Monday, 30 July 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 5 August 2018,
Tenth Sunday after Trinity

‘I am the Bread of Life’ (John 6: 35) ... an image from Saint Luke’s Episcopal Cathedral, Orlando (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 5 August 2018, is the Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 13B).

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, as adapted in the Church of Ireland, for next Sunday are:

Continuous readings: II Samuel 11: 26 to 12: 13a; Psalm 51: 1-13; Ephesians 4: 1-16; and John 6: 24-35.

Paired readings: Exodus 16: 2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78: 23-29; Ephesians 4: 1-16; and John 6: 24-35.

There is a link to readings HERE.


Although Saint Mark’s Gospel provides the main Gospel readings in the cycle of readings in Year B, for five successive Sundays, from 29 July (Proper 12) to 26 August (Proper 16), we are reading from Saint John’s Gospel and his description in Chapter 6 of the feeding of the multitude.

These readings began on Sunday 29 July (John 6: 1-21), and continue next Sunday (5 August 2018), with Saint John’s commentary on the feeding of the multitude (John 6: 24-35), with his image of ‘bread from heaven’ (John 6: 32) and the first of the seven ‘I AM’ sayings in Saint John’s Gospel, ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6: 35).

This reading brings together in one so many aspects: the Creator and the Creation; God and humanity; food and drink; agriculture and industry. Food and drink – both are dependent on God’s gifts and on human labour.

The work of the past sustains us in the food of the present and brings us the promise of the future. And so, the three Eucharistic prayers in the Book of Common Prayer, in their opening addresses to God as Father, first praise him and thank him for all his work in creation.

In the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, in some Eucharistic texts in the Church of England and other traditions, there is an adaptation of traditional Jewish table-blessings, drawn in turn from the Bible, at the Taking of the Bread and Wine:

Priest: Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation:
through your goodness we have this bread to offer,
which earth has given and human hands have made (Ecclesiastes 3: 13-14).
It will become for us the bread of life (John 6: 35).

All: Blessed be God forever (Psalm 68: 36).

Priest: Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation:
through your goodness we have this wine to offer,
fruit of the vine and work of human hands.
It will become our spiritual drink (Luke 22: 17-18).

All: Blessed be God forever (Psalm 68: 36).

[See also Common Worship (Church of England), p. 291.]

Food and Water are provided by God to the Israelites during the Exodus ... Dieric Bouts (1410-1475)

The continuous readings:

II Samuel 11: 26 to 12:13a:

While David’s troops were away fighting the Ammonites, he has seduced Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and she is pregnant. When Uriah is home on leave, David tries to trick Uriah, so that he will think he is the father of the child. However, when this ruse fails, David ensures that Uriah is killed in battle.

David gains a wife and a son, but his actions earn him God’s displeasure (II Samuel 11: 27). The Prophet Nathan courageously tells David a simple parable designed to appeal to David’s sensibilities (II Samuel 12: 1-5).

David falls into the trap, and Nathan then identifies the rich man as David (12: 7) and gives him a message from God, warning of the consequences of his deceit and his deeds.

But God pardons David partially. He will live, but the son he has with Bathsheba will die. The son dies (12:18), but God shows his lasting love for David by giving him another son with Bathsheba, Solomon (12:24).

Psalm 51: 1-13:

This psalm is said to have been written after Nathan brings David to admit his guilt in his seduction of Bathsheba.

The psalmist seeks cleansing from iniquity and sin, which have made him ill. He even asks God to hide his ‘face from my sins,’ to be so gracious and compassionate. He asks God to restore him, bring him back to godliness, give him a clear conscience, a ‘clean heart,’ a ‘new ... spirit’ and joy and sustenance through his holy spirit.

The Library of Celsus in Ephesus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Ephesians 4: 1-16:

The Apostle Paul has told his readers in Ephesus of the present exalted state of Christ and the Church, the new unity of God’s people. The Church as an established growing structure where God dwells.

Now Saint Paul tells us the obligations of being members of this new humanity. He has spent time in prison in connection with preaching Christ. He now urges his readers ‘to lead a life worthy of’ their calling as Christians. Unity is paramount, and is to be fostered by the virtues of humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, love, unity and peace (verses 2-3).

He then lists the ways in which Christians live in unity (verses 4-7).

This portion of the text draws clearly on Deuteronomy 6: 4 (‘Hear, O Israel ... the Lord alone’), which in this period became the central rabbinic statement of faith. This repetitive formula is also reminiscent of the received rabbinic Sabbath afternoon prayer: ‘You are one and your name is one,and who is like your people Israel, one nation on earth?’

