Feeding the hungry

One of the things that might first strike us about the readings that are presented to us for our reflection on this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, is that we are not given the account of the last supper from the Gospel of Luke. Instead we are given the only account in Luke about the mighty work of Jesus in feeding the hungry poor in the midst of a desolate place. And the text from the Hebrew Scriptures that is given to us to reflect upon the Gospel is not one of the miracle stories of Elijah feeding the widow during the drought, or Elisha feeding his hungry men with a few loaves of bread, or the sustaining of the people of God in the wilderness with the manna from heaven, but the frankly odd story of this priest-king Melchizedek of Salem, who provides food of bread and wine and a blessing for warrior-king Abram on his return from rescuing his nephew Lot (it is not clear whether there is enough food for the 318 men who form part of his retinue) and in return, Abram offers one tenth of his spoils to the priest-king of God Most High.

In the Gospel, Luke wants us to see the connection between this mighty work of Jesus and the continuing ministry of the Church. So he adds details to the original account found in the Gospel of Mark by telling us that Jesus spoke and taught (over the course of the whole day) about the kingdom of God, while also healing the sick and needy. While sounds like the work of the church when it is functioning its best – in offering education and healing. The twelve, who have just returned from their missionary journey reporting great success, at least are able to identify the need of the crowd when the day draws near to its conclusion – that they need food and shelter. But in one the standard lines of Jesus, he invites them to share in the mission of grace and compassion: You give them something to eat. The Lord is always inviting us to join him in this work of redemption and compassion. He wants us to partner with him in the work of the kingdom. Even if we have so little to give (five loaves and two fish), the act of surrendering that to the Lord is all that is necessary. He will do the rest – alongside of us and our continuing work of sharing in this mission.

Recorded at St Paul’s. (10 mins, 45 secs)
EBC. Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year C.
Genesis 14:18-20; Luke 9:11-17

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Holy Thursday – Meals transformed

footwashingMass of the Lord’s Supper – a reflection on the person of Jesus who spends so much of his life eating meals with all the wrong kinds of people. Tonight we are invited to allow this meal to transform – not only the bread into his body and the wine into his blood – but also that we may be transformed as well.

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Recorded at St Paul’s AP (6mins 27secs)

Flesh and Blood

takeandeatThe Gospel this Sunday once again from John 6 presents a most remarkable promise: anyone who eats his body and drinks his blood will live forever. Jesus will raise us up on the last day. One of the reasons that this is so remarkable is that one of the best known prohibitions in the Jewish regulations about food and drink is that blood was absolutely forbidden. The very complex system of kosher butchering has the primary aim of ensuring that no blood should stay in the animal to avoid any blood being eaten or drunk.

The fact that Jesus tells his listeners that they should eat his flesh and drink his blood in this setting gives us important clues. Clearly he does not intend that those who follow him should become cannibals nor that in eating and drinking him should followers of Jesus break the Jewish law against consuming blood.

Jesus, as the true Messiah is not only going to put his own life at risk, he will actually lose it so that his followers will profit from that death. They will ‘drink his blood.’ They will have their ultimate thirst quenched by his death and resurrection.

It should also be clear that what Jesus means is so much more than a merely spiritual eating and drinking whereby we only think about these things in an inner, non-physical meditation. Such things are important, but the language that John uses in this gospel force us to conclude that actual physical eating and drinking is involved. The word for eat is a solidly physical one, meaning something like ‘chew’ or ‘munch’ and is often used to describe the sounds that animals make when they ate.

The best way to understand this rich passage is using the language of sacrament, where Jesus offers his body and blood to the church to be eaten and drunk. Let us always be grateful for such precious gifts.

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Recorded at St Col’s (10 mins)
Sunday 20, Year B. John 6:51-58

Radio Program, Vigil and Sunday morning

 

Awakening to the rhythm of life

outdoor-drumsThe prophet Elijah should have been at the very peak of his game. He marched dramatically onto the pages of history at the beginning of I Kings 17 with a whole series of mighty deeds that he performs that already sets him apart from the ordinary run-of-the-mill followers of God. These deeds reach their crescendo in the confrontation (and slaughter) of the 450 prophets of Ba’al, followed by the ending of the three-and-a-half year drought at the word of his command. But when the evil Queen Jezebel sends him a threatening message, promising to kill him, that is enough for this mighty warrior prophet to turn and run as far and as fast as his little legs would carry him. It is implied that he runs the length of the nation of Israel – from Mount Carmel in the north to Beersheba in the southern kingdom of Judah in the space of a single day – the best part of a hundred kms. And then he leaves his servant there and continues for another whole day further into the wilderness until he ends up lying in a heap under the only shade he could find – the gnarled branches of a brush tree. It’s no wonder that he is somewhat tired when we find him. It is all he can do at the prompting of the messenger of the Lord to awaken to eat and drink – before falling back asleep again.

