Homily for Harvest Thanksgiving, 2010
Sunday, October 3rd, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 6:25-35
“I am the bread of life.”
Toward the end of the fourth century, St. Augustine began his spiritual autobiography with these words: “O Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” It is in the make-up of every human being to long after God and to seek communion with the one who created us and has loved us from before our births. That is why we gather in these buildings, whether they be modeled on Roman public buildings or eighteenth century tents: we come to meet God.
There is so much about our church life, though, that seems distant from God, possibly because there is so much work to do in church. Is it possible, that from time to time as we go about the “business of church” that we mistake the work we do as the substance of our religion? And that we mistake our work as the foundation of our relationship with the God our hearts so long to seek? Of course, I do not wish to suggest that the work we do is of no value, nor do I wish to suggest that it is not holy work. Yet, it must be stated that sometimes the work overwhelms us and we can forget why we are here. Consequently, in all the exhaustion that occurs we may feel farther away from God than ever before, and that God is not in this place but inhabiting some distant realm that is inaccessible to ordinary folk like you and me. Then comes the question we inevitably ask: Why am I here? This is not the existential question of life and death -- although such undertones may be present -- but rather, why do I bother to come to this place every week?
Why do we bother, indeed?
In the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, the crowd goes looking for Jesus and finds him on the other side of the sea. A conversation ensues in which they reflect back to an incident in the first part of the chapter in which Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes to feed a multitude. As the conversation unfolds, they ask Jesus “what must we do to perform the works of God?” Ah, that’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question we all seek answered, is it not? What must I do? Just tell me what to do, and I will do it! Those gathered around Jesus are so willing to do God’s will, if they only he would tell them what to do and how to do it.
But the gospel of Christ is not self-help therapy. Any preacher can get up and give you three nice points which tell you three tasks that you can carry out and go home and then you will be close to God. How is it though, that after hearing three points, and perhaps even trying three tasks, that we feel no closer to God than when asked the question in the first place? We put our noses to the grind stone -- doing, doing, doing … and yet we are no closer to God.
It is not what we do though, that makes us capable of touching the divine, rather it is what God does, in Christ Jesus. That is why when the people ask Jesus, “what must we do?” He responds simply, “Believe.” The answer seems so simple, but then we are prompted to ask, “what are we to believe? Show us a sign!” Jesus had, of course, already given them a sign – bread in the wilderness, multiplied beyond imagination and filling every empty person. Upon recalling this, they suddenly realized that this was like the time that the Israelites were given Manna in the wilderness while following Moses. But Jesus reminds them that it was not Moses that gave them bread, but God who gave them bread. Then, he delivered the real truth to them with these words, “I am the bread of life.”
I am the bread of life. What could this mean for them? What does this mean for us? Simply this: for all the groping in the wilderness that we do, it is God who comes to us. Our hearts are indeed restless, and we can search about for God by joining committees, committing to self-help disciplines heard from people like me in a pulpit, signing up for one more task we have not the time or effort to carry out, but none of these things bring us closer to God; it is God who moves closer to us in Christ Jesus. God is constantly in motion toward us. God is constantly seeking us out. If our hearts are restless for God, it is because God is calling to us, longing for us, desiring after us. God is seeking to touch our lives and so within us comes that deep longing God, on our own part, of which St. Augustine spoke.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” and these words are meant not only for that crowd two thousand years ago for they continue to speak directly to us today. These words are a claim that God the Father is not a distant far away reality in some netherworld; rather, God the Father is a deeply caring God who feeds his people with bread – not just any bread but the bread of life, Jesus Christ our Lord. In Jesus Christ, God is present and indeed, we feed on him. He is the nourishment that enables life not only in this world but in the next. When we approach the altar and take the bread of the sacrament in our hands, we truly hold the body of our Lord, the bread of life. And when we take that bread within us as our nourishment for everlasting life, we truly feed on our Lord, and the restless heart at last finds its home. We are thus assured of the reality that the old prayer of thanksgiving proclaims so clearly, “that we may every more dwell in him, and he in us.”
What, you may ask, has any of this to do with a celebration of Thanksgiving and Harvest? Much indeed! The very sacramental act that enlivens our shared liturgical life is called “thanksgiving”, the meaning of the Greek word “Eucharist.” We give thanks that God offers himself to us. We give thanks that God is restless until he gathers all his children home. We give thanks that God relentlessly pursues us. And we give thanks that he has made the calming of our restless hearts, our mystic sweet communion, possible in Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life.
Thus, the work we share in this community is not about “keeping a church going,” much less doing holy things that we might be closer to God – for these things can only lead to our spiritual, emotional and physical exhaustion – rather, the work we share in community is the proclamation of our joy and thanksgiving that God has reached out to us and made our relationship with him possible, and not just possible, but a reality! Feeding on our Lord who is present and nourishing us into the depths of our hearts, we shall not hunger or thirst, or find ourselves weary, for this work of belief is an expression of our thanksgiving that it is not through our effort but God’s effort that we have a relationship with God. To proclaim this belief in word and deed is to proclaim our joy and thanksgiving that God is indeed present here in this place and in that presence he is transforming this wonderful world from glory to glory. Thanks be to God for calling restless hearts into his presence.
c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves