It was my great pleasure to serve again this summer as co-chaplain for a wonderful week at the Royal School of Church Music in America Newport Course. The course theme this year was “Heaven,” beautifully developed in hymns and anthems. The sermon below was preached at the Choral Eucharist which was the culmination and conclusion of the course.
I am grateful to my dear friend and co-chaplain, the Rev’d Fr Blake Sawicky, and to the faithful and dedicated singers and instrumentalists who made Newport 2015 such an enjoyable–if exhausting!–week.
A Sermon Preached on the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 9, 2015 at the Church of St George, St George’s School, Middletown, Rhode Island
By the Rev’d Canon Dane E. Boston
Texts: I Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
“I am the living bread that comes down from heaven.”
May I speak in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Well, there’s nothing like food when you’re hungry.
That’s something of a saying in my family. It comes from my great-grandmother who was, ironically, a tiny woman who ate very little and also a legendarily bad cook. Now her innumerable virtues—all of them crowned by her deep love of the Lord and her contagious joy—more than compensated for any culinary deficiencies. And the fact that my Granny was not a woman who much enjoyed food does nothing to negate the truth of her saying. I’m sure the choristers who glimpsed with eager eyes the arrival of thirty-five pizzas at their picnic yesterday will agree wholeheartedly: There’s nothing like food when you’re hungry!
Our Scriptures this morning teach the same truth. Elijah learns it when God feeds him in the wilderness as he flees the wrath of Queen Jezebel. “Get up and eat,” says the Angel of the Lord. There’s nothing like food when you’re hungry.
The crowd following Jesus learn it when the small lunch of a small boy becomes abundant bread and fish to feed a multitude of more than five thousand. “You ate your fill of the loaves,” says Jesus. There’s nothing like food when you’re hungry.
We ourselves learn that truth anew each day in the simple joys of sustenance—the pleasures of eating our fill in the company of family and friends; the sheer delight of nourishing body and soul at a bountiful table: There is indeed nothing like food when you’re hungry.
And yet, beloved, if we attend carefully to our Scripture this morning we begin to hear whispers of another, deeper kind of hunger. For what if there were a hunger that food could not fill? What if there were a hunger that nothing on our earth could satisfy? What if there were a hunger–a “yearning strong with which the soul will long”–that “far outpass[es] the power of human telling,” and defies every effort of human filling? What if, at last, our hunger for food were merely a harbinger, a hint, a signpost pointing us to a deeper hunger that food cannot reach?
Elijah learns of this hunger when God’s provision of bread and water in the desert are shown to be, not the fullness of God’s sustenance for him, but only strength for his journey to Horeb–to an encounter with the Living God.
The crowds following Jesus learn of the deeper hunger when the bread and fish miraculously multiplied at his hands serve only to spur them on to seek him more eagerly.
We learn it, dear people, through our own failed efforts to fill an eternal hunger with “bread that perishes”–with the good pleasures of a world which is passing away. All those things we call sins are really just the flawed attempts of flawed men and women–people like me and like you–to fill our deep hunger with joys that do not last.
For the truth, beloved, is that we human beings are hungry for heaven. We yearn and long for the nearer presence of God. St Augustine famously said that “our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” Perhaps we could paraphrase him in light of God’s Word today: our bellies rumble until they are filled with the bread of heaven.
And the great Good News this morning is that God himself has come to meet our hunger. The great and glorious promise this day is that the Bread of Heaven has come to fill our aching stomachs. The announcement we have heard in our Gospel moments ago is that the Father has drawn, is drawing, will yet draw us, by the power of his Holy Spirit, to be nourished by the Body and Blood of his own Son.
“I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” The banquet table of heaven itself will soon be set before us. Jesus our host and our Bread will offer himself for us again, that he may satisfy our every need. Beloved, there is nothing like food when you’re hungry!
In the life of our course this week, God has offered us many morsels of heaven. We have tasted heaven in glorious music beautifully sung; we have heard the strains of heaven in joyful fellowship; we have glimpsed a vision of heaven at table with friends old and new.
May the foretaste we have been granted this week both sate and sharpen our hunger for heaven. May it carry us home safely, filled to bursting with God’s abundant love, and yet by that fullness made more eager in our yearning to share that love with others. May the Living Bread we will soon receive sustain us and spur us on as we seek and long for the day when our every hunger shall be satisfied: when God’s new creation shall be finished; when we shall be gathered pure and spotless before him; when we shall take our place in heaven itself, casting our crowns at the feet of the Lamb that was slain, “lost in wonder, love, and praise.” AMEN.