On a lazy Saturday morning, you may come across ‘Saturday Kitchen’ on the BBC. One of the celebrity guests chooses a ‘food heaven’ and a ‘food hell.’ At the end of the programme, they either get to eat the dish they love the most, or the dish they most fear, all determined by the public vote
Perhaps, the idea of a fish dish is far more delectable than a snake bake – although more adventurous eaters, of course, may give it a go! Jesus uses the image of a loving, caring parent who provides food for his children to explore how God relates to us. “Is there a man among you who would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or would hand him a snake when he asked for a fish? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Jesus has drawn us into the loving, intimate relationship of God. Only Jesus, by right, can call God his Father but we are adopted with him as his brothers and sisters. And so, like Christ, we dare to call God our Father. He cares for us, he feeds us, he loves us, he wants what is good for us. We are his children and he gazes upon us with pure love, he wants us to live with him for ever. Whether we experience food heaven or food he’ll in this life, Heaven is our hope and destiny.
God our Father, thank you for you loving care, and for all the blessings we receive from you. Through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen.
Each years, for years, I used to take a large group of young people to the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage although that privilege now is left to younger leaders! It’s quite a long coach journey and, when we arrived, we slept in tents in the middle of a field. The food was good considering the circumstances but some of the young people could be, well, quite fussy!
So they smuggled their own food with them. Dried soups and snacks, chocolate, cakes, crisps and other convenience snacks secretly stowed away in their rucksacks. They went on pilgrimage with a good supply of food!
Whenever we make a journey, whether it’s a simple day trip to the seaside or an arduous trek for weeks on end, we need to make sure that we have enough resources. These resources depend on the type of journey we’re making but so important is the need of food for the journey, whether it’s a packed lunch or a stop off somewhere to buy something along the way.
A ‘Way Out’ meal
We, too, on our Christian Journey, need to have food for the journey – not simply physical food to keep us nourished and sustained but something even more important. We need what we may call ‘spiritual food.’
On the night before he died, Jesus gave us this food for the journey. He gave us the Eucharist to feed and sustain us. He sat down with his closest friends and followers to share a meal, familiar ritual which runs through the Jewish story, the Passover of the Lord.
The Passover was the meal that God instructed Moses and the People of Israel to eat before their escape, their exodus, from slavery and their long and difficult journey to freedom (Exodus 12). It was a day that they would remember every year as a pilgrim-feast. It was part and parcel of their identity. The Passover meal was ‘food for the journey.’
Jesus filled this meal with new meaning. He took bread and wine, gave thanks, broke the bread, and shared them with his disciples, and said, ‘This is my Body,’ and ‘This is my Blood.’ ‘Do this in remembrance of me,’ he said.
From here to eternity
From that moment, one of the characteristics of Christians was to break bread, to share this special meal, a meal that became known as the Eucharist. In the Acts of the Apostles we see the defining characteristics of the Church and how they devoted themselves to the Breaking of Bread. There we read that ‘they met constantly to hear the apostles teach and to share the common life, to break bread and to pray.’ (Acts 2:42).
From the earliest days, then, the Eucharist was essential, and it remains so today. The Church in Wales calls it ‘The Principal Act of Christian Worship.” It is the source and the summit of the Christian life.
It’s from the Eucharist that we gain our strength and grow in grace, and it is to the Eucharist that we come with a living faith to receive “the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.” (The Church in Wales Catechism)
‘They met constantly to hear the apostles teach and to share the common life, to break bread and to pray.’
The Eucharist nourishes us along the way, and points us forward to the banquet of heaven, the fulfilment of our journey. It is food for the journey, from here to eternity. On our pilgrimage through life we have a good supply of food.
Citizens UK, a community organising group with whom we, and many other organisations, are involved, work to a certain motto. “If you’re not sat around the table, you’re probably on the menu.” How do we effect change, when we don’t have decision making powers? How do we influence others, when others are making decisions which affect us? How do we become changers rather than people who have things done for us or to us?
In the gospel reading today, Jesus appears to be having some difficulty himself in effecting change. People just aren’t listening to him. It’s further frustrating because he cites an example of someone like Jonah whose message made its mark, and yet “there is something greater than Jonah here,” he says.
