Our Lord Jesus Christ calls us, beckons us, to refreshment this day as we take a hopefully well-deserved pause from our Lenten discipline, and lighten the mood with the festal vestments and colour of rose. It is time to allow Christ to refresh us, and to take away our burdens, and to renew us, as we yet offer ourselves in self-denial and penance. The Lord desires us to turn to Him, and Him alone, to Him who is the true refreshment of the human person. Christ is our rest, our renewal, our new Life.
He speaks of Himself in comforting terms, as One who nourishes, who refreshes, who revitalizes, and ever makes new. ‘Come unto me all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.’ ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ ‘But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into eternal life.’ ‘He who followeth me shall have the light of life.’
The classic definition of refreshment is simply – to make stronger, more energetic, to replenish, to renew, to revive, to re-enliven.
Jesus Christ, Who is Life and Light, revivifies the body and soul, restoring to man’s nature and being the very Life of God, divine grace, making us partakers of the communion of God’s life – the Life God gives, receives and shares eternally as the Tri-Hypostatic Communion of Love, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Christ communicates to man the life of the Trinity, unending life, everlasting life, eternal life.
Christ offers Himself to us as our ‘re-fresh-ment,’ the One who restores, who makes whole, who makes us new and alive.
Jesus says: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ Life.
Jesus Christ is the New Life. Jesus has come, he says, so that we may ‘have life, and have it more abundantly.’
On Refreshment Sunday, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Holy Church proffers once again an opportunity to meditate on the greatest and most sublime of all God’s gifts to us on earth, the most unfathomable of mysteries, the Holy Eucharist, the true living Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the verity of which is summarised in Saint John’s Gospel, chapter 6. The New Moses gives the New People of God the New Manna, the Bread from heaven, to refresh those who are weary, to feed them supernaturally.
The unforgettable feeding of the five thousand, the feeding miracle of Our Lord so familiar to us, actually reveals to us a dimension of our lives as Christians which we perhaps infrequently examine: Jesus Christ refreshes, renews, energises, revitalises us as members of His mystical Body the Church, through the Holy Eucharist, which is nothing less but the entire Person of Our Lord, God and Man, under the form of bread and wine. The Eucharist makes each one of us personally one with God and with one another. The Eucharist feeds us with Divine Life.
The Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, creates and sustains the Church, which is Christ’s own Body. The Eucharist is the Lord’s Own Service, the supreme act of Christian worship to be faithfully attended every Lord’s Day. It is not just a symbol or a sign – it is Jesus Christ Himself. It is our Sacramental God, present to us under the veil of a mystery. It is our refreshment, our life, our source of being. The Eucharist is the closest any of us will ever come to God this side of heaven. The Holy Eucharist is truly ‘heaven on earth.’
The historical event of the Last Supper, the New Passover, which fulfils the prefigure, the coming attraction of the feeding of the five thousand, is daily reproduced on the Altars of the Holy Catholic Church: Jesus comes to us in that Holy Sacrament which the feeding miracle is intended to image and prophesy for us. However St John 6 carries us back to the Old Testament, Exodus chapter 16, the institution of God’s Passover meal and covenant.
Manna – what is it? – the heavenly bread with which God miraculously fed the children of Israel in the wilderness. Jesus Christ is the Bread from Heaven, the Bread of God of which if anyone eats of It, he shall live forever. Receiving Holy Communion is renewal, re-creation, the gift of eternal life. The Eucharist should be the nourishment and stay of our daily lives, the meat and drink of our supernatural existence in Christ.
We must eat Christ’s Flesh and drink His Blood in Holy Communion in order to be saved and have eternal life. This is the teaching of Jesus Christ, not just of the Church Fathers or the medieval theologians. The Supper of the Lord is generally necessary to salvation (BCP, 581).
Saint John 6 sums it all up:
‘Verily, verily, I say unto you: Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day; for my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him.’
Echoed in the writing of that genius of Anglicanism, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the truth is reiterated in the Eucharistic liturgy of the Anglican Church; ‘Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.’
The Eucharist is refreshment, nourishment for the body and the soul, an often-neglected teaching of our sacred Faith.
The Anglican Prayer Book Catechism, an authoritative document, teaches:
Q: What are the benefits whereof we are partakers thereby in the Holy Communion?
A: The strengthening and refreshing of our souls by the Body and Blood of Christ as our bodies are by the Bread and Wine.
What precisely are Anglicans to believe about the Holy Eucharist, our Refreshment, our true Manna which feeds us unto eternal life? The Prayer Book calls the Eucharist ‘these holy mysteries.’ It cannot be defined – we cannot define the indefinable. We can only maintain a reverential awe in the face of such mystery.
From Queen Elizabeth I, a reasonably Anglican voice, we hear:
Christ was the Word that spake it. He took the bread and brake it. And what His word doth make it, I do believe and take it.
Ours is not a religion based on a system of ethics or morality, ours is not a sophisticated philosophical school or lyceum of ideas, ours is not a mutual appreciation society — our religion is a Person, ours is a religion of the God-Man Jesus Christ. Ours is a religion with a Body broken and Blood shed, a Blood-bought religion, a Body religion. And that Body broken and Blood shed are given to us every day through the hands of Christ’s chosen men, His apostolic ministers, in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus Christ is the Refreshment of all men.