God as Father of all (verse 6), brings us together as brothers, and sisters, but with diverse gifts, including those of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (verse 11), so that the Church can be built up in unity and faith (verses 12-13), sharing a common faith, speaking in truth and love, and respecting each other’s gifts and skills in that unity (verses 14-16).
‘The bread of God ... gives life to the world’ (John 6: 33) ... fresh bread in the window of Hindley’s Bakery in Tamworth Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Gospel reading, John 6: 1-21:

Sunday’s Gospel reading is set on the shores of the Lake of Galilee, and after many accounts of rowing on the lake, this reading opens with an interesting question from the crowd on the lake shore: ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ (verse 25).

In between all the rowing backwards and forwards, between Tiberias and Capernaum, the people in the crowd were so busy with eating their fill, with their own small world, that they have missed the bigger picture – they have taken their eyes off Jesus.

The question they now put to him is very similar in its thrust, in its phrasing, in its direction, to another set of questions in another Gospel story. In the parable of the Goats and Sheep, or the Judgment of the Nations, in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 25: 31-46), the righteous ask:

‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry, and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you to drink. And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ (Matthew 25: 44).

And again, the condemned ask:

‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ (Matthew 25: 37-39).

Sometimes we can be so focussed on our own agenda, our own practices of religion, we can be in danger of losing sight of who Christ should be for us.

Those questions in this reading and that parable of the Goats and Sheep are very disturbing.

‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’

When did I last see Christ among the strangers and the unwelcome, among the ragged children and refugees, among the sick who have their medical cards taken from them, among those isolated in rural poverty and loneliness, prisoners in their own homes? When did I last see you drowning in the sea off the coasts of the Mediterranean?

‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’

When did I see to it that they not only received the crumbs from my table, but the Bread of Life?

In this Gospel reading, we hear how God still wants to provide for us, no matter how we behave, no matter what our circumstances may be.

Christ’s words are addressed not to the Disciples, who later are going to find his teachings difficult (see John 6: 60, Sunday 26 August), but to the crowds, the multitude, the many, those who are on the margins and the outside, the very people the disciples first thought of sending away.

First, Christ feeds the many, the crowds, the 5,000, with bread on the mountainside that is multiplied for the multitude (John 6: 1-21, Sunday 29 July). And then in this passage, even though they took their eyes off him, Christ now continues to promise them real food, he promises them ‘the true bread from heaven’ (verse 33) and tells them:

‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (verse 35).

Care for the body and care for the soul go together to the point that they are inseparable.

The Samaritan Woman at the Well ... an icon in the Monastery of Arkadi, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The promise Christ gives the crowds on the shores of the lake re-echo the promises he gives earlier in this Gospel to the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4: 5-42).

The promise of the ‘the true bread from heaven,’ the promise of the ‘Bread of Life,’ come immediately after the promise to the Samaritan woman of ‘Living Water’ (see John 4: 10, 11, 14). We can even link those promises with the promise of the banquet of life in the Miracle at the wedding in Cana (see John 2: 1-11).

Jesus is the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the best wine, the true vine.

So often Christ talks about himself in Saint John’s Gospel in terms of food and drink, bread and water and wine. We are invited to the banquet that follows the harvest, we are invited to the wedding with the Bridegroom.

But so often too, he emphasises that his invitation is to the outsider: those in the highways and the byways who are invited to the wedding banquet (see Matthew 22: 1-14; Luke 14: 15-24).

The Gospel message is especially for those in the wilderness. Where do you think the wilderness places are today in our society, on our island, in the world? For it is there that God seeks to provide the blessings that come with his manna from heaven, and seeks to give life, not just to us but to the world: ‘For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’ (John 6: 33).

The Samaritan woman at the well – marginalised because of her religion, her ethnicity and prejudices about her marital or sexual status – is brought to a wholeness of life. And, as a consequence, she becomes one of the most effective missionaries in the New Testament, bringing the Good News of Christ to her town.

‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ (John 6: 25) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Looking at the Gospel reading:

Verse 25:

The title rabbi is used at least nine times throughout this Gospel as a way of addressing Jesus (see John 1: 38, 49; 3: 2, 26; 4: 31; 6: 25; 9: 2; 11: 8; 20: 16). In Second Temple Judaism, this title does not indicate a religious functionary in the synagogue, but conveys respect towards a person who has teaching authority. As a title, it does not appear before the Midrash, so it is only later that the title Rabbi came to describe a person qualified to pronounce on Jewish law and practice.

Verse 26:

Here we have the characteristic Johannine mode of address for Christ: Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν (Amen, Amen). This is translated ‘Amen, Amen,’ in the RSV, but in the NRSV as: ‘Very truly.’ In Hebrew, Amen, Amen, ‘It is so,’ or ‘It is true,’ is used double emphasis, and its use in the Dead Sea Scrolls may have a liturgical function.

