Bishop Jesudasan’s Sermon: The Feast of Life | WCC Assembly, Vancouver, Canada | 31 July 1983

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In this post, you will find these in four sections:
I. A Brief Introduction to Bishop Jesudasan’s Life and Legacy
II. Bishop Jesudasan’s Sermon: The Feast of Life (transcript).
III. Sermon Analysis
IV. Related Content: Links to condolence messages and media reports.

A Brief Introduction to Bishop Jesudasan’s Life and Legacy

Bishop Jesudasan’s sermons are remembered for their clarity of thought, their grounding on God’s Word, their depth of understanding of cultural contexts, his unique way of combining eastern and western elements, their relevance to the occasion, and for their force of delivery and impact.

He always approached the pulpit with utmost sacredness only to preach God’s Word and never for any other purpose; a lesson his father had taught him.

Bishop Jesudasan came from a very humble background and was exalted by God to positions of leadership: He was a presbyter in the South Kerala Diocese, became Lecturer and subsequently Principal of Kerala United Theological Seminary. He was elected Vice-Chairman of South Kerala Diocese and then its Bishop for a span of seventeen years which is described as the golden age of the diocese. During this time he was elected Deputy Moderator of the Church of South India and later its Moderator for three consecutive terms.

He was Co-Chairman of the CSI-CNI-Marthoma Joint Council, a member of the Anglican Consultative Council, Council for World Mission (formerly London Missionary Society or LMS), and the World Council of Churches; being an elected member of its central committee for ten years. He has authored several books that are Christ-centred and expound the Word of God with great depth of theological understanding and insight.

Bishop Jesuadasan was a man who was faithful to God’s call. He truly made memorable his name Jesudasan, which in his mother tongue Malayalam means, servant of Jesus. He had a true shepherd’s heart and did his utmost to keep the people of God united, He had the attitude of a servant leader, lived a simple life, had absolute trust in God, walked in his integrity before God and men, was compassionate to the poor, cried out for social justice, commanded the respect of secular and religious leadership alike, was a man of prayer spending early morning hours in reading and meditating on God’s Word, and wherever he went spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ and brought a sense of God’s presence to all worship services and meetings he conducted.

He spoke to God in simple words with the certainty that he was heard. His theology was centred around the light of God’s love that God caused to shine through his Son Jesus on the cross and confidence in the Spirit of God’s transforming influence in the life of individuals and communities.

The Sermon: The Feast of Life

Most Rev.  I. Jesudasan, the then Moderator of the Church of South India, delivered this blessed sermon at the World Council of Churches Assembly in Vancouver, Canada, on 31st July 1983.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).”

The sacrament of Eucharist is indeed a festival of great joy: the feast of life. Because, here we celebrate the wonderful and unique act of God by which He shared His life with our humanity. This is the cardinal mystery that we proclaim in and through this sacrament. God in His boundless love had shared His life with us by sending His son Jesus Christ to take upon Himself the fallen human nature and to give us eternal life. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.” And the Son of God shared His life with humanity by proclaiming the good news to the poor, by doing deeds of love and finally by laying down His life for all. This unique sacrifice is the source of abundant life to all people. The Holy Spirit makes Christ’s life a transforming and life-giving power in the world.

But how do we participate in this feast of life?

The Lord of life calls us to humble ourselves; to leave our pride and, like Peter, to be washed by our Lord, who emptied Himself to take the form of a slave. When we come to our senses we would also confess before God’s embracing Love, just as the Prodigal son did: “I have sinned against heaven and before you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” We feel the compulsion to cry out, beating our breast like the Publican, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” It is only the poor in spirit who are deemed worthy to enter into the joy of the kingdom. If we approach the Lord’s table with contrite hearts and empty hands, there awaits for us the bread of life. The Lord is ready to fill the hungry with good things.

Here in Vancouver, we, the representatives of different church bodies who acknowledge and proclaim, “Jesus Christ—the Life of the World,” are privileged to celebrate this Eucharist, offering thanks to God our Heavenly Father. God’s people from all nations, tongues, and cultures have come together to make this occasion unique. We are thrilled at this grand spectacle which gives a foretaste of the heavenly scene of the great multitude which throng around the throne of God singing the new song of praise as we read in the Book of Revelation.

