The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14B)
9 August 2009
Grant to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right, that we, who cannot exist without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This summer I have been talking about the connection between the meals we
eat and share with each other every day with the meal that we share as a community
around this altar. Last week we discussed how the food we eat every day may or may
not be the food that perishes, depending on how we use it, so that if our use of food, of
the fruits of the earth, is oriented towards the love of God, the doing of God’s will, then
it is the good that brings eternal life. More powerful even that this, Jesus identifies
himself with this food, this bread and, consequently, with all bread, all food, all
The image of bread is a powerful one. At the centre of the Lord’s Prayer, prayed
every time Catholic Christians gather for public worship, we say, “give us this day our
daily bread.” We say this because, as we are reminded at each Eucharist, Jesus taught
us to pray in these words. Jesus teaches us to ask God for the bread we need, the food
we need to sustain our bodies. Jesus, who identifies himself with the Bread of Life, the
bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, teaches us to ask God
for the bread we need for eternal life. In that one phrase, Jesus teaches us to ask for all
we need to sustain our bodies and to sustain our souls, we ask for them together
because God’s wish for us is to be united with him with our whole being.
Several years ago I took part in a workshop on urban ministry led by one of the
giants in this field, the Rev’d Canon Edward Rodman (who I hope will come here and
preach one day). He asked us to form into groups for a consensus building exercise
and asked us, in our group, to come up with a consensus around how we might rewrite
the Lord’s Prayer to make it clearer. After about half an hour, with much struggling,
our group came up with the consensus that nothing more concise, more true, more all
encompassing could be said about our desire for God to nourish us body and soul than
the phrase, “give us this day our daily bread.” In this one phrase, we ask God, who is
the bread of life, to strengthen us and sustain us.
In John’s Gospel, this lengthy sixth chapter in which Jesus feeds the people with
bread and then engages at length with his followers and the authorities on the
meaning of this event, has fixed in our consciousness the abiding power of bread as a
sign for Jesus and Jesus as a sign for bread. Here, and subsequently, bread and Jesus
become merged, fused together as that which gives life to the world.
This is the genius of John’s philosophical system. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is
bread, the most basic staple food; Jesus is the vine, from which is produced the safest
drink; Jesus is the living water, the safest, purest water that we need to nourish
ourselves and our crops. Jesus is identified with each of these most basic elements
necessary to sustain life. One does not merely point to the other. They become
identified with each other so that one is unthinkable without the other. We can not
have the vine without Jesus, we can not have bread without Jesus, we can not have
living water without Jesus. No less can we have Jesus without the vine, bread, or living
water. Jesus, as the self-expression of God into creation, gives life, power to these
elements. In this way, bread, vine, living water are not merely metaphors from daily
life to explain Jesus. They are not images that help us understand God. No, God in
Christ helps us understand, and indeed creates, the real power of Bread, of the Vine,
of Living Water. Bread, vine, living water have all the power to give us life, both
physical life and spiritual life at the most basic level, because they are bound-up with
the reality of God-in-Christ.
Jesus is the one from whom all those things—bread, vine, water—derive their
power. Each—bread, vine, water—would be different without Jesus. They would not
be the life sustaining forces, elements, that they are if they were not imbued with the
power of God’s Word, God’s self-expression, God’s very spirit running through them.
God in Christ expresses himself, expresses God in and through them. Bread—the
bread we may pick up at Le Pain Quotidian right here on Broadway or Amsterdam
Avenue, then, is more than bread because Christ identifies himself with it.
Each time we eat bread, formed by human hands and made from the fruits of creation, we are entering into relationship with God’s self-expression in space and time. If we approach all meals in this way, we will give new and renewed meaning to the meal we share here at Mass when we eat the bread and drink the wine and partake of Jesus’ flesh and become united with it. The meal of this table, in which Jesus is present to us in body and spirit in the bread and wine, focuses us as a community on God’s life-giving power to transform us and will allow us to go forth into the world changed so that, in return, we can see God in Christ present in all the meals we share and in which we give thanks for our daily bread. As we read in Deuteronomy this morning, “And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.” Amen.
Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, 9 August 2009
© 2009 Andrew Charles Blume