to see people and things in relation to our own needs and desires. But these things and people have an identity of their own given by God.
When we come to receive bread and wine in the eucharist we do so with reverence, as we stand or kneel. We have reverence because we have just been reminded of their creation by God. The reverence we have for the bread and wine in the eucharist is a reminder of the reverence that we are called to have at every moment for everything in the whole of God’s glorious creation. The eucharist is a doorway into seeing everything as needing reverent attention. And it is a way into contemplation as well.
This way of seeing the eucharist makes us see people and things in a new light. In particular it can change the way we see each other, and also it can change the way we see ourselves. In the eucharist we are reminded to see everyone else present as a guest of God, a person wanted by God, just as we are. Rowan Williams has remarked that the transforming effect of looking at other Christians as people whose company God also wants, is, by the look of things, still sinking in for a lot of Christians. And it is taking rather a long time to come about.
As I said earlier, this passage is about our identity and how it is shaped over and over again by God’s gift of the bread of life, broken for us, and indeed for the whole world. And, like the first disciples, we are called to share what we have been given by God with everyone else, every single one of whom is a creation of God. Amen.