Sermon for Lammas Day, Tuesday, August 01 2017, 6:00 pm
Mtr. Maggie Helwig, Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto
And so we have gathered, in this wealthy city where so many live in hunger, to talk about bread.
It is easy, living in Toronto, to become detached from the conditions of the production of our food, to forget about soil and water and work. The quality of earth in which seeds germinate, or fail to germinate, the uncontrollable chance of weather, worms which nourish and slugs which destroy, the sap from the green stems, the need of bees. The labour which human bodies must perform in planting and harvest, in turning the harvest into food. It is easy to forget that this is the place where it starts, that we start with the work of feeding ourselves and others, that this is what all our economic systems are fundamentally about.
It is perhaps even easier to forget the extent to which our food system is built on exploited labour, on systemic racism and economic inequality, that underpaid migrant labour and in some cases outright slavery are essential to the structures as presently constituted. It is easy, for those of us with privilege, to forget that genuinely good food is often available only to the affluent. It does not have to be this way—but we are caught up in this manufactured competition, taking for granted that there must be, to borrow a phrase from Leonard Cohen, those who serve and those who eat, and that we naturally want to be among the latter.
But this passage from John’s gospel turns it all upside down, as Jesus tells the disciples that he is the one who has come, not to eat, but to be eaten. To be broken, given, consumed for the world’s hunger.
God comes to be eaten. The great mystery, the great desire of earth, that close, in our hands, in our mouths, in our guts, becoming part of the very chemistry of our bodies, the molecules and atoms that make us. God is that intimate, that humble; it is nothing secret or special, no exclusive revelation or magic spiritual experience. Simply food, basic food, the thing we all need. This is the language that we need here, to understand what it means, that bread is holy, that God can be bread.
God comes to be eaten because hunger is real, and food is real, and the green corn rises because that is its nature, but also because a world can exist in which human beings can live and be fed. It requires great change, an overturning of many human systems. But creation is its own garden and its own banquet, and God is wholly present in every part of this, and arrives in our hands as bread. We share in God’s life by being part of this garden, this meal, this feeding, whether that means making food or making political change. To take the bread and not to do the work is a failure of community, a failure of communion. To take the bread connects us to the work, and to the green world, and our lives must honour this and live it out.
We feed our hunger with the quick satisfaction of commerce and status, and mistake this for what we want. Yet sometimes, wounded and bent out of shape as we are, we can realize that what we need is as basic—I will not say simple, because it is not by any means simple, but basic—as the growth of green things from the dirt. Good work, and meaning, and beauty, and a life of active love. It is a vision. It is a possibility. We don’t come to it very easily, children of this sharp and shiny world. But we can. We can try to learn to grow where we are. We can try to learn to love each other. Because to take the bread that is the body of Christ means becoming part of that life, a life poured out, an offering.
Human love is complicated and difficult and ambiguous, always. It is hard to care for other people, for strangers, for people who scare us, maybe most of all for those who are closest in our lives and our hearts, it is always hard. But we are not thereby excused the work of love. For Christ is bread and love, is soil and water and harvest, is the human voice and the human hands. And we who take the bread and become the body must share that life. We may be ground like wheat, we may, we will, be broken by love. But we are beloved, and we are fed. Put out your hand, and God is there.