Sermons from St Faith's     

'One Body'
Dr Fred Nye, Reader Emeritus, Sunday, August 9th, 2015


Words from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: ‘We who are many are one body, because we all share in the one bread’. 

This Sunday our gospel reading continues the theme of ‘the bread of life’. Because the bread of the Eucharist is so central to us at St. Faith’s, it’s worth taking a few minutes to think together about what it means to us. And, because none of us are strangers to estrangement, it’s worth re-visiting St. Paul’s trust in the bread of the Eucharist as the means of unity and transformation. 

I came to baking bread rather late in life, well after retirement in fact, and although I’m not much good at it I only wish I had tried it earlier. There is a sort of parable of the Kingdom, a parable of unity, about baking: the simplicity of the raw materials, the mixing together, the pounding and kneading, the waiting while the dough miraculously and of its own accord proves, rises, and grows; and the transformation that then takes place, out of sight in the oven. The separate ingredients become inseparable in the finished loaf, which is greater, and other, than the sum of its parts.

In St. John’s gospel, Jesus’s teaching on the bread of life follows just the day after he fed the multitude on the mountainside. Whatever the Eucharistic implications, there can be little doubt that the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand was prompted  by the crowd’s empty bellies, and by Our Lord’s compassion for their hunger. So much of his healing ministry was also a response to basic physical needs: a response that included the healing of embarrassing bodies and the ritually unclean: lepers, Romans and sick women.

So I think we can safely take the bread of the Eucharist as a sign of Our Lord’s concern, not just for humanity’s spiritual welfare, but for its most basic physical needs. Taken in this way the Eucharist will save us from the piety that undervalues the material world. It will also save us from secularism: the sort of secularism that wants the church to confine itself to so called ‘spiritual’ matters. Politics are a spiritual matter too, especially when people’s fundamental welfare is at stake.

I thank God that with your help and generosity the Waterloo Partnership has been feeding the quarantined and those left orphaned during the Ebola epidemic, and can now  provide treatment for survivors whose sight has been damaged by the virus. This is bread-of-life stuff, Eucharistic stuff. But there are also bread-of-life issues nearer home: child poverty, the social care of the elderly and handicapped, the lack of affordable housing, tax credits for poor working families. When we share the bread of the Eucharist we cannot remain entirely at ease with the world as we find it. We are brought together and transformed into a community of compassion.

Jesus said ‘The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’. What did he mean: was it mere metaphysics, perhaps just a bit of comforting poetry? The manna in the wilderness wasn’t mere metaphysics to the starving Israelites. To the exhausted Elijah, trying to put a distance between himself and Jezebel’s hit-men, the food God provided wasn’t just a way of speaking.

And so it is for us: Jesus provides real food for our journey, our pilgrimage. Our Lord commissions us to find him, to follow him and to join him in his work of self-giving love: ‘This is my commandment: that you shall love one another as I have loved you’. And the food that he gives to sustain us in this task is himself. He is our constant companion along the Way, our leader, guide, example, inspiration and friend.

We must never forget the purpose of Our Lord’s heavenly food: he gives us the power, the energy, to bring good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed. If we eat only for ourselves, if we don’t burn this energy off so to speak in following Christ, then we become spiritually flabby and weak. Sometimes we say, rather wistfully, that what the church needs is ‘bums on seats’. Maybe, but God’s call is more like ‘on your feet!’ If we receive the Sacrament standing, we express this readiness, this preparedness, to follow Christ. When we eat the bread of the Eucharist, we pledge ourselves to live and work to God’s praise and glory. We are brought together and transformed into a community that has been given Christ’s commission.

Jesus said ‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them’.
During his earthly ministry, Our Lord entertained at his table the outcast, the sinner, and the unclean. A motley crew no doubt, but all united in their acceptance of Christ’s invitation, and a need to know him better. Those who accept Christ and follow him are offered an ever-closer relationship with him. And if with him, then also with one another. As St. Paul put it ‘The bread that we break, is it not a sharing of the body of Christ?’ The mystery of it all is that Christ’s broken body on the Cross, and the broken bread of the Eucharist, become the sign and the means of unity and reconciliation for us all. We are the new Israel, the new creation, a community of love.

But we are not quite there yet: we are still in the process of becoming what we are. After the group of Waterloo churches’ prayer service three weeks ago I was disappointed to hear that some members of the congregation felt uncomfortable because others prayed for unity out loud. I even wondered what St. Paul might have thought about it! There seemed to be a disconnect between our sharing of the one bread, and our embarrassment when we tried to pray together.

But of course I shouldn’t have been disappointed; because growing together is God’s work, not ours. The Kingdom will come, as the wheat grain grows hidden in the earth, as the invisible yeast leavens the loaf. So please go on praying, silently or out loud or in any way the Spirit moves you, that together we may indeed become the Body of Christ in this place. As we share the bread of the Eucharist, we are brought together and transformed into members of Christ’s community of love. Every time we eat this bread, may we celebrate, with joy, the unity with one another that we find in Him.

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