His life was out of rhythm. Like ours sometimes. Part of the purpose of our lives is to recognise when things have gone astray and allow ourselves the space to hear the invitation of the Lord to get up and eat the precious gift of his body as the bread of life.

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Recorded at St Col’s, Vigil and 9am (10min)
Sunday 19, Year B, Season of Growth

Sharing with open hands

KurelekThis year we have been reading from the Gospel of Mark. Last week we had the story of Jesus and the disciples crossing over the lake and coming to find a large crowd of people, which he set out to teach at some length. Rather than continuing the story from Mark, we interrupt the story and change to have an extended reading from the Gospel of John, so that we have his unique perspective. John’s gospel was written much later than the other gospels, probably late in the first century. You have this deeply reflective, theological and spiritual understanding of Jesus and the mysteries of the Church. One of the curiosities of John’s Gospel is that when you go to the Last Supper with John, there is no mention of Jesus blessing the bread; of Jesus taking the cup and telling the disciples that this is my blood. We can wonder – why aren’t what we call the Institution Narratives – the story of the institution of the Eucharist mentioned in John’s Gospel? It is because it is here, in this sixth chapter of St John. I invite you as we journey through this magnificent chapter over the next five weeks to take the time to prayerfully and slowly read through the chapter. Take the time to ponder these majestic words and allow them to sink deeply into our spirit.

Here in this Gospel, one of the things we must remember is that nothing ever happens by chance. Every word is carefully chosen to drive home this deep symbolic and rich meaning. The gospel begins with Jesus and his disciples going up a mountain. This should evoke every other mountain in the Scriptures – from Mount Sinai, Mount Horeb to Mount Tabor – all the other mountains in scripture that have that rich sense of those places that you go to be with God; where God will reveal his presence and his power and his majesty. Then it simply says that there Jesus sat down. We probably will miss the significance of this: in the ancient world a master would sit down and his disciples would also sit down at his feet in order that he could teach them. This was the symbol and gesture of teaching. So Jesus sat down to teach and instruct his disciples. It is why when we gather at the Eucharist we sit down to listen to the readings – to hear the word of God – and to allow the readings being proclaimed to nourish and enrich us. Hopefully this will also happen in the preaching of the priest as he tries to expound upon the words of God. John is reminding us that what is happening here in this scene is what happens every time that we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. First we sit down to allow the word of God to nourish us; to allow Jesus to teach us.

But then he says the Feast of Passover was drawing close. What happens at Passover? The Lamb of God is sacrificed. That lamb of God that allowed the people of God, the Hebrew slaves to escape the judgement of God upon the kingdom of Egypt. They remembered this every year as that time when God delivered them from slavery to freedom. This is the signal for John to remind us that we are moving from that time of teaching in the Mass into that time of sacrifice. Then Jesus looks and see this massive crowd of 5000 people approaching up the mountain. He says to the disciples ‘what are we going to do? How are we going to feed this huge crowd?’ Philip speaks the words that are on all their lips – even 200 Denarii or six-month’s wages – would not be enough to buy food to even give them a little bit to eat. Even that much money is not enough – and we don’t even have this much money. Then Andrew recognises at least something that is available. He says, well actually there is this little boy, this child has five loaves; he has a couple of fish. But what is that among so many? Perhaps that is what we sometimes think when we get to the offertory at Mass; when those few scraps of bread, that little jug of wine is brought forward as a sign and symbol of what our offering is; of what you as the people of God bring and what I as the representative of Jesus in this gathering receive on your behalf. Such fragile attempts – mere scraps – and yet we know and we trust that somehow in that the Lord will take it; the Lord will take our lives; the Lord will take what we can offer; he will take and he will receive. Jesus does this – he takes these small and fragile offerings of this young child and he gives thanks. That word, in Greek, is eucharisteo – it is why we call this gathering the Eucharist – because it is here that we give thanks; that we gather to give our return to the Lord – to bless him, to worship him and to offer our thanksgiving for all that he does through us and in us. So Jesus does this; he gives thanks to God – he prays the blessing of God to be upon this fragile offering which is our lives. Then he himself breaks and gives – a sign of those four central actions that are at the heart of every Mass. We take the offering of our lives, we give and bring up the gifts which are blessed in the Eucharistic Prayer; where they are broken at the Lamb of God, and then distributed to each of us so that we can feed.

Here, when Jesus feeds personally each of the people in this crowd – then everyone eats and is full. Everyone is satisfied at this feast. We have so many hungers – don’t we? We want pleasures, we want recognition; we want to be like everyone else; we want to have the thrill of money or of sex or of wealth or of whatever we want… But none of these things every truly satisfies. Even if we have our fill, even if we have the latest gadgets, even if we travel to the four corners of the world, we are never satisfied. But here in this place, when we are allowed to eat of the very life of God, when the Lord himself feeds us, then we can be satisfied; then our hearts and our longings and our desires can be filled and fulfilled in Christ. That is why he feeds us; that is why we gather to give thanks. That is why we bring those fragile offerings of our lives because the Lord always wants to work with us; he always wants to take what we can give and bless that, and multiple that and fulfil those deepest longings in our hearts and spirits.

The final curious detail that is given to us in the Gospel, is that Jesus instructs them to gather all the scraps and fragments together that are left over from the feast. It is the same thing that we do at the Eucharist – that we are very attentive even to the smallest fragment of this precious gift – because we want to gather it, we want to collect it so that others also can share in this gift. It is that sense of unity in being gathered. John tells us that there were twelve baskets full of scraps and fragments at the end of the feast – the twelve as that richly symbolic number representing the 12 tribes of Israel – that fullness of the whole people of God. All of us are called to be gathered in unity as his people; as different and diverse as we are we are called to come together in this place, for this Eucharist we are allowed to be one; we are allowed to be gathered into the great feast of the Lord. Today as we celebrate this Eucharist. As we allow the gifts of our lives to be brought up and to be offered; as I pray that great prayer of thanksgiving on your behalf when I ask the Spirit of God to come and fall upon these gifts to make them into the body and blood of Christ; as we break them and as we share them, know that the Lord himself is feeding our deepest desires and longings. He is bringing them all to be blessed and multiplied and in our turn we are invited to give thanks for this great gift of the Eucharist.

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Recorded at St Columbkille’s, Vigil (10min)
Sunday 17, Year B. John 6:1-15

 

The good gift of the body broken

SK_LastSupperOn the feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, we really should begin by re-enacting the Exodus reading – it would be a great sight to haul in a few young bullocks, slaughter them, drain all the blood into huge bowls and then begin splashing one bowl all over the altar and then the second one all over the community gathered in their Sunday best. At least you would remember that day when you renewed the covenant and destroyed your dress. But we’ll just reflect about the ongoing significance of the Eucharist for our lives. Let’s begin with the word. We probably know that the word comes as a transliteration from the Greek language (rather than a translation) and we probably know that the word can mean thanksgiving. Another translation is from looking at the parts of the word: ‘eu’ means ‘good’, and ‘charis’ means ‘grace’ or ‘gift’ – so you could also talk about Eucharist as a ‘good gift’.

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Recorded at St Col’s (Vigil Mass; Sunday morning didn’t work)
The Body and Blood of Jesus, Year B

Celebrating the Easter Experience

christ_pantocrator_mosaic_hagia_sophiaEntering into the experience of Easter is always a profoundly moving event. I found this year to be no different – even though it was the first time that I have had the chance to lead the liturgies in a parish that I am responsible for which added its own stresses. The liturgies and encounters that are offered by the church are profoundly rich and provide an opportunity to focus on what is truly central to our lives as Christians.

The following links take you to the links on frrick.org to listen to or download the various audio files (I can only link one audio file here or iTunes doesn’t work.)

Easter Vigil – Play MP3

Encountering the Living God

battlefieldWhen you think about God and how God offers a relationship with him, it seems to me that the word encounter is one of the more helpful ways of describing this relationship. Yet, when you look up the word encounter, you discover that it comes into the English language via the Old French word encontre, which in turn was based on Latin roots (in + contra) – suggesting that the word originally had a much more negative meaning. Indeed, in its French usage, it was mainly used in a military context, describing that situation when two armies faced each other across the battlefield. Each commander would presumably be thinking about their own soldiers and resources and making a mental and calculated comparison to the might of the force arrayed on the other side of the field. At the heart of encontre then is a strong sense of fear and anxiety caught up in this moment before the battle. So perhaps it is a very appropriate word to describe the way that people have been in relationship with God across the multitudes – a God who is utterly holy and powerful and mighty and awesome – and then there is little ordinary us. How can we possibly compare and enter into this contest?