Against this glorious and luminous backdrop we are alarmed to see the acts of betrayal still being enacted in our day. Principalities and powers around us cause fear and anxiety as in the days of Christ. During these days we have been made aware of these frightful depressing modern betrayal scenes.

The darkness that surrounded Jesus Christ was basically a spiritual one, caused by unbelief. According to the New Testament witness, eternal life is to know the Father and His son, Jesus Christ, and the work that is pleasing to God, is to accept Jesus Christ whom the Father had sent for our salvation. For the witness is that in Him we have life. And it is this life that we are called to proclaim to a world in spiritual crisis.

Many in our world do not care to have vital spiritual relationship with the living God through His son Jesus Christ. So atheism, agnosticism and different types of secular materialism are on the increase. We cannot deal with them either by ignoring them or by replacing them with other concerns. It is in this context that we bear witness to the living Christ who says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. St. Paul says that, “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” At the Eucharist we are made to see the terrible loss that happens to life—whether individual or collective, which is not related to God through Christ. We are called upon to feed the world with the bread of life and lead the nations to the living waters.

Christ sent the disciples to the upper room to make arrangements for the last supper. They went and set one table for it. Painfully we still sit at separate tables in the ecumenical upper room, excluding each other in the name of Him who invited all to His table, propping up our differences with theological arguments. It is, however, a happy thought that the liturgy that we celebrate today is a sign of the advances we have made on our common understandings on Baptism, Eucharist and the Ministry. It is at this table that we become aware that truth is not a theological affirmation, but the sharing of the life our Lord. This feast is, and always will be, one that calls and compels us to be inclusive.

Poet Markham says,
He drew a circle that shut me out . . .
But love and I had the wit to win;
We drew a circle that took him in.

What is the context of this feast?

We know it only too well that millions suffer all over the world, living under poverty, oppression and exploitation. The crafty designs of unjust socio-economic structures crush the voiceless poor, they cry for justice. In the name of freedom, values of the kingdom of God are brushed aside and for selfish gains and pleasures of life; people choose to walk on the road that leads to death. Our societies are producing more and more druggists, delinquents, unclaimed children, broken homes, etc. Are these not symptoms of disintegration of our modern civilization? People in such conditions stretch out their hands for help.

Consequent on the massive accumulation of nuclear weapons we live under the dreadful fear of total annihilation of the human race.

The abundant world resources are being wasted on destructive purposes while poverty continues to assume alarming proportions. Indeed the creation itself mourns over the irresponsible and sinful acts toward nature and its resources. The frightened people all over the world yearn for peace while political structures defiantly ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The church too is often tempted to pass by.

The great Indian sage and Poet Tagore says:
“Thou are the Brother amongst my brothers,
But I heed them not,
I divide not my earnings with them,
Thus sharing my all with Thee.
In pleasure and in pain I stand not by the side of men.
And thus stand by Thee.
I shrink to give up my life,
And thus do not plunge into the great waters of life.”

We are very much conscious of the darkness that surrounds us. God has opened our hearts to be concerned about these situations, of which we have just heard. It was in the midst of challenges posed by destructive forces and death, that our Lord instituted the sacrament of Eucharist as the feast of life and then down his life to win victory over the powers of death. In Christ we find the new life which God shares with the world and learn the secret of the life in God. Jesus said, “whoever loves his own life will lose it, whoever hates his own life in this world, will keep it for life eternal.” Eucharist celebrations become meaningful only when it points to a sharing of our lives. “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls,” says Paul to the Church in Corinth.

On September, 1224, the Holy Cross Day, St. Francis of Assissi prayed thus in a prayer vigil:

“Who are thou, my God most sweet?
And what am I, that unprofitable servant and vilest of worms?
O, my Lord Jesus Christ,
Two graces do I pray thee to grant unto me before I die.

The first that while I live I may feel in my body
And in my soul that sorrow, sweet Lord, that thou didst
Suffer in the hours of thy most bitter passion.

The second that I may feel in my heart that exceeding love
Wherewith, Oh, Son of God, thou was enkindled to endure
Willingly for us sinners agony so great.”