In a characteristic Johannine play on words, Christ will tell them in the following Sunday’s reading that he came here from heaven (see John 6: 41-42).

Verses 27-34:

But at this stage, we should notice how the conversation that unfolds parallels the earlier conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4: 5-42:

● Verse 27 parallels John 4: 13;

● Verses 30-31 parallel John 4: 12;

● Verse 33 parallels John 4: 14.

● Verse 34 parallels John 4: 15.

As always, the aspirations of the crowd are on the material level only. They see the miraculous level of the sign, but they fail to grasp its meaning. Once again in this Gospel, we have a contrast between seeing and believing.

When Christ tries to raise them above this materialistic outlook, he is met by their persistent inability to understand.

Verse 31:

They then introduce the theme of the Passover and the feeding in the wilderness with the Manna. The feast of the Passover was near (verse 6), but rabbinic literature also speaks of the expected Messiah repeating the miracle of the manna.

Verses 32-33:

However, these Galileans do not recognise that the Messianic Manna is the word of God, divine teaching and wisdom (see Deuteronomy 8: 3; Proverbs 9: 2-5). It is not the bread of the desert that was given by Moses but Christ who is the bread now given by the Father.

Verses 35-50:

In response to their request for bread, Christ begins his great discourse on the Bread of Life. This discourse is in two parts: (a) verses 35-50, what Raymond Brown describes as ‘the Sapiential theme,’ in which the nourishing heavenly bread is presented as the revelation or teaching of Christ; (b) verses 51-58, what Raymond Brown calls ‘the Sacramental theme,’ in which the nourishing heavenly bread is the Eucharist.

These two themes are complementary, and we see here the basic substance of our liturgy for the past 2,000 years: the proclaimed Word and the Word in the Sacrament. Perhaps this accounts for Saint John’s omission of an institution narrative in the Fourth Gospel.

Verses 35-50 could be described as Wisdom material. However, unlike the Wisdom writings in the Old Testament, Christ’s teaching nourishes forever.

Verse 35:

This is the first of the seven I AM (Ἐγώ εἰμι) sayings in Saint John’s Gospel, and is repeated in verse 48 in the reading for the following Sunday. These seven I AM sayings are traditionally listed as:

1, I am the Bread of Life (John 6: 35, 48);
2, I am the Light of the World (John 8: 12);
3, I am the gate (or the door) (John 10: 7);
4, I am the Good Shepherd (John 10: 11 and 14);
5, I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11: 25);
6, I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14: 6);
7, I am the true vine (John 15: 1, 5).

These I AM sayings are statements that give us a form of the divine name as revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai before the first Passover (see Exodus 3: 14).

In fact, Christ says ‘I am’ (Ἐγώ εἰμι) 45 times in this Gospel, including those places where other characters quote Christ’s words. Of these, 24 are emphatic, explicitly including the pronoun ‘I’ (Ἐγώ), which would not be necessary grammatically in Greek.

‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves’ (John 6: 26) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A closing reflection and some questions:

In this Gospel reading next Sunday (John 6: 24-35), we follow the multitude after they have been fed by Christ, a Gospel story that we heard the previous Sunday (John 6: 1-21). The crowds get into the boats, and the people follow Christ from Tiberias to Capernaum on the other side of the lake.

The symbolism of the boat would not have been missed on those who heard this story for the first time in the Early Church: the boat was often used as a symbol of the Church, the community of faith.

And these people, having embarked on a journey of searching that ought to lead to faith, having been fed physically, are now looking for something more. The want to have their deeper, inner needs fed.

The symbolism of Capernaum would also have been obvious in the Early Church. At one time, this town had been the home of Christ. And so these people were leaving their own homes and going home truly to be in the family of God.

Going to the other side is also like turning around, finding a new sense of direction, being converted, setting out with a new set of priorities.

These are people who are hungry. Having already been fed by Jesus, they are now hungry for spiritual feeding and knowledge, and instead are challenged to accept the offer of new life. All that Jesus asks them to do is to believe in God the Father who has sent him. And they can accept Christ in a number of ways.

1, Firstly, Christ offers himself to them, and to us, he makes himself present, in the words he speaks.

The Word of God has become flesh, and his arrival is the Good News that we know as the Gospel.

2, Secondly, he offers himself to them, and to us, sacramentally. Christ is present when he feeds them and us in the Eucharist, symbolised by the feeding of the multitude and the desire of the crowd now to be fed again.

This sacramental presence is found throughout Saint John’s Gospel:

● For example, as you will recall, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that he is the Water of Life.

● The waters of the lake that the people pass over not only recall the Exodus story of passing through the waters of the Red Sea from slavery to freedom, but symbolise too the waters of baptism that incorporate us into the body of Christ, that makes the many one.