Yet with the Patriarchs God began to appear to certain individuals and began to speak in terms of covenant and promise. God began to show a new and different dimension to this relationship – where he demonstrates his tenderness and compassion, caring for this people and protecting them, giving them food and water in the wilderness. He begins to speak to them and teach them and form them – especially through the prophets. Even so, there remains a certain distrust of God and an anxiety not to get too close to him.

Until Jesus arrives. When he is born, the evangelist John tells us that now the very word of God has taken flesh. God is going to feed his people in new ways now. Indeed, the evangelist Luke tells us that when Jesus was born he was laid in a manger – a feeding trough. All of this culminates in the passage that is the Gospel tonight, taken from John 6:51-58. Now in the person of Jesus we are offered a new encounter with God – at a level more personal and intimate than anything anyone could ever have imagined before as we are invited to eat (esthein then trogein) his body and drink his blood.

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Recorded at St Paul’s 5.30pm (9’23”)

The recording from St Mary’s, 8am is also available here.

encounter

ɪnˈkaʊntə,ɛn-/
verb
verb: encounter; 3rd person present: encounters; past tense: encountered; past participle: encountered; gerund or present participle: encountering
  1. 1.
    unexpectedly be faced with or experience (something hostile or difficult).
    “we have encountered one small problem”
  2. 2.
    meet (someone) unexpectedly.
    “what do we know about the people we encounter in our daily lives?”
noun
noun: encounter; plural noun: encounters
  1. 1.
    an unexpected or casual meeting with someone or something.
    “she felt totally unnerved by the encounter”
    • a confrontation or unpleasant struggle.
      “his close encounter with death”
Origin
Middle English (in the senses ‘meet as an adversary’ and ‘a meeting of adversaries’; formerly also as incounter ): from Old French encontrer (verb), encontre (noun), based on Latin in- ‘in’ + contra ‘against’.
Scripture references:
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16
John 6:51-58
Leviticus 17:10-14
2 Sam 23:14-17
Matthew 24:38

Holy Thursday – a place at the table

welcome-tableThe ministry of Jesus was characterised by the meals he ate. Sometimes he ate with the right kind of people — the Jewish leaders, the priests, the rich, the Pharisees; sometimes he ate with the decidedly wrong kind of people — tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners and commoners. His table was open to all. He loved eating, and sharing his life with the people he loved — and that was everyone — rich and poor, those who were important and those who were nobodies, those who went to the synagogue each week, and those who had no idea what the inside of the synagogue looked like. Jesus sat down at so many dining tables to eat and drink with sinners, so that they could eat and drink with God and be made whole.

So is it any wonder? When Jesus was being stalked by the secret police just hours before he knew that he would be arrested, tortured, given the death penalty and killed; even on the threshold of all that, he sat down at the dining table in the upper room to give us his body and his blood, his life and his love, broken in bread and poured out in wine. And he gave us the example of service when he washed the feet of his disciples.

Now God calls us to gather around this dining-table-turned-altar. And it’s our lives lived in common, with and for each other, that God desires be placed on this table under the signs of bread and wine. And it’s our hearts — our very selves­­­­ — ­that God longs for us to lift up at this altar. We give to God our hearts — baked into this bread. We give our lives — all the pain and promise, all our joy and grief wrung from them like this wine crushed from grapes. We put all that on this table, and God accepts it and makes it holy and gives it back to us as the body and the blood of Christ. The bread, the wine, ourselves, the world — ­all of this is changed here.

More than food is put on this table, and more than we who live now gather around it. The body of Christ is not only on this table; the body of Christ is also at this table. Ringing round us at this table are the members of this parish who have worshipped here at this altar over the past few decades and in churches around us over the past century and more and who have gone before us in death. And ringing round us at this table are the saints whose hearts are lifted up to God. And ringing round us at this table are the martyrs, ancient and recent, who gave their lives in perfect imitation of Jesus, their bones broken like bread and their blood spilled out like wine. (more…)

Give them something to eat

feed5000In this season of Random Feasts (to quote Fr Austin Litke OP) we are presented with the mysterious figure of Melchizedek as we contemplate the Body and Blood of Christ in our Mass today. Malek in Hebrew means ‘king’ and sedeq means ‘justice’, so not only is this man a king of justice or righteousness, he is also a king of peace (Salem becomes the place where Jerusalem is founded) and a priest of “God Most High” or El Elyon. Rather than bringing an animal sacrifice to Abram, he brings an unusual offering – bread and wine as he offers his baruch (blessing). And after this brief appearance – only three verses – he exits stage right.

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Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year C.
Genesis 14; Luke 9

Recorded at St Paul’s, 8am (7’53”)