19th August, 2018
In my childhood there were only two sorts of bread – brown and white. It came, delivered by horse and cart to our house in Symonds St., from Stormont’s bakeries. Or was it the milk that came by horse and cart and the bread by van? Memory fades with age, although strangely in our dotage it’s often easier to remember something from childhood than the name of the person you have just been introduced to; or worse still the name of a person you know well.
At any rate the bread was shaped like this. So the loaves were baked with two halves so that they could be broken down the middle and you could have just half a loaf if you wanted. That exposed the centre with its all too tempting aroma of fresh baked bread. If it was still warm and you had access to the loaf it was very tempting to just have a bit to even it off here and there and before you knew it quite a bit had gone and you were clearly in trouble. I don’t think we used the words ‘yum’ and ‘yuk’ in those days, but it was very definitely ‘yum’. In a more elegant way we might call it ‘just divine!’
Nowadays there are so many varieties of bread to accommodate all our desires and tastes that it has created a difficulty of choice, as with so much else in our busy, hectic and increasingly material world – impinging on time for the spiritual.
In this morning’s gospel reading [John 6, 51 – 58] and in the passages preceding it, it is clear that bread is being referred to as a staple item of food. Earlier Jesus had said “”I am the bread of life”” : my way of living must be your staple food, which relates back to the ancient petition to be given “”our daily bread””. But in today’s reading the writer of John’s gospel has Jesus going further and anticipating his death in the words “”the bread that I will give, for the life of the world, is my flesh””, foreshadowing perhaps that the breaking of bread by his followers was to become a ritualistic meal of remembrance and sharing; and that this was to be a special source of life, and love, and fullness of living.
Then he goes on to say: “”Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me””. “”Whoever eats me””? Heady stuff; and little wonder that many of his hearers did not understand.
So, with the benefit of hindsight, what might we take from these words?
They clearly reflect similar sayings in John’s Gospel: “”I am in the Father and the Father is in me””; and “”On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you””. So it’s about relationship, about being in-filled with the essence and spirit of God, the Holy Spirit.
And where and how might we find this somewhat elusive Spirit that can’t be seen and can only be experienced? Sometimes it is felt in moments of awe and wonder – at the sight of Aoraki in all its majesty; underneath the shadow of a seemingly eternal rock such as Paritutai standing sentinel at the North Head of the Manukau; or in the absolute magnificence of an extra-special sunset. We need to hold these special moments in our hearts and minds. Sometimes it can be experienced just in more reflective moments, maybe walking around Maungakiekie or up what has been, for me, my own Mount of Olives, Te Kopua or Mt. St. John. Let us find and treasure our own spiritual places. Sometimes the Spirit is just felt in a quiet moment, on one’s own, at home, or anywhere really, as a still small voice of calm. Sometimes it is felt as a presence of reassurance in moments of sheer desperation. But it always speaks of a creative, loving, compassionate God that Jesus knew and loved; and wanted us to know and love as well. So we must set aside time from this frenetic world of ours to know and love this God of creation, this compassionate Spirit that can be sometimes hard to find. And there we have the first great commandment: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and mind, and strength.
And the second is like unto it namely this: to love our neighbour as ourselves. Why is it ‘like unto it’ ? Because it calls us to mirror that compassionate love, that agape love, that aroha that extends beyond the neighbour next door out to every person we come across who is in need. Maybe sometimes just to bake somebody a cake or take them a casserole – every little kindness helps – but sometimes it can be much much more that is required; and for a complete stranger. For life here on earth remains very much a place of test and challenge, in which it is not so much what happens that counts, but how we deal with it. Neither the life of Jesus nor the Spirit of God remove the challenges of life, but they do show a way and give us a strength to meet them. Refreshed and enabled by the Spirit, we are called to respond. Wherever we perceive a genuine need we are challenged to meet it, in the name and the strength of the Lord.
As a former judicial colleague, Fred McElrea, has observed, Jesus didn’t often tell people what to believe. He certainly didn’t give us a creed. It was mostly: “”Do this””. “”This is the way””. And Fred added that he thought we should be wary of over-intellectualising our faith.
That makes sense to me, for in essence it is very simple: “”Love God; Love your neighbour””; although to put that fully into practice is far from easy.
As already mentioned it is clearly love that binds the two great commandments together. The sort of love Martin Luther King meant when he proclaimed “”I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I’m talking about love. I’m talking about strong, demanding love””. Might I suggest Christ-like love.
Late in life Einstein supposedly wrote a letter to his daughter, from which this is an extract:
There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others, and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe and has not yet been identified by us.
This universal force is LOVE.
When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe they forgot the most powerful unseen force.
Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it.
Love is gravity, because it makes some people attracted to others.
Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals.
For love we live and die.
Love is God and God is Love.
This force explains everything and gives meaning to life. This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will.
To give visibility to love, I made a simple substitution in my most famous equation.
If instead of E=mc2, we accept that the energy to heal the world can be obtained through love multiplied by the speed of light squared, we arrive at the conclusion that love is the most powerful force there is, because it has no limits.
After the failure of humanity in the use and control of the other forces in the universe that have turned against us, it is important that we nourish ourselves with another kind of energy…
So as we accept the bread of life and the cup of salvation this morning, in remembrance and thanksgiving, may we be well and truly nourished for the road ahead. And just so that you get a little extra boost this morning, as you come down from the communion rail, may you imagine the smell and the taste of fresh-baked bread, still warm from the oven!
– Graeme McCormick