Letter to parishioners, 6 August 2021

Friday, 6 August 2021

Dear Friends in Christ,

In this week’s reading from John’s gospel we will hear Jesus saying again: I am the bread of life. We will also hear him say: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

Jesus’ declaration that we should eat his flesh, along with the words he spoke when he instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion at the Last Supper, have given rise to much controversy, even bloodshed and persecution. Whilst Jesus’ instruction to eat of the living bread, which is himself, may have been the matter of much theological and superstitious debate down the centuries, the fact remains that the service of Holy Communion is the core service of the Church of England, and is one of the two sacraments that have biblical authority, the other being Holy Baptism.

In earlier times there was a universal belief that Jesus’ words implied that our earthly bread and wine were physically transformed into flesh and blood. This doctrine of transubstantiation was challenged as we entered more scientifically enlightened times. However, the obvious fact that we consume bread and wine when we partake of Holy Communion does not mean that those everyday commodities do not bring us into a closer relationship with God.

People value the service of Holy Communion in different ways. In some church communities it is seen as an essential feature of the daily routine of prayer and worship. In others, such a regular honouring of Christ’s command to do this in remembrance of me devalues its importance and ‘specialness’. However we, as individuals, might view the receiving of the bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood, there can be no denying that we do so in obedience to his teaching and command.

Such theological debates have often taken those who desire to live a life of faithful discipleship down blind alleys that are very distant from God. They have caused polarisation and schism where there should be community, unity and peace. They have led otherwise faithful souls to allow themselves to join the ranks of those who turn Christ’s sacrificial gift into the cause of dispute and persecution. If we can see ourselves in the midst of such doctrinal rifts, we should be ashamed of ourselves!

Two thousand years ago God came down to earth to share in the totality of the human condition. He came amongst us in the form of a human man whom we know as Jesus, the Christ. His birth was miraculous, as were many features of his life of love and service to all. As humanity came to the point of killing Jesus because of the challenge he presented to our self-serving and self-satisfied way of living, Jesus gave us a simple way of commemorating all he had done for us. He gave us a simple meal through which our faith might be constantly renewed and strengthened. He gave us a staple diet by which we might grow in a healthy faith, and ultimately share in the joy of God’s nearer presence for all time.

If any of this challenges us, let us pray for the strength to set aside our human understanding of Jesus’ great gift to us, in order that we might finally enjoy the eternal life he has won for us.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen