Corpus Christi

bread
A sermon for the Sunday commemorating the Holy Eucharist, The Body and Blood of Christ: Corpus Christi.  The lectionary readings are Deuteronomy 8:2-3, Psalm 34, 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, 16-17, and John 6:47-58.

Listen to the sermon HERE

The other day I was making plans to meet a parishioner for coffee.  We agreed that we’d meet at the coffee shop, “Le Pain Quotidien.”  Just as I thought our plans were set and before hanging up the phone, my friend added, “Ok, see you on Second Ave.”  I quickly called him back.  “Second Avenue?  I thought we were meeting on Lexington.”  We both looked online, realized the confusion, and settled our meeting place.  We laughed as we saw the massive opportunity for missing each other—we could have met on 1st Avenue, Fifth Avenue, or at any of the other many locations of that restaurant.  “Pain Quotidien,” is of course French for “Daily Bread.”

The irony was not lost of me that I encounter “Pain Quotidian” or Daily Bread every day and pass right by.  But if that’s true for my walking by the restaurant chain, it’s even truer for the Daily Bread provided by God in other ways.  I don’t always notice.  I’m not always grateful.

We pray for daily bread whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer, and on this Sunday when we meditate on the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion, the Eucharist) we can explore how the Sacrament of Communion is also an answer to our prayer for the bread that sustains— not just for today, but for tomorrow, and the next day as well.

The Old Testament Lesson for today recalls the time when the Israelites had been wandering in the wilderness, they became tired and irritable, and God fed them with manna. In the words of the psalmist, “[God] rained down manna upon them to eat and gave them grain from heaven. So mortals ate the bread of angels; he provided for them food enough.” (Psalm 78:24-25).

But the manna was only for the day. It was daily manna and needed to be consumed or it would spoil. If they left it out it became wormy. If it remained in the sun, it melted. This is because the manna was food, but it was more than food. Manna was meant to be consumed with faith. It took faith to rely upon the Lord to lead through the wilderness. It took faith to go to sleep each night trusting that there would be manna for the morrow. Perhaps it’s from that old, ancient story that the prayer began to be formed that would pray for daily manna, or daily bread.

Biblical scholars sometimes point out that the Greek in Lord’s Prayer actually conveys this sense of praying for the bread for tomorrow. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, reflects on this in a meditation as he writes

Rivers of ink have been spilt over the exact meaning of “give us this day our daily bread”, because the word that’s used in the Greek is a very, very strange one that you hardly find anywhere else.

It probably means daily, it probably means the stuff we need to survive, but at least some people in the early church understood it to mean the bread we want for tomorrow or even the bread of tomorrow; “give us today tomorrow’s bread”.

And they’ve thought that might mean give us now a taste of the bread we shall eat in the Kingdom of God. Give us a foretaste of that great banquet and celebration where the universe is drawn together by Christ in the presence of God the Father.

And so that connects for a lot of Christians with Holy Communion. Of course, because Holy Communion is, at one level, bread for today, it’s very much our daily bread, it’s the food we need to keep going; but it’s also a foretaste of the bread of heaven, a foretaste of enjoying the presence of Jesus in heaven at his table at his banquet, as the gospels put it. Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “The one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that [one] may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, they will live for ever.”

By taking into ourselves the Body of Christ, we become one with Jesus and the Father through the Holy Spirit. Communion happens to us. Communion overtakes us. Communion is God moving toward us and inviting us closer. Communion is our reaching out toward one another and even reaching beyond the church into the world.

Communion happens all the time and all over the place.  We invite others to meet Christ at the altar when we worship.  But we also invite others to experience Christ offered himself and receiving all who come, in other ways, as well—on Tuesdays with the senior lunch, on Saturdays with the community dinner, most nights of the week in the shelter.  We offer “Bread for Tomorrow” through the simplicity of our hospitality, allowing strangers and neighbors alike to rest in the garden and perhaps learn something of the God who comes to us in the “beauty of holiness.” But whether we offer literal food, or spiritual food, the food of friendship, support, encouragement, or prayer– We move with invitation, inviting others to “taste and see that the Lord is good, happy are they who trust in him!” (Psalm 34:8)

Sometimes the bread for which we pray and long for is less tangible than food and drink, or even a sacrament.  Sometimes we hunger and thirst for love, companionship, health, work, peace… all these hopes can be like something for which we have a taste but are a long way away from.  The ancient Israelites prayed for the bread that would feed their bodies, but also the bread that would feed their souls and their ambitions and their loves.  The friends and followers of Jesus understood his presence as feeding them, but they also prayed for the bread of tomorrow as they longed for his presence in prayer and the Holy Spirit. And we do the same, filled with confidence that just as surely as God satisfied those before us, God fills us with what we need.

Bread for today is a gift. Bread for tomorrow is a promise. We are called to live with hope and with faith for whatever tomorrow brings.  The Holy Eucharist allows us to practice receiving God, apprehending God, noticing God, hearing God, and feeling God moving in us and around us.

Jesus promises, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” May we grow in the faith and love of Christ, especially as we encounter him in the Holy Eucharist.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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