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This Is Our Story: Fed by the Bread of Heaven

40 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 03 March 2013

'This is our story' - Fed by the Bread of Heaven: third in a series for Lent linking stories of faith from the the bible with life today. Live from The Memorial Chapel, University of Glasgow. Leader: Rev Stuart MacQuarrie; Preacher: Alison Phipps; Glasgow University Chapel Choir directed by James Grossmith.
Download Lent resources from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland by logging on to bbc.co.uk/sundayworship; Producer: Mo McCullough.


    LEADER: Chaplain, Rev Stuart MacQuarrie.
    PREACHER: Professor Alison Phipps.
    Glasgow University Chapel Choir directed by James Grossmith.
    Organist: Kevin Bowyer.


    CH4 724: CHRIST’S IS THE WORLD (A Touching Place – Tune: Dream Angus) – VERSE 1 + REFRAIN


    Welcome to this sacred place at the heart of the ancient University of Glasgow. Our reflection and prayers continue the Lenten theme and will be led by Professor Alison Phipps of our University staff.

    The stained glass windows of the Chapel around me are lit with images of four of Scotland's great Saints – Ninian, Columba, Mungo and Andrew. They remind us of the great diversity of skills and talents which people of different outlooks and cultures bring to our lives as individuals, and to the life we build together.

    There’s also an intricate carving of St Columba a few feet away from me. Alison and I are both members of the Iona Community, and we’re looking forward with the Island of Iona to celebrations in the summer commemorating Columba's arrival there, and the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the Iona Community.

    This Chapel, like Iona, is a place in which all people of whatever belief can feel welcome, can feel they belong.


    PROF ALISON PHIPPS: Opening Prayer

    O God our sustainer,
    Who leads us in wild places to show us sources of abundance
    Who promises birth to the barren, and bread for all
    Disturber of our complacency,
    Instruct us again
    Until the violence of greed and our ceaseless grasping for more
    Are confounded by the simplicity of sharing enough.


    Today’s theme from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland is ‘Fed by the Bread of Heaven’. The words of the hymn ‘For your generous providing’ were written by the late Leith Fisher, who was also a member of the Iona Community and Minister of the University’s neighbouring Wellington Church.


    [Words: CH4 655 / Tune: CH4 510 Lewis Folk Melody]


    Our first reading is taken from Exodus 16 and tells of some curious happenings and rumbling Israelite stomachs in the wilderness.

    READING 1 - EXODUS 16:2-5; 13-21a, 35
    The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’
    Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’
    The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, ‘Let no one leave any of it over until morning.’ But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.

    MUSIC: Hymn – NOW THANK WE ALL OUR GOD – Verses 1 & 2

    STUART: READING 2 - JOHN: 6: 30-35

    The Gospel reading comes in answer to our hunger for more. It’s from the Gospel of John, Chapter 6.
    “So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’
    Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

    ALISON + CHOIR MEMBERS: Reflection 1

    Let’s listen to what those hungry folk in the wilderness, and those disciples hungry for more, might have been thinking.

    Voice 1: I’m hungry. I want something to eat. Something tasty. Something like we had before we left home. Warm fresh bread, just out of the oven, the way my gran used to make it. I’m hungry, I tell you. You should never have brought us here. If only we had died in Egypt…..this is just humiliating.

    Voice 2: If only we had died there …..instead of rotting here, of all places.

    Voice 3: Can you do that again? We’re hungry. I know you probably want a bit of a rest, but honestly, that was so cool, the way you just made all that food appear back then. We’re hungry. We’ve been following you for days now. Look, there is plenty of grass here too, and we’ve brought some empty baskets, just like the last time. 12 of them…..

    Voice 2: Come on Jesus, what sign are you going to give us now…..?

    ALISON: Intros Poem – (first half)

    Signs come as bread, with Jesus, and with the Israelites, but it’s never quite how we think it’s going to be, as this poem suggests.


    Last week I knelt
    and received you, a perfect
    flat disc, the surface neatly
    embossed with what passes,
    week by week,
    for a neatened cross.

    This week someone
    good took a knife
    and cut you into perfect
    cubes of
    manufactured bread.

