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Sermon: Cathedral Eucharist - 2 August 2015

David Martin
Sunday 2nd August 2015
Cathedral Eucharist
Ephesians 4: 5
John 6: 36
Download Recording (MP3, 12.9M) Download

+One Lord, one faith, one baptism St.Paul to the Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 5.

I am the bread of life St. John’s Gospel, chapter 6, verse 36

These are two of the greatest texts in Scripture, but preachers have a problem if they want to connect them because they are embedded in very different contexts. One Lord, one faith, one baptism is part of Paul’s exposition of the diversity of gifts within the unity of the Church, and he relates that to the unity of the one God who is in all and through all. The common life of the Church mirrors the universal presence of God and we are all of us fulfilled in a bond of peace realised in the spirit of faith, hope and love.

Now we have to find a link to St. John, and that’s not so easy because John provides us with a narrative dense with symbolism in which Jesus teaches a crowd through a dialogue about manna in the desert and the bread of life. Yet Paul in Corinthians provides us with the perfect link: ‘For we, being many, are one bread, for we all partake of the one bread’.

When John quotes Jesus as saying I am the bread of life we need to keep in mind that whenever John uses the word ‘I am’ he is looking back to the Old Testament where ‘I am’ signifies the name of God and his presence. John is telling us that God Himself is present as the bread of life. We absorb the divine life into ourselves. That is very like what Paul said about God being in all and through all.

So far, so good: Paul and John are agreed. But that is only the beginning because we have to do two things to grasp the fullness of John’s message. The first thing is to read his text with two layers of meaning, material and spiritual; and the second is to link all his chapters together, especially the seven occasions when he uses the words ‘I am’ coming to a climax in ‘I am the resurrection and the life’.

The whole of John 6 is permeated with two layers of meaning. One layer is the story of the original journey of the people of God in the wilderness where they were fed with manna and drank water struck from the rock. When this story is given a Christian interpretation we come to the second layer because it ceases to be a story and becomes an inner spiritual journey like Pilgrim’s Progress. The hymn ‘Guide me, O thou great Redeemer/ Pilgrim through this barren land’ does just this. It refers to feeding evermore on Christ the bread of heaven and opening up the crystal fountain of living water. In John chapter 6 the crowd recognises the parallel between Jesus feeding the five thousand and Moses calling down manna in the wilderness. They are at level one, when we really need to keep two levels in play, one of them about abundant food and water for the world, and the other spiritual food and drink. So Jesus has gently to lead them on to understand that he also offers them spiritual meat and drink. ‘I am the bread of life’.

Now we can link John chapter 6 to several other chapters, especially those signifying the divine presence by the two words ‘I am’. Let us go back to the feeding of the five thousand that begins chapter 6. That miracle tells us how much divine bounty is hidden in the free gift of just a very few loaves and fishes. It expands our vision to imagine a vast multitude sitting down to a banquet in the kingdom of God. It anticipates the new creation where people have life and have it more abundantly.

Bread and wine, water and fish are all signs of the kingdom. The first parallel to John chapter 6 comes in John chapter 2 when the new wine is provided as the old wine runs out at the wedding banquet in Cana. The miraculous abundance of bread for the five thousand echoes or prefigures the miraculous abundance of new wine. It is a foretaste of the great banquet in the presence of the heavenly bridegroom.

We now move from living bread to living water and from John 6 to John 4. In John 4 Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman as she draws water at the well. Here Jesus is the one who inaugurates the kingdom across every barrier of gender or ethnicity. He asks a foreign woman to give him water to drink. She demurs, rather as the crowd demurs in chapter 6, but he persists because, as he explains, he is sustained by spiritual food, not by the bread that perishes. She may be sustained by physical water requiring replenishment, but he offers living water, welling up to eternity, so she will never thirst again. Just as Jesus is the living bread so he is the water of life. As he says in chapter 7, ‘If anyone thirst let him come to me and drink’.

We haven’t finished because John expands our imagination to include the cross and resurrection. In John chapter 10 Christ says ‘I am the Good Shepherd and the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’. John is telling us that Christ gives his life that we might inherit life eternal. And we can relate this to the one bread we share in the Eucharist. As we break the bread and pour out the wine, we signify the breaking of his body and the pouring out of his blood on the cross. But when we absorb that bread and receive that wine we are once more in the banqueting house. We are brought together in the bond of peace where God is in all and through all: One Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Finally in chapter 21 St. John moves beyond the cross to the resurrection. He recounts how Jesus, standing on the shore, calls to the disciples in the boat and they tell him they have caught nothing. He tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Once they do so their nets were filled to overflowing. This is abundance, just like the bread Jesus provided for the five thousand and just like the overflowing new wine at the wedding feast. As they come ashore they enjoy one of the first suppers of the kingdom, like the disciples at Emmaus and like the disciples in the upper room. They have become partners with Christ in the new creation. Amen.