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Pentecost 13 August 23, 2015 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
PENTECOST 13  Proper 16  Year B
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:15-22; Ephesians 6:10-20;
John 6:56-69
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday August 23, 2015
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
At St. James Cathedral in Chicago,
where I served as priest and liturgist
for a number of years,
one of the Sunday liturgies
was a small informal celebration
that attracted a variety of people,
among them
parents with young children.
Our custom at the Peace
was to gather in a circle
around the Altar-Table
for the Eucharistic Prayer
          and Communion,
and to share Communion
by passing the bread and wine
from one to the other
around the circle.

One Sunday,
a small member of our community,
a boy perhaps two years old
whose name I’ve now forgotten,
looked upward in dismay
as heedless adults
passed the basket of consecrated bread
to each other right over his head . . .
Around the circle went the basket . . .
and around the circle went the child,
toddling after it
with grave determination
until someone noticed
his outstretched hands
and filled them with bread.
There was a child
who understood what mattered.
In one sense
he knew very little
about what we were doing and why
(he couldn’t have given
a theological account of it) . . .

in another sense he already knew
everything he needed to know . . .
his was an enacted theology . . .
The bread was for sharing –
           it was for everyone
          and it was for him.
It was worth going after
          with all his being.
“Lord, to whom can we go?
You have the words of eternal life.”
For 5 weeks
our lectionary,
the schedule of assigned readings
for the Sunday Eucharist,
has been feeding us
with the words of eternal life
the 6th Chapter of John’s Gospel:
Jesus’ “Bread of Life” discourse
and the
startling claims
Jesus makes about himself . . .

his origin with God in the heavenly places,
his physical, fleshly sojourn
          in the world of his own creation,
his offering of himself
          for the life of that world,
his continuing presence in the Spirit
          to his followers in every age,
his imparting his own eternal life to us
          in the communal celebration
                   we call the Holy Eucharist.
I venture to say
that we probably know as little
about what we are doing and why
as that small boy who chased hungrily
          around the circle after the bread
(even though we may have done
          lots of theology about it) 
yet we already know
          everything we need to know.
The bread is for sharing
          and it is for everyone.
The bread is worth going after
          with all our being.

“I am the bread of life . . .”
Jesus said,
“the bread that came down from heaven . . .
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood
          abide in me, and I in them.”
Dom Gregory Dix,
one of the pre-eminent theologians
of the 20th century’s liturgical renewal,
in his classic scholarly book
The Shape of the Liturgy,
becomes suddenly poetic
in what is almost a hymn to the Eucharist.
He is speaking
of Jesus’ command at the last supper,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”
“Was ever another command so obeyed?”
he asks,
and recounts a myriad of times and circumstances
in which people have “done this,”
have turned to the Eucharist . . .
for comfort, for courage, in gratitude, in sorrow,
for grand state occasions in cathedrals,
on an ordinary Sunday in a tiny rural church,
at weddings and funerals,
in prison, in secret in a time of religious persecution,
for strength in sickness,
          in thanksgiving for a return to health . . .

On and on he goes,
for two whole pages . . .
beautifully, rhapsodically, almost.
He is a man abiding in Christ,
in love with the Eucharist.
His life was grounded in this living bread.
I think of that passage
alongside Paul’s evocative metaphor
          of the whole armor of God.
Using the familiar image
          of the well-equipped Roman soldier,
he enumerates for the church in Ephesus
those qualities
that Christians
living in a secular, self-referential, self-serving culture
must cultivate
if they are to stand firm
against the systemic evils
of the age . . .
those qualities of
truth, righteousness, peace,
faith, trust in salvation, life in the Spirit . . .

As we seek to grow up
into the full stature of Christ,
those are qualities we can seek to cultivate
within ourselves,
with God’s help . . .
And all the while,
a steady diet of the bread of life
imparts to us that which we can only receive as gift . . .
the mystery of the living Christ,
the mystery of living in, abiding in, the living Christ.
The humility of Christ Jesus,
who came into the world
not for his own sake,
not for something to be gained for himself,
but for what he had to give to the world . . .
life . . .
true, authentic, full, abundant life in God.
He came in humility
with the offering of that life,
which we were free to receive
or reject.
And many did reject it,
for in so many ways
it was a teaching
too difficult to accept.

I wonder if the most difficult aspect
of that teaching
for our own self-centered generation to accept
is not
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat – ”
we know the presence of Jesus in this bread
and we are not too troubled by the “how”
But perhaps the most difficult aspect
of this teaching
is that he gives us his flesh
not primarily
for our own sake,
for our own gain,
for our own comfort,
for our own healing,
although this bread we share
gives us everything we need . . .
and our celebration,
with its prayer and song,
its fellowship and encouragement,
feeds our hungry hearts . . .
in all those times and circumstances
enumerated by Dom Gregory Dix . .

But celebrate the Eucharist,
we receive the body and blood of Christ,
so that,  
abiding in the self-offering Christ,
and he abiding in us,
we may be gain for the world . . .
showing forth the
true, authentic, full, abundant life
as found in God . . .
standing firm in all humility
against the systemic evils of our age,
the cosmic powers of this present darkness
(knowing only too well
that we are participants in these things,
beneficiaries of these things, ourselves –
the violence, greed, exploitation, heedlessness, and folly
that mark these difficult days.)
And not only standing firm,
but offering ourselves,
in all humility,
our souls and bodies,
          the very life given us in the bread,
to be bread taken, blessed, broken and given,
as life for the world.

Our reading of John’s 6th Chapter
began five weeks ago
with the
miraculous feeding of the 5,000
with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish . . .
a sign revealing the abundant life
available in and through Jesus.
The Eucharist is the continuation
of that sign through time,
the miraculous ongoing feeding
of millions and millions of people
through the centuries
with the very being of Jesus,
that one loaf of living bread,
taken, blessed, broken and given,
and given, and given, and given . . .
A sign of how the world is to be,
in all times and places,
for all people . . .
The bread is for sharing
          and it is for everyone.
The bread is worth going after
          with all our being.

In our own neighborhood,
Tacoma and environs,
with its own great hungers and needs,
we, Christ Church,
may seem to be but one small loaf . . .
but offered to God,
to be taken, blessed, broken, and shared,
we can be, are,
more than enough.
We must just be like that child
at St. James Cathedral,
hungry for the bread of life.
He by now is probably in college
          or maybe has already graduated . . .
a man, now,
by a steady diet of the bread
          for which he always hungers,
full of eternal life,
and living that life in the world,
          for the world.
May we become like that boy,
like that man,
knowing just the one important thing . . .
          the bread that holds
          everything for us, and for God’s world,
and chasing after it
          with all our being.