‘Bread of Life & Knit together in Christ’

(John & Ephesians)

A Sermon by The Rev’d Dr Theo McCall

            It is a joy to join you here again, in person, at St Peter’s Cathedral. St Peter, the saint, is never far from my mind, as I try and share my passion for this magnificent, flawed hero of the faith with the students I teach at St Peter’s College. It is, however, another hero of the faith that I want to focus on today: St Paul, as he points us to the one who gives us life, true life, abundant life, life in all its beauty and creativity.

            Not long after I was ordained, a fellow new priest, who is still a good friend, said, somewhat cynically, but not unfairly, “The problem with using the New Revised Common Lectionary for our Sunday readings is that you often end up with 3 totally unrelated Bible readings!”

            Fortunately today that’s not entirely true, but all I am going to say specifically about the story of King David and also Psalm 51, traditionally thought to have been written by King David and with themes that link directly to our reading about David and Nathan, is that repentance, and the grace and the forgiveness which follow repentance, is a critical part of the Christian Gospel and a beautiful message that our world desperately needs to hear. The only way that the world will actually listen to that message, though, is if we live it each day in our Christian communities.

            This is precisely what Jesus is teaching in today’s Gospel reading and what St Paul is trying to communicate in the letter to the Ephesians, our Epistle for today. Whether St Paul himself wrote Ephesians, or whether it was a very close disciple of Paul, who also had a hand in writing parts of Colossians, is a fascinating academic debate and a great discussion for a Bible study.

            The letter to the Ephesians, is worth reading and studying, piece by piece, little by little, sentence by sentence, … but in your own time – I’m not going to attempt that today! I often use the letters of the New Testament, along with the Gospels, for my morning meditation. I usually read a short paragraph, sometimes even just a few sentences, to focus my quiet time. I would love to tell you that every morning, as I sit at our dining room table for ½ an hour or so, and read, journal, and meditate, I end up heading off to school with an even stronger faith … I would love to tell you that. Of course, it’s not always true, but on some days, through some passages and even some individual words, the ancient writers speak to me, across the generations, across empires and continents, through years of people of faith trying to make a difference in the world, and they say to me, “Keep going – it’s important.”

            The strength that allows us keep going is Jesus, “the bread of life”. The crowd of people, that John writes about here in his Gospel, are demanding another sign from Jesus, having just been fed as part of the feeding of the 5000. Jesus starts teaching them about the food that endures for eternal life and the crowds immediately demand another physical sign, just like the manna in the wilderness, given by Moses. Jesus though is talking about something far important than literal bread – as important as that is – Jesus is talking about the bread that will endure forever, the strength that sitting in the presence of the Lord gives us.

            Just sitting in the presence of the Lord, battling through the desire to solve all the world’s problems in one short time of prayer, and reaching a place of stillness with the Lord, is the place we discover the bread that endures forever.

            There is another place too. New Testament scholars make a link between the bread of life, that Jesus is talking about here in chapter 6 of St John’s Gospel, and Institution of the Eucharist, particularly as recounted in St Mark’s Gospel. In this long discourse in John’s Gospel, the link with the Eucharist seems too clear to be a coincidence, and, indeed, there is a link. Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel is, in part, John’s way of talking about the Institution of the Eucharist, particularly towards the end of the chapter. Jesus, the bread of life, that we experience in our prayer life, is the same Jesus we experience every time we receive the sacrament.

            After the Last Supper and the Institution of the Eucharist, after Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, after Jesus was promoted to glory in the event we celebrate on Ascension Day, after those extraordinary events, the rag-tag bunch of disciples were left, some of them more capable than others, it’s safe to assume. They were the ones left with the task of spreading the good news about the bread of life to the world. Theirs was the task to take the message of Jesus, and the story of his life, death and resurrection, to the world. Fortunately, they were joined fairly quickly by more people, people like Saul, whom we know of course as St Paul. But they were only able to do all this in the strength of the Lord himself. St Peter was only able to overcome his initial hesitation and fear in the strength of the Lord. St Paul was only able to undertake his incredible journey through Western Asia, Eastern Europe and finally to Rome itself, the centre of the Empire, in the strength that the bread of life gave him.

            This changing of the world, through the message of repentance and forgiveness, through the gaining of strength from the bread of life, continues today, as in right now.  

Today we are called to work for the food that endures. Each of us has his or her part to play. Each part of the body has a part to play. For some, it is as easy as praying for the world each day. I say it’s easy to pray – it’s only easy if you get into the habit of doing it – but it does get easier, the more you practise, in my experience. I have always felt upheld by the saints, living and departed, who are praying for me. For other people there will be other things they can do as well, from the very practical, physical jobs that every community needs to get done, to the writing of thoughtful sermons that your clergy write and that I sometimes read on-line. But we each have our part to play, and we each need to play our part, as part of the body of Christ. We do this by leading lives full of humility and gentleness.

            Last year I had a significant birthday. Some of older staff at school thought I was younger than I was. If they’d known about it, the students would have thought I was much older … like all of us, I’m getting older and the body that St Paul describes in Ephesians is getting quite a bit older! The ligaments and tendons aren’t quite what they used to be! When I first started at St Peter’s College a number of years ago now, I made the … mistake, I think is the correct word … of participating in the indoor staff / student soccer match, having not played soccer for about 20 years. The students were very kind to me: tackling the School Chaplain is not really seen as the done thing! Of course, the next day, and particularly the day after that, I was in agony. I didn’t really realise that you actually need your thigh muscles to walk! I wouldn’t even attempt such foolishness these days.

            Our body, the Church, is also fragile. It’s stronger than we sometimes realise, but it can be injured. The injuries come when we don’t value each part of the body. The injuries can occur in many ways, sadly, but often simply in what we say. The bread of life that Jesus talks about here in St John’s Gospel, which links so closely to St Mark’s understanding of the Eucharist, is a gift from God: it truly is. God’s love, which comes to us in the sacrament, is a precious gift, something to be cherished. The Eucharist is a rich symbol of Christ’s body and blood, a sign of hope. It is the remembrance, in the fullest Jewish sense of memory, of Jesus’ life given for us. Christ comes to us in the Eucharist and gives us life. It is truly a free gift to us.

            But … as soon as we return to our pews, as soon as we leave this stunning Cathedral, as soon as the last note of the wonderful organ has finished echoing, then the work begins. The free gift of the Eucharist, the promise of life, never leaves us, but what we do with it … well, that’s the real trick, isn’t it!

The easy part of the work, provided you practise, is praying for others. The hard part, but prayer will help you, is what follows; the thoughts, the words, and the deeds. God bless you, as the bread of life gives you the strength to be the body of Christ in the world.


Preached in St Peter’s Cathedral, Sunday 1st August 2021, by the Rev’d Dr Theo McCall, School Chaplain of St Peter’s College.