Let’s drink to the Kingdom of God

Last week we thought about the bread, this week it’s about the wine and that so appropriate for Advent.

So, last week we thought about feeding people who are hungry, hungry for food of course but also hunger for companionship, love, healing of mind and body. Jesus challenges us to recognise him in hungry people and feed them.

Read on or listen to the semon here …

But when we are involved in feeding hungry people, and we meet them and get to know them, it’s not long before we join with them in asking, ‘Why?’ What injustice means that they are hungry and I am not?

The question ‘why?’ comes from all sorts of directions; bereaved people might ask ‘Why was the one I love taken?’ People who are ill or loose their job might say ‘Why me?’ People who are attacked or robbed might say ‘How could they?’

At first glance we might think that these questions show a lack of faith but often it is precisely the opposite. How is it that people fall ill when we believe in a God who heals? Why do people die when Jesus offers eternal life? Why is there so much injustice and hatred in a world created by a loving God?

When people ask this sort of question, they experience the deep chasm between what ought to be in God’s world, the Kingdom of God, and what they see and experience. This was the pain of Jesus’ cry on the cross, (as recorded in Mark and Matthew) ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’

Has God let us down, did God really abandon Jesus?

The answer to the second question is the resurrection, and that is the answer that God offers to us.

There is a way through the pain and contradiction of this life, it is to ‘take up [our] cross and follow’ (Mark 8:34). This is the way through death to resurrection life.

It is a life full of apparent contradiction, dying to live, giving to receive, being wounded and hurt to heal. No wonder that, from time to time, we echo Jesus’ cry, ‘Why!’

Today’s gospel points to a resurrection for the whole of creation, not just Jesus nor even just for individuals when they die.

It affirms that God’s Justice will overcome petty human tyranny and his healing will bind up wounds.

This I believe is where the wine comes in. In Matthew and Mark’s account of Jesus’ last supper, taking the cup of wine Jesus says that he will not drink it again until he shares it with his disciples in the Kingdom.

The wine is looking forward to that wonderful celebration when Jesus’ victory is complete and tyranny overthrown.

What is clear is that the Eucharistic elements are not some homogenous “bread’n’wine” but two contrasting perspectives on the ministry entrusted, first to Jesus and then to us, his Church. If through sharing bread with people who are hungry now we remember Jesus’ ministry of the past and present, so in drinking wine we ‘remember’ the future when we can celebrate his victory and the end of hunger and injustice.

In taking the wine we ‘drink’ to the coming of the Kingdom of God in all its fullness and completion.

Bread without wine is a hopeless task, ‘the poor will always be with you’, we will never feed everybody so that there will always be more hungry people to feed.

Wine without bread is blind and Godless, we avoid looking on those whom Jesus loves and we plaintively ask ‘when did we see you hungry and not feed you …?’. We celebrate too soon and so have nothing to celebrate.

Bread and wine together means we work with hope, real hope means that we are not responsible for success, God will bring that, but we are required to be faithful.

Bread and wine together mean that when we meet the contradictions of feeding hungry people in a rich country, or see religious people hating each other in the name of a God of Love, we stop and remember Jesus and his kingdom. We long for its completion and strain our spiritual eyes to look for its coming.

There is a prayer that I have often found helpful and that points me in the right direction:

O God, who set before us the great hope
that your Kingdom shall come on earth
and taught us to pray for its coming:
give us grace to discern the signs of its dawning
and to work for the perfect day
when the whole world shall reflect your glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(A collect written by Percy Dearmer (1867- 1936) in Society of St. Francis, David Stancliffe, and Brother Tristam SSF, Celebrating Common Prayer (Pocket Version) (London: Mowbray, 1994), 98.)

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