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Bread for the world

Rowan Williams’ keynote address to the Lutheran World Federation Assembly is available online. Some deeply stirring remarks about prayer, the Lord’s Supper and the nature of the church are to be found there:

The Lord’s Supper is bread for the world – not simply in virtue of the sacramental bread that is literally shared and consumed, but because it is the sign of a humanity set free for mutual gift and service.  The Church’s mission in God’s world is inseparably bound up with the reality of the common life around Christ’s table, the life of what a great Anglican scholar called homo eucharisticus, the new ‘species’ of humanity that is created and sustained by the Eucharistic gathering and its food and drink.  Here is proclaimed the possibility of reconciled life and the imperative of living so as to nourish the humanity of others.  There is no transforming Eucharistic life if it is not fleshed out in justice and generosity, no proper veneration for the sacramental Body and Blood that is not correspondingly fleshed out in veneration for the neighbour.

If, then, we are called to feed the world – recalling Jesus’ brisk instruction to his disciples to give the multitudes something to eat (Mark 6.37) – the challenge is to become a community that nourishes humanity, a humanity on the one hand open and undefended, on the other creatively engaged with making the neighbour more human.  ‘Give us our daily bread’ must also be a prayer that we may be transformed into homo eucharisticus, that we may become a nourishing Body.  Our internal church debates might look a little different if in each case we asked how this or that issue relates to two fundamental things – our recognition that we need one another for our own nourishment and our readiness to offer all we have and are for the feeding, material and spiritual, of a hungry world.

As things are, we are liable to fall into a variety of traps.  We may conduct our interchurch quarrels in a spirit that sends out a clear message of unwillingness to live with the other and be fed by them.  We may consume our time and energy in what we like to think of as service to the needy, while ignoring our own need and poverty, especially our need of silence and receptivity to God.  We may imagine that by faithfully performing the liturgy we embody the reality of the Kingdom, whether or not we are being transformed into a community of mutual nourishment.  We may focus so closely on the rights of human persons that we lose sight of their beauty and dignity, the beauty and dignity that help to feed us. The list could go on.  But the point is that the intimate connection between our mission and the prayer for our daily bread impacts at so many levels on the life of discipleship that the range of possible areas of failure is correspondingly broad.

The worst reaction to this would be simple anxiety.  The best is to recognise that our vulnerability to failure is itself a reminder of our basic hunger, our need for each other.  The bread of truth is also the bread of honesty about ourselves, and a church that is genuinely growing up into Christ will be one that is prepared to hear its judgement on these and other matters with patience and gratitude.  So when we pray for our daily bread, we pray too for awareness of our failure, and – hard as this always is – for the grace to hear the truth about it from one another, and also from the wider world.  For God can also act to nourish our humanity by the challenges and questions and rebukes that the rest of the human race puts to the Church.

One Comment

  1. good words for all parties.

    Thursday, July 22, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

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