May this be our prayer as we take part in this Holy Eucharist.

Sermon Analysis and Appreciation

The Setting

Bishop Jesudasan’s sermon The Feast of Life is based on God’s Word, focuses on the meaning of the Holy Eucharist instituted by our Lord,  is set against the backdrop of situations of current relevance and has a global and heavenly perspective.

Two Questions

The whole sermon hinges on two questions he asks about the sacrament of Holy Communion:

Question #1: “But how do we participate in this feast?”
If anyone is not related to God through Christ, we find there a terrible loss that happens to life. In order that we might not suffer loss, we need to humble ourselves like Peter and the Publican and the Prodigal son and seek God’s mercy. It is when we acknowledge that we are sinners, it is when we leave aside our pride, and it is only when are empty and poor in spirit, that we can approach the Lord’s table with “contrite hearts and empty hands.” Then we will find there the Bread of Life awaiting us with his embracing love and ready to fill the hungry with good things.

Question #2: “What is the context of this feast?”
The Bishop points out for us the fact that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper “in the midst of challenges posed by destructive forces and death.” But he also points out that Jesus triumphed over them by laying down his life “to win victory over the powers of death.”

The Feast of Life Is About Sharing

He speaks about the sacrament of the Eucharist as a festival of great joy because it is the feast of life. And it became the feast of life because it centred on one thing: sharing. First of all, God shared his life with our humanity. He did this so by sending his son Jesus to this world. And then the Son of God shared his life with humanity “by proclaiming the good news to the poor, by doing deeds of love and finally by laying down his life for all.” Therefore “Eucharist celebrations become meaningful only when it points to a sharing of our lives.”

The Feast of Life Means Becoming Inclusive

We are called by our Lord, as we participate in the Lord’s supper, to become inclusive and sit at one table and not be divided by “propping up our differences with theological arguments.” We are called by our Lord, to see and listen to the cries of millions of people who “suffer all over the world, living under poverty, oppression and exploitation.” “People in such conditions stretch out their hands for help,” he says.

The Feast of Life Is About the Grand Spectacle of the Foretaste of Heaven

When Bishop Jesudasan looks at the gathering, he sees representatives of different church bodies from all over the world coming together to celebrate the Eucharist. All of them together proclaim Jesus Christ—the Life of the World. It is a great moment to offer thanks to our Heavenly Father. The redeemed people from all nations, tongues and cultures coming together like this, according to the Bishop, is a “grand spectacle which gives a foretaste of the heavenly scene of the great multitude which throng around the throne of God singing a new song of praise.”

The Feast of Life Is About Witnessing to Jesus in an Unbelieving World

The Bishop is alarmed to see “acts of betrayal” that still happen against this “glorious and luminous backdrop.” He highlights the fact that humanity in plunged into spiritual darkness because of unbelief—the refusal to believe in the One whom God sent to this world. The New Testament witness is that in the Son of God we have life. And when we celebrate the sacrament of Eucharist, we have to be reminded that “it is this life we are called to proclaim to a world in spiritual crisis.” Thus the Bishop reminds us that we the church as a people are not only called to be a believing and worshipping community but also a witnessing community to the life that is in Jesus, the Son of God and the Saviour of men and women.

The Acts of the Holy Spirit

The Bishop also reminds us how the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s life a “transforming and life-giving power in the world.” He reminds us that the kingdom of God does not happen in the pursuit of atheism, agnosticism, and secular materialism. But it happens when people seek God’s righteousness first and foremost. He reminds us of the words of St. Paul who wrote: “the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

The Historic Value of the Sermon: The Feast Is About Sitting at One Table

At Vancouver, Canada, at the World Council of Churches, when the Bishop spoke, he was not only testifying to his personal walk with the Lord and Saviour Jesus whom he loved, but he was also speaking as a representative of a community of peoples God redeemed from under oppression and slavery; who by the mighty transforming act of the Holy Spirit and by the relentless and untiring efforts of missionaries in the fields of education, medical care and social reform became united under the umbrella of the Church of South India on 27 September 1947.