● And, at the wedding feast of Cana, there is an interplay between the sacramental symbolism and significance of the water of baptism and the wine of the Eucharist.

3, But, thirdly, Christ also makes himself present to us when we become his disciples truly, when the people who have been baptised into and incorporated into the Body of Christ at baptism become his disciples by living out our faith in discipleship.

It is not just enough to believe – that belief must find expression in how we live as Christians.

If we believe and accept Christ’s promise that the ‘bread of God … that … comes down from heaven … gives life to the world’ (John 6: 33), then how do we show that?

How do we give practical expression to that?

How do we, as those who have been baptised and invited to the Eucharistic banquet, show that those who are invited to come to him, that the whole world which is invited into the Kingdom of God, ‘will never be hungry, and … will never be thirsty’?

Would it make any difference if the world was truly called into the kingdom?

If we believe that it would make, literally, a world of difference, then how do we show it?

Or would things just go on as they are going on?

As the Church we seek not new members, but new disciples.

Perhaps there was no point in the people crossing the water from Tiberias to Capernaum, there was no point in them asking to continue to be fed on the bread that Christ offers, there was no point in them listening to what Christ had to tell them, unless they believed in it all to the point of putting it into practice.

Christ is the bread of life and the life of the world, and we must see that bread not as some arcane, insiders-only rite. We must also offer the life that he offers us to the world.

Would it make any difference if the Church not only preached what it believes, but worked actively to see these beliefs put into practice?

Our response to the love we receive from God – a risky outpouring that is beyond all human understanding of generosity – can only be to love. In the Epistle reading the Apostle Paul begs us to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called, bearing with one another in love (verse 2).

That call to love is not just to love those who are easy to love. It is a call to love those who are difficult to love too, to love all in the world … and to love beyond words.

‘Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness’ (John 6: 31) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John 6: 24-35:

24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ 26 Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ 28 Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ 29 Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ 30 So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat”.’ 32 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ 34 They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

35 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

They found him on the other side of the lake (John 6: 25) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions,
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

O God,
as we are strengthened by these holy mysteries,
so may our lives be a continual offering,
holy and acceptable in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for next Sunday in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

II Samuel 11: 26 to 12: 13a:

548, Drop, drop, slow tears
550, ‘Forgive our sins as we forgive’
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
385, Rise and hear, the Lord is speaking

Psalm 51: 1-13:

397, Alleluia! Alleluia! Opening our hearts to him
297, Come, thou Holy Spirit, come
614, Great Shepherd of your people, hear
208, Hearken, O Lord, have mercy upon us
553, Jesu, lover of my soul
305, O Breath of life, come sweeping through us
638, O for a heart to praise my God
557, Rock of ages, left for me

Exodus 16: 2-4, 9-15:

325, Be still for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here
52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
549, Dear Lord and Father of mankind
647, Guide me, O thou great Jehovah
425, Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts
588, Light of the minds that know him
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
589, Lord, speak to me that I may speak
445, Soul, array thyself with gladness

Psalm 78: 23-29:

549, Dear Lord and Father of mankind
435, O God, unseen, yet ever near

Ephesians 4: 1-16:

518, Bind us together, Lord
86, Christ is the King! O friends, rejoice
501, Christ is the world’s true light
519, Come, all who look to Christ today
294, Come down, O Love divine
408, Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest
318, Father, Lord of all creation
413, Father, we thank thee, who hast planted
298, Filled with the Spirit’s powder, with one accord
520, God is love, and where true love is, God himself is there
614, Great Shepherd of your people, hear
523, Help us to help each other, Lord
521, I am the Church! You are the Church!
522, In Christ there is no east or west
438, O thou who at thy eucharist didst pray
440, One bread, one body, one Lord of all
441, Out to the world for Jesus
507, Put peace into each other’s hands
308, Revive your Church, O Lord
526, Risen Lord, whose name we cherish
527, Son of God, eternal Saviour
369, Songs of praise the angels sang
528, The Church’s one foundation
313, The Spirit came, as promised
661, Through the night of doubt and sorrow
529, Thy hand, O God, has guide
d 530, Ubi caritas et amor
531, Where love and loving–kindness dwell

John 6: 24-35:

398, Alleluia! sing to Jesus
401, Be known to us in breaking bread
403, Bread of the world in mercy broken
379, Break thou the bread of life
408, Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest
411, Draw near and take the body of the Lord
647, Guide me, O thou great Jehovah
418, Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face
420, ‘I am the bread of life’
581, I, the Lord of sea and sky
422, In the quiet consecration
425, Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts
588, Light of the minds that know him
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
435, O God unseen, yet ever near
443, Sent forth by God’s blessing, our true faith confessing
445, Soul, array thyself with gladness
624, Speak, Lord, in the stillness
451, We come as guests invited

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

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