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Sunday 22 August 2021

Trinity 12, Twenty-first in Ordinary time, Proper 16

Whose are we?

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; John 6:56-69 

By Ann Jack

Retired United Reformed minister

Context: mixed ages and background, suburban congregation in the Home Counties; Eucharistic service

Aim: to help us reflect on our commitment to God and what it might mean as Christians worship today

Our reading from Joshua is a surprising one in many ways. Joshua calls on the people, who are about to enter the Promised Land, to recommit themselves to God. It is God who brought them out of slavery, out of the land of Egypt. It is God who fed them and gave them water in the wilderness and who has saved them from their enemies.

It seems unthinkable that after these experiences the people should look back fondly to the gods of their slave masters or the gods of their enemies. But this is the choice that is before them now. Will they worship and call upon the name of the God who has saved them and proved to be a reliable protector, or will they turn back?

There is a sense in which we are all confronted by a similar question in our own time. Will we continue to serve the God who has called and nurtured us, or will we turn away?

We have much to learn from the Methodist tradition in which each year a covenant service underlines whose we are and whom we choose to serve. For those unfamiliar with the covenant service the congregation makes a long statement of commitment, together. It starts with the words: ‘I am no longer my own but yours. Your will, not mine, be done in all things.’ It goes on through some of the challenges we may all face, to affirm ‘I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you, as and where you choose.’

This communal restatement of individual commitment to God is a way of reminding the whole family of the church that they are involved in a venture that is God’s and not their personal vision. It is a reminder that they belong together too as a community of God’s people, seeking to be faithful to God’s call on their own lives and the life of the community.

This commitment to God and to faithful service lies at the heart of our shared faith. It is particularly central as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Holy Communion. There are many names and many understandings of this celebration, yet for all Christians eating together in the name of Christ is central to their faith.

Last December, as worship opened up, if briefly, it was a joy to share in communal worship and to share in the Lord’s Supper, using small pre-packed, COVID-secure cups. Some have found comfort in sharing over digital platforms. The last 18 months have made us more creative in our practice as we worship God.

In John’s Gospel the institution of the Lord’s Supper does not form a part of the final meal that Jesus shares with his disciples, as it does in the other Gospels. It is thought that the section we have shared this morning, which follows the feeding of the 5000, is John’s introduction to the importance of eating and drinking together.

I am sure I am not alone in struggling with the language. For me the idea of eating the flesh or drinking the blood of another human being is abhorrent. It was certainly language that Jesus’ followers would have struggled with, as it was contrary to the Law of Moses. So, what might this passage be telling us about the relationship of Jesus to those who would follow him?

Jesus tells his listeners that he is not offering the manna of the wilderness wanderings, but the living bread that is his flesh. It is this living bread that will lead his followers to eternal life. Jesus is offering a new covenant and, if a covenant needs blood to ensure its veracity, then it is Jesus’ blood that will ensure that this covenant is valid.

It is as if Jesus is underlining that he is both the Son of God and also fully human. If we are to share in his life, we have to take him into our body, and the language of flesh and blood leave us in no doubt.

Each time we share bread and wine in worship, or gather around a table in Jesus’ name, then we are drawn back to the dual nature of Jesus as both man, flesh and blood, and the Son of God; a mystery that has challenged generations of Christians. As we share, we build a community of love and support reaching out into the world.

God’s love has surrounded us through the losses and the isolation of the last eighteen months, even in the darkest times of loneliness and pain. God’s love now calls us forward with hope into a new future, shaped by our experiences and valuing the fragile gift of life. Let us give thanks to our God, now and always.

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