The Right Reverend Monsignor Keith Newton P.A. on his recent visit to St. Osmund's Church, Gainford.
18th Sunday of the year B
Jesus said ‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven John 6:34
Be gentle when you touch bread,
Let it not lie uncared for,
So often bread is taken for granted,
There is such beauty in bread,
Beauty of sun and soil,
Beauty of patient toil,
Wind and rain have caressed it,
Christ often blessed it,
Be gentle when you touch bread.
Poem by Freda Ella Young
Despite the great variety of foodstuffs available to the modern shopper bread is still an important part of our diet. I am overawed and not a little confused with the incredible varieties of bread available today in our large supermarkets these days: Brown, White, Whole meal, wholegrain, French, Rye, Ciabatta, Foccacio, naan , I could go on.
For many people in the world bread is the staple food of life, something which satisfies hunger. We have often seen films of lorries delivering bread in areas of starvation or conflict and the pathetic scramble for a small loaf.
When Jesus talked about being the bread of life in St John’s Gospel chapter 6 he was not talking of the eucharist. He was declaring that he could meet the deepest needs of people and sustain them in that need. His hearers would have naturally linked his words with the experience of the Jews in Exodus from Egypt when God fed them with manna from heaven mentioned in today’s first reading or as psalm 104 says – ‘he gave them bread from heaven’.
He can sustain our hunger – not physical hunger but that deeper hunger in the depth of our souls; the hunger for meaning in our lives, the hunger for love in our lives, the hunger for peace and fulfilment. To everyone rich and poor Christ offers to meet that hunger which God has placed in our hearts – the hunger for eternal life.
‘Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life’ says St John
But, of course, the early Christians soon linked what he said with other words of his when he linked his passion and death with the bread and wine at the last Supper – powerful sign of the nourishment Christ offers us.
But sacramental signs are different from mere symbols. Symbols merely point to something but sacraments are so much more than that. They are signs of a reality. The sign of the bread of the Eucharist points beyond itself to the living presence of Christ. By this sign of bread and wine we communicate with the living Lord.
In a few moments the bread and wine would have been brought forward at the offertory procession- something which we have had to lose in the pandemic. That is sad because it is a very important part of the liturgy. We do this because we come together not as isolated individuals but together as baptised members of God’s family.
The bread and wine are made from the fruits of the earth and mankind’s labours. They symbolise ourselves and our world of which we are a part, in which we live and our desire to live under Christ’s sovereignty.
Just think of the bread for a moment, all the work that has gone into its production: the great wheat fields of Canada, the engineering that makes farm machinery, the ships that transport the wheat, the railway, transport, the mills, the bakers, the shops. There is a whole network of industry, of finance and of labour that lies behind a simple loaf of bread.
We take some bread and lay it on the altar before God as symbol of our lives. When we bring these gifts to the altar each of us is a crumb of bread or a drop of wine. When we place it on the altar the whole Church of which we are part is offering itself to God in service.
But, of course, our offering is not enough. Even the best we have is not good enough. Even our best is tainted by our sin. It is not perfect. We join our imperfect offering with the perfect offering of Christ on the Cross.
As we celebrate the eucharist that bread and wine, which represent us are raised to a new level. Not only identified with the word made flesh but they become a vehicle of his living presence. Set apart to be vehicles of the risen presence of the Lord Jesus who said, ‘This is my body, This is my blood.’
Quite how that transformation takes place we do not know but it has been the witness of the catholic Church down the ages that the bread is no longer simply bread and the wine no longer simply wine but a focus of Christ’s presence amongst us, encapsulating his glorious majesty in our midst.
When we receive Holy Communion, it is a communion, a meeting between us and Christ. He entwines our life with his to raise us up and equip us for service in his kingdom
I began with a poem telling us we should not take bread for granted. The danger for us is that so often we can do that with the Eucharist. When we come to the altar week by week it is easy to forget what an awesome thing it is to come close to the presence of our risen Lord. Here we are close to the mystery of our faith. The Eucharist is not a part of the Christian religion it is the whole of the Christian religion in sacramental form.
Of course, we should emphasise the communal aspect of the Eucharist. We are indeed the Lord’s family gathering around the Lord’s table, on the Lord’s day, for the Lord’s meal.
But it is so much more than this, here we touch a mystery. Something which is beyond our words and our intellectual grasp but through which we come close to the risen Lord. So let us never forget that this is the bread of heaven, an effective symbol of Christ in our midst nourishing his people with his own life.
Jesus said ‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven.
Anyone whoever eats this bread will live forever