When you think about God and how God offers a relationship with him, it seems to me that the word encounter is one of the more helpful ways of describing this relationship. Yet, when you look up the word encounter, you discover that it comes into the English language via the Old French word encontre, which in turn was based on Latin roots (in + contra) – suggesting that the word originally had a much more negative meaning. Indeed, in its French usage, it was mainly used in a military context, describing that situation when two armies faced each other across the battlefield. Each commander would presumably be thinking about their own soldiers and resources and making a mental and calculated comparison to the might of the force arrayed on the other side of the field. At the heart of encontre then is a strong sense of fear and anxiety caught up in this moment before the battle. So perhaps it is a very appropriate word to describe the way that people have been in relationship with God across the multitudes – a God who is utterly holy and powerful and mighty and awesome – and then there is little ordinary us. How can we possibly compare and enter into this contest?
Yet with the Patriarchs God began to appear to certain individuals and began to speak in terms of covenant and promise. God began to show a new and different dimension to this relationship – where he demonstrates his tenderness and compassion, caring for this people and protecting them, giving them food and water in the wilderness. He begins to speak to them and teach them and form them – especially through the prophets. Even so, there remains a certain distrust of God and an anxiety not to get too close to him.
Until Jesus arrives. When he is born, the evangelist John tells us that now the very word of God has taken flesh. God is going to feed his people in new ways now. Indeed, the evangelist Luke tells us that when Jesus was born he was laid in a manger – a feeding trough. All of this culminates in the passage that is the Gospel tonight, taken from John 6:51-58. Now in the person of Jesus we are offered a new encounter with God – at a level more personal and intimate than anything anyone could ever have imagined before as we are invited to eat (esthein then trogein) his body and drink his blood.
Recorded at St Paul’s 5.30pm (9’23”)
The recording from St Mary’s, 8am is also available here.
1.unexpectedly be faced with or experience (something hostile or difficult).“we have encountered one small problem”
2.meet (someone) unexpectedly.“what do we know about the people we encounter in our daily lives?”
1.an unexpected or casual meeting with someone or something.“she felt totally unnerved by the encounter”
a confrontation or unpleasant struggle.“his close encounter with death”