March 14, 2015 A+D
John 6:1-15; Is 66:10-11
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The antiphon for the Introit gives this Sunday its name, Laetare. That is Latin for “rejoice.” Other than the processional hymn, the antiphon is the first variable part of the Service that we hear each week. The Introit is the Psalm verses that are chanted right after the confession and absolution. The antiphon is the verse that is chanted first and then repeated after the Glory be to the Father part. This week it reads “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her, that ye may suck and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations.”
The antiphon is meant to set or reflect the mood or theme of the Sunday. It is a kind of interpretive lens or clue as to what is coming. Some Sundays it is more obvious than others. The Laetare antiphon is pretty obvious: rejoice. This is a Sunday focused on joy.
While the theme may be obvious, the fact that it comes in the midst of Lent might be surprising. We are fasting from Hallelujahs, our clearest call to praise. We are headed to our commemoration of the saddest days of Our Lord’s humiliation, His passion and His holy cross. Those terrible days take place in Jerusalem and the antiphon calls us to rejoice with Jerusalem.
The Church calls us to be glad with her because even if she doesn’t know what she is doing she is receiving Our Beloved on our behalf. Those sad days are how the Father has loved us. The cross is the nuptials. The resurrection is the seal. The Holy Communion is the consummation. There we are fed, consoled, and made one with Him. The sad days of Our Lord’s Passion, death, and resurrection are the essence of Our Lord’s willing sacrifice to redeem us, the cost and act of His love, and the cause of all Christian joy.
The Introit is from Psalm 122, one of the Psalms of degree or ascent. The Tract is from Psalm 125, also a Psalm of ascent. The psalms of ascent were prayed by pilgrims on their way to the Temple. John records that the Passover was near as He fed the 5000. That means that these verses we chanted today would have been upon the lips of the people that were being fed in that desolate place.
The most famous line of Psalm 122 is probably: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the House of the Lord.’” The House of the Lord was the Temple. It was not only the place of sacrifice, but also the place where God’s mercy sat between the Law’s accusations and those who looked to the coming of the Messiah for forgiveness. It shielded and protected them. It made God approachable. Thus it typified the Person of Christ Himself. Our Lord calls Himself the Temple that was built without hands, torn down and rebuilt. So when we say “Let us go to the House of the Lord” today we ought to mean not simply “Let us go to the building where the Lord’s Supper is served” though we can mean that, but we ought to also mean “Let us go to Jesus Himself, our Passover Lamb. Let us go where He promises to be for us in His mercy and to shield us from the law’s accusations. That is, let us go to the Holy Communion and be fed by our Lover with His own Body and Blood to our eternal good.” And when someone says, let’s do that, we are glad.
Those verse are meant to help set up our reading of the feeding of the 5000. It might seem, at first glance, that today’s liturgy calls us to rejoice in the Lord’s power. He is true God and He, who refused to play along with Satan and make bread from stones for Himself in the desert, can multiply bread and feed people in the desert when He wants to. The miracles can be understood as demonstrations of Christ’s divinity, even proofs, but they’re not conjurer’s tricks. He doesn’t saw a woman in half or cause a frog to grow wings or call down strategic lightening strikes. He is the author and creator of this world. He works within nature. He restores and He heals. His miracles aren’t so much demonstrations of His power as they are of His compassion.
That is why there is tension that evening on that grassy, yet desolate, mountainside on the North shore of the Sea of Galilee. Men’s hearts are failing them. They came for miracles. They thought they wanted power. They were confused about the Christ’s mission. Some wanted a military king like David who would drive off the Romans. Some wanted a welfare king who would keep their bellies full and not require them to work. They almost all prove that they are willing to take His bread by force and they seek to bend Him to their will. Few are looking for salvation. Few see that the real oppressor is Satan himself and their own sinful flesh.
Yet the Lord looks upon them with compassion. He had drawn them to that place, knowing what He was going to do even though He recognized their malice and confusion. He was not only about to feed ungrateful people. He was also about to die as an atoning sacrifice for those who murdered Him. And that makes Christians glad.
For as impressive as the feat of multiplying bread and fish is, it is more amazing that the Lord does it for the unworthy. The twelve baskets of fragments demonstrate that the He provides not only to the unworthy but also provides more than they need. Our cups runneth over. Nothing is lost. Some of it might well go to waste, get moldy or get fouled by mice, before it can been eaten, but that is not the point. If nothing was to be wasted in that way then He could have provided the exact right amount of what was needed to satisfy everyone and not one bite more. The point is that it nothing is wasted in His extravagance even it is wasteful in the way men count wastefulness. The Lord provided twelve baskets more than was needed so that no one would feel the need to restrain himself. He pours out His generosity. If there is more than they can eat, it is not a waste to Him. So it is that He will pay more on the cross than our sins deserve, more than we cost. And He will also die for men who won’t benefit from it, who reject Him. He dies for them because they need it. In the same way He feeds men who don’t appreciate it. He feeds them because they need it. If they reject or refuse it, that is on them. He won’t force Himself. He provides according to need, our of compassion, not according to worth or ability. He is not stingy. He hold a grudge. Thus are we glad and do we rejoice.
His compassion is the source of our joy, whether it is Lent or Easter, whether we are dying of cancer or welcoming a new grandchild. Rejoice ye with Jerusalem and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her, that ye may suck and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.