Having seen and experienced first-hand the transforming and life-giving power of the Holy Spirit in the life of communities; and having seen the formation of the CSI where four different traditions; viz—Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational, and Anglican came together to become one under the administration and guiding hand of the Holy Spirit; it is no wonder that the Bishop was calling up to give up theological arguments and sit together at one table thanking God for the feast of life he has provided us with.

The Shifting of Scenes

The Bishop lifts up our eyes to looked beyond the grand spectacle of the people gathered together to celebrate the Lord’s supper at WCC Assembly to the great multitude in the heavenly scene as portrayed in the Book of Revelation.

But then from there he invites us to the earthly scene of injustice and oppression where we are called to act to help. In the context of unjust socio-economic structures which crush the voiceless poor who cry out for justice, in the context of values of the kingdom of God being brushed aside for selfish gains and pleasures; a choice that makes people walk on the road that leads to death, in the context of world resources being wasted for destructive purposes where even creation mourns because of sinful acts against nature and its resources; political structures ask that question that was heard at the dawn of human history: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” At the same time the church is tempted to “pass by” like the priest and the Levite in the story of Good Samaritan.

The Triumph of Christ’s Life

The whole sermon is a reminder that Christ emptied himself to give up his life to feed us with the bread of life. He triumphed over the forces of darkness and death by giving up his life. It was loss of his life that rewards us with eternal life. We are called to share this life with the world by a sharing of our lives.

Eastern and Western Elements

The Bishop quotes the American Poet Edwin Markham to highlight that we have to be inclusive. He quotes the Indian Poet Rabindranath Tagore from his classic and Nobel prize winning work Gitanjali to remind us that devotion to God which makes us insensitive to the needs of our neighbours is not what the Feast of Life is meant to be.

Devotion to Christ

In closing, the Bishop quotes the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. To those who have known the Bishop personally, this prayer comes from his lips not as a matter of oration or rhetoric; but as a sincere prayer. It was his life’s walk. He was truly devoted to Jesus Christ and had a personal relationship with his Lord and Saviour.

A Classic Sermon

This sermon is a classic because it does not come to us as a usual three-points sermon or even a sermon that is built on stories. Instead, it weaves in and through the pages of the Bible; reminds us of Cain’s question to God in Genesis and takes us to the heavenly scene as shown in Revelation.

In between, he makes us see in our mind’s eye Peter leaving aside his pride to be feet-washed by his Lord, the returning Prodigal son making his speech of repentance and meeting the “Embracing Love” of his father, and the Publican beating his breast. These pictures remind us of all that we learned in Sunday School but with deeper and more enduring lessons attached.

This sermon is a classic because of its huge relevance as it was delivered in the context of the celebration of the Eucharist by believers coming together from all over the world from different languages, nations, and cultures.

This sermon is a classic because we find the Holy Trinity and the Bishop’s adoration of the Trinity holding the sermon together. At the introduction he reminds us of God sending his Son to this world and the Holy Spirit making Christ’s life a transforming and life-giving power in the world. Again in the middle of the sermon the Bishop talks about the New Testament Witness of what life is: it is to know the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Then he goes on to say along with St. Paul that the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

This sermon is a classic because of implied contrasts throughout the sermon. The Bread of Life is being offered to those who will take it. But there is terrible loss and betrayal and death when the Bread of Life is rejected. Life on one side and death on the other. Sitting at one table together; at the same time propping up differences. The stretching out of hands for help while those cries are ignored on the other. Glorious and luminous backdrop on one side; on the other darkness and unbelief.

One Final Thought—The Feast of Life
The sermon leaves us thinking on the true meaning of the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is a reminder of the Lord’s death. It reminds us that in the death of our Saviour we have life. It reminds us there is one table and we have to leave our differences behind and sit united at one table. It reminds us that “acts of betrayal” are still going on and many people choose the road that lead to death. But when political structures deny that they are their brother’s keeper and when the church itself is tempted to pass by we are called to share our lives for the people of this world. It is then that the Lord’s table truly becomes the Feast of Life.

Bishop Jesudasan–A Short Speech of Tribute

Related Documents

World Council of Churches News
World Council of Churches Condolence Message
Christian Conference of Asia: In Memory of Most Rev. I. Jesudasan
News: The Hindu
News: The New Indian Express
Anglican Communion News Service
Wikipedia: Isaiah Jesudasan