March 31, 2019 A+D
St. John 6:1-15
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Lent is meant to be an illustration of our spiritual journey from Baptism to eternal life. Laetare is meant to illustrate the reality that God is with us and provides bits of oasis along the way so that we do not faint or fall away as we journey. These oases aren’t the special moments of joy when we particularly feel God’s presence and love, such as we might have felt on our wedding day or at the birth of a child or when some particular passage has become clear to us. We receive those moments with thanksgiving but they aren’t our daily bread and sustenance for the journey.
Our daily bread and sustenance, the regular oases in this wilderness, are the Sunday services of Christ’s Church. There He speaks and we listen. We are absolved and cleansed. There He gives His Body and His Blood to us as the proper food for pilgrims, for Christians, for those who are besieged by sins and demons. He is more than a bread King, but He give Himself to us as bread. The physical means by which He comes should in no way be despised simply because they are ordinary even as the gift of forgiveness and life that He gives through bread should not be taken for granted simply because it is regular and expected.
How we read the Bible is important. It is more than history. Nonetheless, it is history and even regular history is more than facts or entertainment. It would be possible, of course, to read the story of the rangers scaling the cliffs in Normandy on D day purely as an adventure story, but it is unlikely any of us would ever do that. We read that story with other motives, seeking to learn from it something of who we are as a nation and what humans are capable of. We attempt to learn from the mistakes of the Germans and apply them to our lives even while we strive to emulate the tenacity of the rangers. We typically read history with a hope to understand the present in a way that will enable us to better enter into the future.
What is true of history is amplified with Holy Scripture. Nothing that is recorded for us in the Bible is trivial or accidental. It isn’t simply entertainment. Every detail matters. Every detail has been given by the Holy Spirit to make us wise unto salvation. That salvation is delivered to faith which comes by hearing God’s Word as it teaches, reproves, corrects, and trains us.
What is true of the Bible in general is again amplified in the Gospels. They record the very words and acts of God Incarnate. They show us the heart of the Father in the Son made into our flesh for the life of the world. The fact that Jesus taught the disciples, even apart from what He taught them, is highly significant for us, even as it is that He often went off to pray, that He travelled about, and so forth. What Jesus does is at least as important as what He says, particularly in the last days of His life. I suspect that contrary to much popular sentiment, a fuller Gospel would be presented by the words written in black than it would be by the words written in red. But, of course, it would be pure evil to pit such things against one another. The words and actions of Jesus, words in red and black, have been given to us together like a garment without seam.
In any case, what is true of Our Lord’s words and actions throughout the Gospels is amplified again when such things are named by the Holy Spirit as a sign as is the feeding of the five thousand. The people who had been fed on the mountainside recognized that they had been part of something significant. They knew the miracle signaled something greater than itself and they got part of it right for they knew that this miracle signified that Jesus was not simply a prophet but was THE Prophet as promised through Moses in Deuteronomy 18
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you,
from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”
They could see a partial connection to the manna but they refused to listen to the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures. They reduced Moses and the manna in order to reduce Christ. Their sin and circumstances caused them to see it all too narrowly. They thought that the Christ’s greatest potential was to be a bread king who could meet their material needs even though they themselves called him a prophet. Let us learn from their folly and listen to the Spirit.
Moses escaped the decree of Pharaoh that the Hebrew boys be murdered by the midwives much in the way that Christ escaped the plans of Herod. Moses was then raised as a prince of Egypt while Christ was raised as a refugee in Egypt and then as an outsider from Nazareth. Moses was eventually called to reveal the Name of the Lord to his people and to be their savior, leader, and provider into and through the wilderness. He would show the finger of God to Pharaoh and then lead the people out of slavery through the Red Sea, feeding them them in the wilderness. Christ is given the Name that Moses revealed with the verb “save” attached to it. He is called Jesus which means “Yahweh saves.” This Jesus also reveals the more intimate and personal Name of the God who is, that is, of Yahweh. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Greater than Moses or Joshua, Christ makes the reverse journey and crosses the Jordan out of promised land to be handed over to the devil as the scapegoat. Even as Moses provided for the people by the Passover regulations that kept them safe from the angel of death, so it is that Christ is the Passover Lamb Himself who is sacrificed and whose Blood shields us from the accusations against us and God’s just wrath. Christ is the Finger of God. The Holy Spirit is with Him. He is the new Adam, the new Israel, the new Moses. And as Moses provided the Law on Sinai, so Christ provides the New Commandment in the Upper Room: “Love one another” and in His resurrection: “Make disciples of all Gentiles by teaching and baptizing.”
Christ is greater than Moses or David or any priest. The feeding of the five thousand is set as a new Passover while the grass is green. He is at the center, the Host who initiates the meal and sets the disciples to distributing what He has created. It is a foreshadowing of the Holy Communion and the New Testament in His Blood. He takes bread and when He has given thanks, He breaks it and gives it to them. They eat as much as they want, reclining as at a banquet, and there are still twelve baskets full of leftovers. The risen Body of Christ is not confined to the physicality of His humanity. It cannot be limited by space or time and it does not run out.
We are yet in the wilderness, passing through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We have not yet come to the Promised Land. Yet here, in Christ’s Church, is a green, grassy place. The Lord beckons us to His Meal. He has us sit down and rest. He feeds us with His Body and Blood, forgiving our sins, strengthening our faith and our bond to Him by entering into us by way of the mouth and changing us from the inside out. He who speaks and also feeds. He joins us to Himself and to one another. Two hundred denarii would not be enough for what we have done, nor would thirty pieces of silver, but He has paid infinitely more not only to call off the bounty hunters and end our imprisonment but to be with us, so that we would have the food that all men need. He has paid with His own life and He gives it to us for life is in the Blood. He gives it to us in the wilderness so that we would not faint on the way. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? He speaks and by His Word we gain not only another minute of life but we gain as well the way through the wilderness, through death, out of the valley and into life. Behold, we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.