    I held out my hands
    and square, tidy
    and tasteless
    it was you I received.

    MUSIC: Hymn – BREAD OF THE WORLD (Rendez a Dieu NEH 277)

    ALISON: Reflection 2

    It begins with a complaint and with memories. Neither hose who have followed Moses and Aaron, nor the disciples following Jesus are not satisfied with their lot. The Israelites are hungry and their memories of the brutal oppression faced in Egypt have given way to memories of the good things, of having had food in plenty. The immediate danger is over and they are complaining about their circumstances.
    For the disciples the taste is of bread and some quite amazing possibilities of change. They have begun to see that the way things are is changed by the way Jesus is. He just isn’t playing or speaking by the rules. The hungry are fed, for a start. And they may still be a bit incredulous but just yesterday he had walked across the water, and calmed a storm. “Come on Jesus, what’s it to be today? Can you overthrow the Empire? Turn these stones into bread?”

    The disciples are chock full of their immediate amazing present, wanting it to go on for ever, and they are also remembering their own history where something a bit like this had happened before. They remember the story of manna in the desert. When God’s people had complained then, God had sent bread from heaven. The disciples are expecting Jesus to play a conjuring trick and, just like the day before yesterday, fill twelve baskets of left overs, or just like in the wilderness, send down manna for forty years, regular as clockwork. And just like us, expecting the answer to lie in a banking system, or a triple A credit rating, or in free trade policies, something done by experts, leaders, someone else. And just like us then complaining when our best efforts at solutions to all the suffering and injustice of life prove to be like 2- day old manna, utterly corruptible, rotten, foul.

    I too would like a quick fix. I too have distant memories and a book which tells me that it doesn’t have to be like this. I too like to point to others, politicians, church leaders, my own bosses and say come on, what are you going to do to fix this, how are you going to make it all better? Surely you can stop the killing, the trade in arms, surely you can distribute the food so that all are fed, surely you can find something more to quarrel about than sex? Come on, fix it! I don’t feel at home in this world any longer, it’s uncomfortable, inconvenient, disturbing, cruel.

    You can almost hear the exasperation in both our stories today as Moses and then Jesus spell it out, again, for those wishing for a simple sign.

    Our God, is not a tameable, systematic God. The manna, the bread of heaven is not part of a supply and demand economy of signs and wonders: you complain and God gives you what you want. No,
    underneath these quite amazing, remembered stories is a clear comment on systems of power which institute greed, dependency, oppression and empire, and a set of clear blueprints for different ways of living and sharing. ‘Go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.’

    As we hear the Choir sing Britten’s Hymn of St Columba we might think of the Lent call to repent and to reconsider the habits of our lives. This summer marks the 1450th anniversary of the arrival on the Isle of Iona of St Columba. According to the writer Paul Spicer, this piece is all about the fire in Columba’s belly for his missionary task. The words are lowering and Lenten: ‘King of Kings and Lord most high, his day of judgement nigh, Day of shadows and vengeance stark, Day of wrath and cloudy dark ...’

    MUSIC: Britten ‘Hymn of St Columba’

    ALISON: Reflection 3

    Just as the disciples think they are going to get their miracle-a-day and that this will at last be enough to sustain their spirits in what they know will be a dangerous mission, Jesus answers their demands. Generously tender and infuriatingly ambiguous, he disturbs the old story and unsettles the ways of remembering it. Why pursue food which cannot keep its promise. Why labour for that which does not satisfy? , ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ The instruction is to come into a different way of being, to come amongst the outcasts, the tax collectors, the exiles, the ordinary people living under Roman Rule and to live in such a way that announces a different way of organising important things, a way characterised as ‘heaven’ – as satisfying, as offering enough, as based on deep practices of sharing, humour, daring. There is enough for all, if you practice the sharing properly. There is enough for all.

    The founder of the Iona Community, George Macleod, said that the ‘great community problem of our modern world is how to share bread.’ The question is not whether to share it, but how? The answer Jesus gives is ‘I am’, come, eat, drink, in ways which mean none will be thirsty, treat all as equals, practice generosity, and you will never hunger and never thirst. Believe that there is a way of imagining the world where there are twelve baskets left over, and all will believe in a different way of doing things, in the daring prospect that there is always enough for all.

