Our Gospel for this 4th Sunday in Lent is the familiar story of Jesus feeding the multitude. It’s the only miracle story found in all four Gospels which is why we are so familiar with it. Yet I think often we are so preoccupied with the “miracle itself,” with the multiplication of the loaves and fish, that we miss out on so much else that is going on here in addition.
The very first line gives us a clue, but we often skip right over it to get into the story. It begins, “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.” (John 6:4). There wouldn’t be much point in John telling us the time of year if it didn’t have something to do with the point of the story.
The Passover was (and is), of course, the freedom meal for the Jewish people, the meal “eaten in haste” before Moses led the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt. It was the meal eaten every year by devout Jews, and it was the Last Supper eaten with his disciples “on the night Jesus was betrayed” which developed into the Eucharist – the meal you and I partake of each Sunday we can.
But this feeding of the 5,000 was a meal too. And, when John tells us that it took place around Passover time, he is asking us to look back to that original Passover and forward to the Eucharist. Notice in verse 11 that John writes, “Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated.” Basically the same actions Jesus takes at the Last Supper: “…the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said This is my Body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11:23-24). Taking, blessing, breaking, and distributing…the bread.
On both of those occasions, when Jesus is presiding at a meal, his disciples were bound to see him in the role of Moses, the originator of the Passover, and also in the role of the Messiah. Because there was tradition which said that, when the Messiah came, he too would preside over a festive banquet, hearkening back to the Passover, at which all the people would be fed. One such account is in the 25th chapter of the Prophet Isaiah:
“On this mountain, the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined. And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all the peoples, the veil spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…”
The people were bound to see Jesus in that role as he multiplied the loaves and the fish. That’s why they tried to “take him by force and make him become king.”
So here have three sacred meals – the Passover, the Feeding of the 5,000, and the Last Supper. And all three have something to teach us. The Passover teaches us that God wants us to be free…The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish teach us that God can bring abundance out of scarcity…And the Eucharist teaches us that God has fulfilled Jesus’ promise to be with us to the end of the ages!
As we set about the task of re-building St. Paul’s Church here in Durant, all three of those things are important. First of all, it’s important to know that we are free in Christ! We are free to look at new possibilities and new strategies. Free to open ourselves to new possibilities we may never have thought of before. God is not interested in us being weighed down and hamstrung by anger or bitterness or resentment or by anxiety about the future for that matter. If God can bring slaves out of Egypt, provide them with manna in the desert and plant them in their own Promised Land, God can surely rebuild this church.
And God is also able to bring abundance out of scarcity. If our Lord Jesus Christ could cause 5,000 people to be fed with five loaves and two fish, then he can surely multiply our resources and bring abundant life out of what appears at the present time to be a scarcity of resources. God is in the “new beginnings business” and we need to hang on to the promise given in today’s Epistle: The author writes “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:4 ff)
And finally we need to be confident that Christ has not deserted us and he never will!
At the end of Matthew’s Gospel he promised to be with us “to the close of the age.” And one of the signs of that presence is the Eucharist we celebrate at this Altar. As a matter of fact, whenever “two or three are gathered in his name” he has promised to be with us.
How much more so when those two or three break the Bread and share the Cup of the Lord in this “memorial (meal) he has commanded us to make?”
The God you and I serve has set us free to serve him “in perfect freedom.” He has promised us abundant life and blessing if we are faithful. And, in this Eucharist, he assures us of his continual presence until the end of the ages. Let me close with a prayer I would like to suggest each one of you pray daily in the weeks and months to come. It’s found at the bottom of page 817 in the Prayer Book.
Let’s stand and pray together for this Parish and for your life together: “Almighty and ever living God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. Strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.