Introduction and Call to Worship
We gather together, seeking to abide in Christ as he abides in us, meeting us in the holy sacrament of the altar, present among us as we journey through life.
First Reading Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Choose this day whom you will serve: The Lord who has chosen you or the gods of other people?
Second Reading Ephesians 6:10-20
Be strong in the Lord and avail yourself of the gifts he has given. Take on the whole armour of God and you will stand firm.
Gospel John 6:56-69
Jesus makes startling claims about himself that are hard to hear, yet there is abundant life for those who are not offended and abide with him.
HOMILY “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”(John 6:56)
“Abide with me” has become a very popular hymn for Remembrance commemorations and Christian funerals; composed by Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte, sung to the tune of “Eventide”, written by English composer William Henry Monk. Lyte wrote his poem in 1847 and set it to music while he lay dying from tuberculosis; he survived only a further three weeks after its completion, but he believed that Jesus was with him in his sufferings as he faced the final journey:
“I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless; ills have no weight and tears no bitterness. Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.”
Lyte eloquently writes of the journey he faces of death and yet new life and prays that Jesus will indeed abide with him, just as our Lord promises in today’s Gospel, that those who break bread together will indeed experience His abiding presence with them. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (John 6:56) How do we respond to Jesus teaching and do we have the faith to sing with Lyte, “I triumph still if thou abide with me?”
For three weeks we have been reading Jesus’ teachings about bread and wine and his relationship with us, his body given for the life of the world. Here our Lord is both speaking of his own death and suffering upon the cross, foretelling the outpouring of his blood and the hope of resurrection to come, while emphasising the eternal nature of communion which he has established as the ultimate sacramental experience of his very presence, enduring among the faithful who meet in his name and share the bread. Before his arrest, trial and crucifixion, Jesus would meet with his disciples and teach them about love and service before breaking the bread, sharing the cup (Luke 22:14-20) and thereby instituting Holy Communion, the Eucharist we share today. And then, after his resurrection Jesus would walk with some of his disciples along the road to Emmaus, teaching them as they reflect upon their fears and frustrations with life. His message would burn within their hearts and yet they would only recognise his actual presence with them at the breaking of the bread (see Luke 24). Our Lord of all life and eternity promises his disciples that he will be with them, abide with them throughout life’s troubling journey, sustaining them in times of trouble and fear, burning within their hearts as he teaches his Word and meets them in person in the broken bread and wine outpoured. That same promise to abide with us is the centre of our worshipping life at St Mary’s as we seek the real presence of Christ to dwell among us and strengthen us in our journeys of life and faith. And we need the presence of Christ to abide with us because as Lyte recognised, we can’t make that journey completely alone. Jesus promises that his bread, his very body brings life:
“Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:57-58)
Our Lord assumes here the role of mediator between humanity and God the creator, and in that sense we can spiritualise his words – that communion offers us a foretaste of the kingdom to come, on earth as it is in heaven – this is sacramental. His death speaks of new life and of a unity with God which Jesus alone achieves through the cross and by his own death and resurrection. Interesting, unlike the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, John doesn’t describe the meal of the Last Supper (and likewise he doesn’t describe the actual baptism of Jesus – another sacramental sign of God’s very presence among us), and this is not because these occasions lack importance to John. He was writing his Gospel much later than the others, when the Church was already busy baptising people into fellowship and breaking the bread in regular worship; rather his intention is to convey to us their deeper sacramental meaning as Jesus chooses to abide with us as we journey through life.
For Christians, this journey is transformed and blessed by the very presence of Jesus with us. But we must choose to participate – it is our choice. In baptism you were welcomed into the fellowship of faith, but that same pledge of allegiance, that same choice, you need to make day by day, week by week. For Jesus to strengthen you through his sacramental presence you need to choose to journey with the Church and make regular worship your priority, even though this is difficult when others don’t understand or when they object – like those in today’s Gospel who couldn’t accept our Lord’s teaching:
“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (John 6:60) Jesus clarifies his teaching for them, emphasising that he is offering a spiritual hope: “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63)
On his death bed, Lyte could hardly have imagined just how popular his hymn, “Abide with me” would become. It speaks of a journey that we all must make. Yet he identifies that with Jesus we don’t journey alone. Like the disciples who walked the road to Emmaus, back to their old lives, Jesus meets us in our life’s journey and his very presence burns within our hearts should we choose to allow him to be present. In the face of every challenge, the Lord of all life longs to feed us, to heal us, to strengthen us for our journey and at our end to take us to His eternal home – Jesus offers us eternal life. Along the way he asks one thing of us, and that is faithfulness. That we meet regularly in His name and when we do, that we break the bread and share the cup because in that very moment he meets with us, unites us and reveals his presence among us. Amen.
In today’s Gospel reading, some people are offended by Jesus and some even refuse to follow him because they can’t see the spiritual meaning of his teaching.
We are called to be those who meet regularly for worship; to break the bread and share the cup, as Jesus meets us.