    Four years ago I stood outside a bakery, in the Middle East with an Iraqi refugee. She took warm bread, broke it, and gave it to me, saying, take eat, I call you my friend. This was, for me, bread of heaven, real, warm, beautifully different forgiving bread, graciously broken and shared in such a way that the world was re-ordered, for a moment in sunlit time, and peace broke through the geopolitics and hopelessness of all her family and she had suffered. In a gesture and with words, at once imaginative and ordinary, out in the open air, was a memory of those other times when bread was broken, shared, the bread of heaven, giving life to the world.

    I remember that woman when I hear again the words I wrote in a poem about sharing bread on Iona, part of which we heard a few moments ago.

    READER: Alison’s Poem (second half)

    On an island I know
    they stir you and scrape you
    and knead you and raise you
    and beat you
    and bake you and then
    in a boat with friends
    they break you.

    And each of us pulls
    at your flesh, pulls
    with our bare
    begging hands.

    For you never come to us
    as perfect circle,
    or perfect cube.
    You are not
    a cardboard cut-out
    or a mechanical tube,
    tamed into
    distilling life
    on demand.

    The gull descending
    breaks the air.

    With a wing beat

    crumble me too.

    [Words: Kathy Galloway / Tune: Sursum Corda]

    Do not retreat into your private world,
    That place of safety, sheltered from the storm …

    ALISON: Intro Prayers

    The words of that hymn ‘Do not retreat into your private world’ were written by Kathy Galloway, former leader of the Iona Community and Director of Christian Aid Scotland. It offers a challenge to us to leave comfort and complacency behind and to seek for a more excellent way of living. With that challenge in our hearts we turn to God in prayers for the world.

    [Other voices join in prayers]

    We thank you that you are a God of abundance calling us to sharing and to simplicity. We pray for all those who serve the hungry, for those who run soup kitchens and food banks, those who wait tables in shelters for the destitute, for aid organisations reaching communities where there is not enough food and the seed has failed.
    During Fairtrade Fortnight we give thanks for the establishment of Scotland as a fair trade nation.
    Draw us into new ways of sowing, and growing and distributing our food, so that all are fed.

    SUNG RESPONSE: CH4 763 - God bless to us our bread

    We thank you that you give us instructions for better ways of living, that you change the rules we take for granted. We thank you for the vision of the church in its efforts towards a commonwealth of sharing. At this difficult time for many in the world-wide church, we pray that you will continue to instruct us and our leaders.

    SUNG RESPONSE: God bless to us our bread

    We pray for ourselves, that you will shake us from our complacency, disturb our demands for an easy Gospel, and surprise us again with new stories of life in abundance.



    If you would like to think more about some of the ideas explored during the Sunday Worship Lent series, you can find resources from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland to download through the Sunday Worship web pages.

    So now, a prayer inspired by that Lent reflection:
    Lord God, who provided food for your covenant people to sustain them in the wilderness, give us the bread we need to nourish both our bodies and our souls, and make us generous in caring for all who go hungry because of human greed and indifference, through Jesus Christ, our living bread, Amen.


    We gather all our prayers for ourselves and for the world in the words Jesus taught us:

    ALL: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
    For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever. Amen.

    ALISON: Intro to poem

    Gameli Tordzro of Pan African Arts Scotland, works in partnership with a Refugee network here at Glasgow University. He’ll now read for us a poem by the Native American poet, Joy Harjo.


    The world begins at a kitchen table …

    From The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., www.wwnorton.com.

    (Regent Square)

    STUART: Benediction

    Now let’s close with a blessing:

    Send us out, with food enough for the journey
    Ears open enough to hear, and minds hungry for your words of life.
    And the blessing of God, the surprise of the Son and the newness of the creating spirit be with you all, ever more. Amen.

    ORGAN VOLUNTARY: ‘Now Thank We All Our God’ No5 of Peacehaven Preludes - Composer Alan Gibbs. Publisher Bardic Editions.


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