Today, like those large crowds who gathered around Jesus, we may seek or demand signs from God. Perhaps we want a sudden transformation, for God to do something spectacular, dramatic, obvious? To step in, make his mark known. And yet his voice can be heard in every generation. His teaching is present to all. He is present in the midst of all that we are called to do, he is with us always, if only we attend to him, and listen to his call. What does it take for us to effect change not only in our own lives but in the world? What needs to be changed?
God our Father, help us to be the change that is needed in the world by being changed ourselves. Open our hearts to your Spirit to accept the words of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“I am the Bread of Life,” said Jesus. When he uses these words he places himself within the story of Israel’s wilderness years, their escape from slavery, their time of God given gifts in the desert, gifts which feed them as they wander, seeking the promised land. The following reflection feasts on those words and offers a way in which we can digest what Jesus may mean, and what it may mean for the Eucharist.
They are at their wits' end.
trailing the sands of a wild place.
and then, after a day or more maybe,
they move on,
hiding from the blanch of the sun.
For forty years they will do this.
Generations will be born into this stateless lifestyle,
knowing no other way, no other life.
It leaves a mark on their lives for ever,
they are shaped by the desert.
No wonder, at times,
they despaired beyond belief.
No wonder their leader is taking the flack,
this hero who hits upon hard times,
who tries to keep the people together,
when hunger and want set in.
A leader is destined to give direction,
to make decisions to makes life better,
and yet here they are not knowing which way to turn.
Their dangerous, dramatic escape from slavery
is now just a memory,
tucked away in the past.
Why would they feast on former glories,
when their life is now so low?
He’d promised them a land of their own,
a paradise place where their children could flourish
and know the meaning of home.
They think themselves better off dead.
“If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt,
when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread;
for you have brought us out into this wilderness
to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’ (Exodus 16: 3)
A promise to rain down bread from heaven,
enough for each day,
no more, no less.
They gather it, give it a name.
Like coriander seed,
the taste of wafers soaked in honey. (Exodus 16:31)
We are shaped by our past,
which is our story’s beginning.
We are formed by former things
by all that has been.
It gives a sense of identity
to a person, a people.
It helps us know who we are,
how we have become.
It helps us move on,
but can so easily trap us too.
The past is not for living in.
Jesus takes up the story,
uses this collective memory,
an image of God providing for his people,
fulfilling their hunger,
giving them strength.,
enough for each day.
He feeds five thousand on the mountainside,
A fare made from five loaves, two fish.
“I am the bread of life,” he says.
Some listeners grumble,
unable to stomach such talk.
It makes them sick.
“Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died.
But here is the bread that comes down from heaven,
which anyone may eat and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
Whoever eats this bread will live forever.
This bread is my flesh,
which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:48-51)
This moment now becomes part of our memory,
a narrative to shape and inspire us,
to give us a sense of identity,
a collective memory which informs the present.
In an upstairs room,
he gives bread as his body.
Wine as his blood.
They gather their past together.
The great escape,
the wilderness manna,
the mountainside miracle,
the bread, the fish,
twelve baskets left over,
More than enough.
this is my body,” he says,
“given for you.”
At Mass, the collective memory,
is gathered up
again and again,
more than enough,
like bread from heaven,
the Bread of Life,
Many years ago, in the late nineteenth century, a priest called Fr Griffith Arthur Jones was sent to St Mary’s. He was met with much opposition. Within the parish were held prayer meetings later described by colleagues of Fr Jones as “trying ordeals” with “extempore effusions not conducive to devotion.” In a biography of Fr Jones written after his death we read that “On one occasion something or some one was compared to an “unthinking horse”; another time a person floundered hopelessly in a bog of words and ideas, and was driven to exclaim, ‘Thou knowest, Lord, what I do mean.’ On most Sundays the conversion of the Vicar and clergy to the “pure Gospel” was prayed for.” In the gospel reading today, Jesus warns his followers not to babble in their prayers using words to impress others rather than grow close to God. He then gives us a model of prayer which has characterised Christians ever since. Jesus is the perfect pray-er. He is the perfect prayer. The French Priest, Michel Quoist, once wrote, “If we knew how to listen to God, if we knew how to look around us, our whole life would become prayer.” In prayer, we lean closer to the will of God, we wait upon him, listen to him. As we take to heart the prayer of Jesus, we are drawn deeper into his own intimate relationship with the Father, learn to look at the world in a new way, so that our whole life, like Jesus, will become prayer.
