We know that your patience is running thin, but we encourage you to hold on as we all continue to fight this awful coronavirus disease. Let the vaccine work, and put your trust in Almighty God. He will see us through. God never gives us more than we can bear.
We hope that all of you who have lost loved ones are holding up. Our prayers are with you in this time of your grief.
On this day, we join our brothers and sisters in the Virgin Islands (U.K.), who celebrate their Emancipation from slavery, in a limited way, because of the coronavirus. Since the Emancipation Declaration was first to be read on the first Monday in August at The Sunday Morning Well, the day became known as August Monday.
Just as the Israelites were emancipated from slavery, Christians were also emancipated from death to life through Christ’s death and resurrection. Theologically, we draw heavily on the Exodus Event to help us to interpret the Christian passing from death to life, from the grave to resurrection. It is Christ’s Passover, and the Church celebrates it with these words, “Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us; therefore, let us keep the feast.” One writer has called the Eucharist a “Eucharist of Human Liberation.”
Now, in Holy Scripture, God reaches out to the Israelites with an offer of freedom: he will help them escape the cruelty of slavery, and during their long journey from Egypt, he will provide sustenance for them. Moreover, he wishes them to journey to Mount Sanai, where he will covenant with them.
It is interesting what happened when the Israelites found that they had crossed the Red Sea in safety. Holy Scripture tells us that Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider, he has thrown into the sea.” This liberation song is reflected in Canticle 8 (BCP p. 85) and the African American Anthem, “Lift every Voice and Sing” (The Hymnal 1982, No. 599).
A rubric in the Eucharistic Service states that at the Offertory, representatives of the congregation bring the people’s offerings of bread and wine, money, or other gifts, to the deacon or celebrant who places them on the Altar. Among the offerings expressly stated are bread and wine. So, what is essential about bread?
It almost seemed a foolish question since everybody or most people eat bread. When I was a child, people used to say that “bread is a staple food.” These people also said that prisoners were to receive at the least a meal of bread and water.
In the Ancient World, agriculture fueled the economy. Kings built large barns to accommodate wheat, used to make bread to feed the population. Bread took on a symbolism of its own when Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden. God’s word to them was, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19). Here “bread” is a symbol of hard work. But “bread” also had a religious symbolism attached to it. No one could deny the fact that “bread” sustains life. It was to the credit of Jesus that he moved the goal post, as some would say. Jesus himself declared that he was life and he was bread. He puts it this way, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). Notice the words “I am.” Do they ring a bell? Of course, they do. In Exodus 3:14, God revealed His name to Moses as, “I AM WHO I AM.” Hence in Judaism, “I AM” is unquestionably understood as a name for God. John the Evangelist appropriated the term “I AM” in his Gospel as a way of defining who Jesus was.
So, in today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51). In this chapter, Jesus establishes a pattern that continues through John’s Gospel — Jesus makes a statement about who He is, and He backs it up with something He does. In this case, he states that He is the bread of life after Feeding the 5,000 in the wilderness.
Now, at the Offertory, we offer to God gifts. We have the tenacity to say, “All things come from you, O Lord, and of your own, have we given you.” I could say, “Shame on us,” But then the statement is true. All things belong to God. Everything that we own, every talent that we possess. They are the property of God. It is like a child. He wants to give his daddy a gift for his birthday, but he is too little to work for money to purchase a gift for his daddy. So, it is the same daddy that provides the money to purchase a gift for himself. God has a habit of giving us gifts. Two of them come to mind: the gift of his son at Christmas (Incarnation) and the gift of his son’s life at Calvary (Redemption).
These gifts expressed the Agape of God; that is, they were unconditional and sacrificial at the same time. Christ coming to earth meant that he had to “empty” himself (kenosis) of his Godhead and take on the form of a servant, as Paul so convincingly states.
How do we measure up to what God has done in Christ for us? Does it not follow that we who have been baptized, have entered into the life and death of Christ, and have been sealed as Christ’s own forever, be willing to offer our lives by participating in God’s redemptive activity in the world. So often, I hear people refer to this as the Church playing politics. That is not the business of the Church. Then what is the business of the Church?
The Church does not exist to serve itself. The Church exists to serve the world. We honor God when we participate in finding solutions to the thorny problems of our society.
All this tells us that in addition to reading the Bible, saying our prayers, and attending worship at our various churches, God invites us to be an offering to the world that is urgently in need of people who will go to the places of disjuncture, challenge the power structure, whether they be the Church or the government to do what is suitable for all people wherever or whoever they are. It is in our power with God’s help to make our Offertory at Church, one that is meaningful, one that understands that the Church exists to serve the world and that Jesus is the true bread that we encounter in the breaking of the bread, in the prayers, but also the world.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, three Persons, one God, be ascribed as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion, and power, both now and forever, world without end.
— The Rev. Canon Lionel S. Rymer is president of the standing committee of the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands.