Have you noticed that we don’t seem to be going anywhere? On the one hand, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, this summer has been uncommonly full of coming and going. There have been vacations and honeymoons and family trips and departures and arrivals. A wonderful group of Servant Year interns has disbanded now, and moved out of the rectory. Even our special two, Ellen and James, have moved on to new adventures. We are so fortunate that a new group will be arriving soon, and that Noah, who will serve as our new verger, is already here with us. Matt Glandorf and Daryl Roland have both left us, a true loss, and now we are preparing to welcome Simon Thomas Jacobs. A new chapter is beginning, and this is splendid news. Mother Marie spent her last Sunday here with us last week, which I find just unthinkable, though I know this next chapter in her life will be a great blessing to her and to her family.
Yes, we have all been going places, for better or worse. And the summer is flying by, and before we know it Pope Francis will be arriving and apparently residents of Philadelphia will be fleeing in droves as though it were Armageddon. Apparently we can’t bear the fact that during that weekend there will be restrictions on travel. I for one think it sounds like a foretaste of heaven to imagine this city without cars, and with an enormous, jubilant crowd celebrating the Eucharist on the Parkway. I’d like the city to be like this every Sunday. Get rid of all the cars! Hold a gigantic Mass! Best thing that ever happened in the City of Brotherly Love! But all around me I hear choruses of Philadelphians singing “Don’t Fence Me In.”
So yes, this is a very mobile community and we Americans are a mobile people, and this parish is constantly on the move. Any restriction of our mobility makes us distinctly nervous.
But I’ve said we are going nowhere, and this is what I mean: no matter who comes and who goes, no matter where we all travel, in the Gospels for the latter part of this summer we just seem to be hearing over and over again that Jesus is the bread of life.
Have you noticed? I hope you have noticed. If you haven’t yet you will soon. Two weeks ago, on July 26, we began reading the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, in which Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes. Last week, we continued with the sixth chapter of John, and Jesus told us “I am the bread of life.” This week, in in the sixth chapter of John, Jesus tells us he is the bread of life. Spoiler alert: next week, in sixth chapter of John, Jesus will tell us he is the living bread that came down from heaven. That brings us to August 23, when Jesus will tell us that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood abide in him and he in them. Which is to say that he is the bread of life. I bet you know what chapter that’s from. For five weeks we are going nowhere while Jesus shows us and then tells us that he is the bread of life.
Going nowhere. It’s striking, isn’t it? I’m thinking about proposing this as a motto for our parish: “Saint Mark’s, Going Nowhere.” It’s so dynamic. I can’t wait to share it with the Rector when he returns. He’s going to love it.
But really, why on earth would the church ask us to go nowhere this summer? Why hold still for five weeks while Jesus talks about being bread? Why fence us in like anxious Philadelphians deprived of our cars while the Bread of Heaven is being consecrated in our midst? The liturgical year normally takes us on a journey from the birth of Christ through his earthly ministry, his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. Advent to Pentecost. Why now, in ordinary time, are we asked to hold perfectly still as the narrative fails to advance and the Gospel grinds to a halt and Jesus stands before us repeating himself: “I am bread, I am bread, I am bread?”
Ian Morgan Cron, an Episcopal priest and writer, says in an interview that when he was about halfway through writing his most recent memoir he began to ask himself what it was that had held his life together through so many changes (http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/the-bread-and-the-wine). He says he came to the realization that it was the Eucharist that was holding him together. He saw that the moments of his life were like pearls, and he saw that the Eucharist was the string on which they were being threaded, one at a time. Each Communion, each Mass he attended: his life was progressing forward one day at a time but the Eucharist was gathering those moments together in an unbroken chain of abiding in Christ.
If we are fortunate enough to have been receiving Communion for many years, and especially if we take the opportunity to receive Communion daily, we too may become aware of this string of pearls that is our Eucharistic life with Jesus. Each one holy and beautiful, full and round, moving forward in an unbroken chain. The luster of each pearl reminding us of God’s radiant love. Each one the same, constant, even as we grow and change and turn away and come back and sense God’s presence or fail to note it. God feeding us again and again, always with the same care, the same urgency, the same kindness and concern. “This is my body which is given for you.”
And though we have gotten older and we have changed addresses and denominations and partners and hairstyles and careers, this feeding has never changed. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus says to us when we are in despair. And when we are joyful he says “I am the bread of life.” And when we come to him filled with fear and doubt what he says to us is “I am the bread of life.”
And in this unchanging string of pearls we are lifted up out of time. “I will raise them up,” Jesus says, “on the last day.” But the last day is already happening when we reach out our hands to receive the bread of life. We are already being raised up into eternal life at that heavenly banquet. Each Communion is a foretaste of the life to come, just as it is also a return to the days of the Passover and the manna that came down from heaven for the wandering people of Israel. Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we experience the Eucharist as a little bit of eternity here in our world of changing times.
Go where we will, in Jesus we are going (wonderfully) nowhere. Because he feeds us with his own life in an unbroken succession of loving banquets, we are forever at his table. No matter how uncertain our future, we know that our destination is that same lovely banquet we have been attending all along. In the fullness of that banquet, in the unbroken luster of that presence, we can feel Jesus gathering us up, what we are, what we have been, what we will become. Through change and loss and departures and arrivals, our fate is secure. We abide in him and he in us.
Thanks be to God.
Preached by Mother Nora Johnson
9 August 2015
Saint Mark's, Philadelphia