God our Father, help me to listen, to learn, to yearn for your love, and to look at the world as it is in your eyes so that the whole of my life will become prayer. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Can’t cook, won’t cook, or just prefer to watch others cooking?! There’s a feast of cooking programmes on the TV these days which may mean that many of us spend more time watching other people prepare food than standing at the stove ourselves! It’s a good way, though, to be inspired to try some new dishes, learn more about food – all from the comfort of our sofa!
In the Eucharistic meal, food is prepared – just like any other meal. Much of the preparation is done beforehand, of course: the bread baked, the wine fermented. But as the priest (or deacon) prepares the table and food for the Mass, there are some small acts that may go unnoticed, some prayers which go unheard.
One of these moments is when the priest prepares the chalice . A small amount of water is added to the wine, and the priest silently prays the words: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
Tempering wine with water was common practice in the ancient world. Jews, Romans and others across the Mediterranean would have done it. In Proverbs 9:5 we read, “Drink the wine which I have mixed for you.” Jesus likely did this at the Last Supper too.
“By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
The words which accompany the mixing of water come from an ancient prayer for Christmas, and expresses a truth of Christ and his Church. First, there is reference to what is theologically called the ‘Hypostatic Union’ -the Christian belief that Christ is both fully human and fully divine. It also refers to the union of Christ and his Church.
St Cyprian wrote in the third century: “In the water is understood the people, but the wine is showed the blood of Christ.
“But when the water is mingled in the cup with the wine, the people are made one with Christ, and the assembly of believers is associated and conjoined with him on which it believes.”
Such a small act, the mixing of wine with water. It almost goes unnoticed by many people as the food is prepared but it’s a simply beautiful expression of Christ’s divine humanity, and how close we are to him.
How often do we go shopping and pay so little attention to the items we purchase, and how they have made their way into our lives? Quite often, the people involved in their production may be treated rather unfairly, and we smile at the bargain with no idea of the real cost to people’s lives. Likewise, how are the people who have served us been treated? Are they on less than the Real Living Wage, do they live with a zero hours contract, are they struggling with an employer who treats them unfairly. And yet there are also wonderful examples of good management of people. The key cutter company Timpson have an up “upside down” management approach. To give best customer services they give their employees freedom. They have only two rules. “Look the part. Put the money in the till.” They trust those whom they employ, allow them to make decisions borne from their own knowledge and experience of their customers. “Never be a dictator over any group that is put in your charge, but be an example that the whole flock can follow,” said St Peter. Sometimes, the church can easily miss the point. Those in leadership can mistake authority for power. Peter knew this, to the extent that he had to remind the leaders of the church community to which he was writing to “be shepherds of the flock entrusted to them.” He, of all people knew this. He was “an elder” himself, and a witness to the sufferings of Christ, “and with you I have a share in the glory that is to be revealed,” he says. And, of course, he himself was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. So, whether we are a key cutter or a key holder, we are called to be gentle with those entrusted to our care, and sometimes spare them some slack to make decisions which perhaps they know to be right. “When the chief shepherd appears, you will be given the crown of unfading glory.”
God our Father, help us to be gentle with those given to our care. May we value the offering that each person makes, and rejoice in each of the gifts you give to all. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Images of Christmas are often filled with animals, not just the winter sighting of a robin red breast but the animals which surrounded Jesus at his birth. There’s no actual mention of animals in the gospels, although the prophecy of Isaiah and the fact that he was laid in a feeding trough for animals, suggest that there certainly were animals nearby. The images can often paint a rather rosy picture of Jesus’ birth – as rosy as the breast of the robin. What’s that got to do with Lent?! Well, here, we see Jesus during those wilderness days spending time with the wild beasts. There is harshness and danger as he embraces the world in all its wildness. He prepares himself for mission, driven as he is by the Spirit like a hand on his back, moving him, pushing him forward, anointing him for Mission, this Messiah, this Christ from heaven from where angels come to minister. There is much about our life that may appear to be rather artificial, and we dismantle our dependency on nature at our peril. There are so many human made things that are human made messes. Plastic in the sea, pollution in the atmosphere, forests razed to the ground, animals chased into extinction, the temperature of the world pushed higher and higher. Perhaps Lent can be a time when not only do we strip our personal lives of some of the unessential things but when we look at what we can do as both individuals and whole communities to strip away all that harms and hurts, to abandon destructive ways of living. So, let’s get wild this Lent, be wild with Lent, and care for Creation of which we are a part, not apart.
God our Father, the way we live can often be destructive to the gifts you have given, Help us to care for all that you have made, and to walk gently upon the earth. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Some years ago, a priest colleague of a slightly different tradition from mine, once angrily castigated me on the steps of the Cathedral for casually calling the Eucharist, “the Mass.” The word was natural to me, and I didn’t think too much of using it even in conversation with someone of an evangelical tradition. I was grateful when his wife intervened and sternly guided him away!
In The Catechism of The Church in Wales, the Holy Eucharist is called by many names: “The Lord’s Supper, the Breaking of Bread, and Holy Communion; it is also known as the Liturgy, and the Mass” (Catechism, 50). Hidden away in the General Rubrics of the Holy Eucharist, we also have the beautiful name of ‘The Holy Mysteries.’
That word, ‘Mystery.’ We use it so much. We read or watch a good ‘Murder Mystery’, casually say of something we don’t understand, “It’s a Mystery to me!’ In the cartoon world, we see Scooby Doo traveling around in the ‘The Mystery Machine’ or perhaps we’ve taken part in a ‘Mystery Trip’ or read the feedback of a ‘Mystery Shopper’. In all of these, there’s an element of secrecy, of the unknown, of something hidden, just waiting to be disclosed.
‘I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love,” we read in St Paul’s letter to the Colossians (Col 2:2) “so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself.’
Right next door to the city of Colossae was Hierapolis, the home of many Mystery Cults in which, it was believed, cosmic or religious secrets were disclosed to privileged insiders. St Paul’s school of thought was different. For him, as for us, the Mystery of God is a universal revelation – open to all. This Mystery is Christ.
The mystery of faith
In the Mystery of the Mass we encounter Jesus himself and yet who can understand this in all its fullness? We are simply called, as St Anselm of Canterbury said, to have ‘Faith seeking understanding” or to “Believe that you may understand,” as St Augustine wrote. We are drawn into something far greater than we can ever imagine or understand and this may leave us speechless.
And, yet, in trying to make meaning of the Mystery, speak we do. So human are we that we need to name things and express what we think we know.
At Mass, we are invited to “Proclaim the Mystery of Faith” and we joyfully respond that ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’ The Mystery of our Faith is the death and resurrection of Christ.
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again / in glory
Memorial Acclamation at Mass
In the Holy Mysteries of the Eucharist, in some mysterious and beautiful way, we experience this in all its fullness – whatever we choose to call it.
Levi leaves the place of custom, the office of financial exchange. He is an associate of an occupying force and, as a tax collector, is seen as a bit of a sinner! Today though, in that custom house, he has a very different kind of exchange with Jesus – an invitation given and received, the currency of love. And so Levi exchanges his former life for a different future, leaving behind everything, and welcoming Jesus and others into his home. The gathering is large. Meanwhile the Pharisees and their scribes are at large too, dropping words of criticism, exchanging judgements. They wonder why Jesus is bothering with such people, and so they ask him outright. The exchange of words continues. He sets our his mission before them. If sinners are sick they need a doctor. If the tax collectors of the day are suffering from a moral malaise they need a healing balm, That’s why Jesus came, and so he mixes with the mad and the bad, the sad losers, the waste of timers. He draws close, sees into our hearts, offers us an invitation, a holy exchange of love.
God our Father, may we hear the words of Jesus calling us each day to follow him, and may our lives be continually transformed by your love. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.