Sub Dean - Revd Canon Michael Rawson
What would be your choice for your last meal on earth? What is your favourite food ever, which takes you to the foothills of heaven?
For me it would be a toss up between roast lamb or squid. I wonder if as human beings we eat to live or live to eat? Is it simply about stoking the proverbial fire of our bodies or something which brings us deep pleasure and nourishes our relationships with others?
It’s perhaps something which confronts us everyday in this neighbourhood for it’s impossible to get away from the smells and flavours of Borough Market. We have lived cheek by jowl for around a thousand years and my heart never fails to soar when I walk through the market, even when I’m in a hurry and am slowed down by visitors taking their time wandering about, taking it all in. It is truly a foodie heaven and I love it. I know there’s some tension between the market as a purveyor of the finest fruit, veg, fish and meat, not to mention olive oils, spices and other gorgeous ingredients on the one hand and a place to eat street food with tastes from all across the globe. Fast food versus slow food. Whatever that tension, people know what they are coming to and why they are coming.
So what can people expect to find when they come here to the Cathedral? Well, undoubtedly a high standard of music and liturgy, an opportunity to explore and deepen faith, to meet new friends and to belong to a community, to experience the history and tradition of this stunning building and so much more. Wonderful though all of that is, is there more that we can offer? We need look no further than our gathering around the altar today to celebrate the Eucharist, as faithful Christians have done on this site since at least the 7th century. Here we offer true food, soul food; food which nourishes us for today but also for eternal life. It’s something which hasn’t changed much over 14 centuries, feeding the pilgrim people of God on their journey through life, celebrating the presence of God in our midst and pointing towards the dawning of God’s kingdom. But for us, like the first followers of Jesus, there is always the danger that we might miss the point.
This morning’s gospel reading follows on from last week’s retelling of the feeding of the five thousand. Those who had been fed were desperate to find Jesus. Here was a man to be on the right side of, one who could satisfy their material needs. Sadly for them, they didn’t recognise the miracle as pointing to the Kingdom of God in their midst, neither to Jesus as the Son of God. They couldn’t see beyond the physical food; they experienced full stomachs. There is a saying from the Zen Buddhist tradition, “I pointed to the moon, but the fool kept looking at my finger.” And that’s just what they did. So they pushed Jesus, asking him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?’ They just didn’t get it. Jesus does not cave in and perform another miracle. Instead he tells them straight, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ Jesus pointed them back to their ancestors being fed in the wilderness, as we heard about in the first reading. The people of Israel were looking over their shoulders and remembering how good life had been in Egypt when they were slaves ... really? They were complaining that they were hungry and that God was not with them. So God literally showered down manna from heaven.
They were fed but their complaining soon reappeared as they got fed up with eating manna. They failed to realise that everything that came to them, and to us, is a gift from God. Nothing should be too ordinary to remind us of God and to be grateful for all that we receive. It is not what is sent that is important, rather that it is a gift from our Creator. God’s presence is made known to us as to the people of Israel each day in human love and acts of kindness, in both the special and the everyday. In the feeding of the five thousand the people were reminded of the manna sent to their ancestors in the wilderness. They too demanded bread and Jesus gave them himself. They craved for food rather than a relationship with God. It was not what they wanted or asked for, but certainly what they needed.
There are some uncomfortable parallels here with our contemporary society which so often invites us to compile our wish lists and to respond to what we want. This is perhaps summed up in that grim phrase which I hear so often in shops and restaurants, ‘Can I get ...’ It is easy to fall into the trap of looking at the outside of something without unwrapping it. To look at the finger when someone points to the moon. As Christians and as a church we can get so involved in the doing of church, of worship, that we can ignore the most amazing thing of all - that God comes to us in bread and wine and is present here in our very midst. That is as much of a miracle as the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus allows himself to be placed into our hands, as he did in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was arrested. The Son of God, in all humility and vulnerability, comes to each one of us.
In recent years there has been a growing reality that we are what we eat. It’s hardly earth-shattering news but makes total sense that if we eat poorly prepared food stuffed with additives and chemicals, there will be consequences for our physical and mental well-being and long term health. Food that has been produced with care and humanity will nourish us in a way that fast-food never can. Our friends in Borough Market bear witness to that truth on a daily basis.
And if that’s the case for our physical nourishment, then how much more is it true for our spiritual nourishment and development. May we never take for granted the amazing gift that God gives to us in this and every Eucharist, for God takes what is ordinary - the imperfect and cracked offering of our daily lives, and transforms it - transforms each of us - beyond our wildest imaginings into all that God would have us be.
If we are what we eat then the Bread of Life we receive at the altar will change us. As we the church, the Body of Christ, feed at this banquet on the Body of Christ we become more like Christ and are then sent out to bring hope, healing and light to our needy world.
Jesus says to you and to me today
‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’
Amen to that.