I found the taking of Communion a struggle today. As we prepared to receive the bread and wine, we thanked our Father for his good gifts; declared that Jesus is the bread of life; prayed for our daily bread, and remembered that, because we all share in one bread, we are brought into the worldwide body of Christ.
But as I sat and waited my turn to go up to the altar rail, one question ran through my mind: did eating this Eucharistic bread have any relevance to the sixteen million people in East Africa who currently have no daily bread and literally nothing to eat?
The Gospel reading – as many of you will know – was John 4 and the story of Jesus’ meeting and conversation with an unnamed woman at Jacob’s well. I went to the Cathedral for this third Sunday of Lent and the service was crafted around water and helped us make some links between the everyday thirst that Jesus was experiencing that particular day; the severe drought that has in large part caused the current terrible famine (along with the impacts of conflict and political failure), and the recognition that Jesus is the water of eternal life.
All over the world, followers of Jesus have today eaten bread together, in a global act of remembering, sharing and committing. You are probably one of those people.
At the same time, millions have faced another day with no food.
I believe that the act of taking Communion binds us inextricably with those millions. In eating the bread and drinking the wine we are taken out of a sole focus on ourselves and brought into the body of the one who died to bring reconciliation and destroy the dividing walls that stand between us. There can be no reconciliation whilst some of us eat plenty and others of us eat nothing. It is a situation we mustn’t ignore as Christians (as Paul’s words of warning in 1 Corinthians 11 make clear).
But in eating the bread and drinking the wine, something else happens. The theologian William Cavanaugh puts it like this: ‘In the Eucharist, Christ is gift, giver, and recipient. We are neither merely active nor passive, but we participate in the divine life so that we are fed and simultaneously become food for others’.
As we are fed, we become food for others. How can that be? The taking of Communion feeds us, refreshes us, replenishes us, re-invigorates us, and we take those gifts – the bread of Jesus, the wine of the new covenant, the water of life – and offer it to others: through what we say, through what we do, through how we live.
Each of us will do that in our own ways, but today I ask you to do something specifically to respond to the situation in East Africa:
- Please give financially to the DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) appeal that is running.
- Climate change has been a leading cause of the severe drought. Please do one thing to help in this area (I want to be neither simplistic nor prescriptive here so what you do is up to you).
- Please pray: for rain; for those working to help on the ground; for conflicts to cease; for governments to work well, and of course for those directly affected.
May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life;
we who drink his cup bring life to others;
we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.