Sermon by The Rev. Kathy McAdams
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Franklin, MA
August 5, 2018 - Proper 13B RCL
Each time we gather around God’s table to feast on the Eucharistic banquet, we are feasting on the gifts of God - the gifts that God has given us in Creation, and in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When we feast here, we are giving thanks to God, and by accepting his gifts, we are entering into covenant with God.
In the words of the Eucharistic prayer - The Great Thanksgiving - we give thanks to God for giving us life, and for sustaining our lives through the gift of Creation. In other words, we thank God for providing the plants and animals - the raw materials - that give us food, clothing and shelter. In praying this prayer, we acknowledge our dependence on God for our very lives. We acknowledge that we are creatures – created beings – totally insufficient in and of ourselves, and incapable of providing for ourselves, without the help of God and often of one another. I think this is an important fact, especially for those of us who usually have enough of everything we need, who can easily come to believe that we are IN-dependent of God or anyone else. It is important for us to remember that to be human is to hunger, that we hunger, and that we cannot on our own fill that hunger. Never to be hungry is to be in danger of forgetting that our very existence is a gift; in danger of forgetting reverence and gratitude to the Creator. Like the Israelites in the desert, we are humbled by our hunger. We who have both a house, and food to eat every day are wealthy in the eyes of the world, and we need to remember that hunger is painful and urgent, that when it’s not satisfied, it draws the focus of the whole person away from anything else. Jesus is discussing eternal life. It’s hard to talk about soul food, spiritual food, food for eternal life, if our bellies are empty, if we are hungry for physical food. Once our physical needs are satisfied, then we can turn our attention to food for eternal life.
Before Jesus declares himself to be the bread of eternal life, first he feeds the people on tangible, physical food. Last week, we heard the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 hungry people. Because physical hunger is so urgent, it prevents us from realizing our other hungers, our spiritual hungers, the hungers of our soul, so first Jesus satisfied the physical need. Once our physical hunger is filled, then we remember that we cannot live by bread alone, and we realize our deeper spiritual hungers.
Indeed, we hunger for God on many levels. Once our basic needs for food, clothing and shelter are filled, we realize our deeper hungers: for meaning and purpose in our lives, for loving relationship, for justice, for peace. Jesus is this food for which we hunger. Jesus is this bread that fulfills our deepest hungers, fills them for eternity, so we’ll never be hungry again.
Monika K. Hellwig writes in The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World, “The Eucharistic rite is, in the first place, the celebration of the hospitality of God shared by guests who commit themselves to become fellow hosts with God.” The Eucharist is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, the food that will nourish us for all eternity. It suggests abundance, joy, and fullness of life.
When we come to this table to share the body and blood of Christ, and we take that spiritual food into our own human bodies, it enters every cell and becomes part of who we are. Gradually, Jesus is coursing through our veins and becoming part of our muscles, and rightly so, because when we gather around this table, we are the body of Christ. We, together as a community, gathered around this table, feeding on the living bread, the bread of life, we become the Body of Christ together. We become part of what Christ is all about. And when we go out from here we are the hands and feet of Jesus. That means that, as a community, as a church, as the Body of Christ, we here take on a responsibility to be food for the world.
In accepting the body and blood of Christ at this table, we acknowledge Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and we accept that his sacrifice was for us, for all of us, and we give thanks for it, and become part of what it means. As the body of Christ, we accept our responsibility to work with God to satisfy the hunger of the world – from the hunger of basic physical needs, to the hunger for justice and peace. In accepting the gift that Jesus makes of himself, we also accept that it means a radically different way of life and of relating to all other people. We offer to God our very selves. The self-seeking in us dies, and we receive new life in Christ. We become like Jesus - compassionate and hungry for justice. We begin to live not for ourselves, but for others. By receiving at this table the Body and Blood of Christ, and becoming together the Body of Christ, we covenant together to be bread and sustenance, to work with God to fill the panging hungers of the world.
For what do your neighbors hunger here in Franklin? What hunger have you witnessed beyond this community? How can we, the Body of Christ, the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement here in Franklin, how can we help to fill that hunger?
Reference: The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World by Monika K. Hellwig; Sheed &Ward, Kansas City, MO, 1992.