March 14, 2021 A+D
St. John 6:1-15
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
At first glance, when we think of the feeding of the five thousand and how it applies to us, it might seem as though we need to allegorize it. They had a physical need that was met by Jesus, we have a spiritual need. Without food for their bodies they couldn’t make it home alive. Without the spiritual benefits of the Sacrament we couldn’t make it home to heaven.
That is not false, but there is more to it than that. I don’t think God really recognizes a distinction between physical and spiritual. There is nothing in all of creation that is not spiritual. Taking care of the body, what you eat, how much you eat, and even when you eat are spiritual exercises. Even if they are done carelessly, that is true, and if they are done carelessly, as though your body belonged to you, then they stand against you. We are the baptized. Our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit. Even as there is nothing that is not spiritual, other than God there is nothing that wasn’t created. Apart from God everything is both spiritual and physical.
Mind, body, and spirit are intertwined. What happens to any one of them is felt directly by the others. This is the only reason that anesthesia works. Doctors can cut you open, break your ribs, and slice organs apart without you feeling pain only because they have put the mind to sleep. It works in the other direction also. If your mother dies, you lose your appetite and feel sick. Nothing has happened directly to your body, only to your mind and spirit, but your body feels it. There are few things worse done to a body than that which the mind wreaks upon it by stress and worry. Mental, spiritual, and physical health are absolutely inter-related. And who is to say one is more important or significant than the others?
Now, none of us is in danger this morning of fainting on the way home for lack of food, but we are still in physical danger. We are lonely, confused, and afraid. We are resentful, bitter, and jealous. Even if Covid didn’t steal the air from our lungs and put us in the ground, it has hurt us. We are diminished from what we once were. We are divided and stunted. Divorce, suicide, addiction, depression, and abuse are all on the rise, collateral damage of covid precautions. No one has come through this last year unscathed. No one has behaved with perfect wisdom or love.
Oft it has been said, “At least we had the internet. Just think how much worse it would have been without it?” I disagree completely. The internet made it far more devastating. If we had all been locked in our homes with stacks of books and pencil and paper for writing letters, we might have grown during this time. Children might have learned something. Families might have bonded and encouraged one another. Instead we isolated ourselves even in our own families by staring at screens and thinking we were somehow being informed. What the internet did was sweep us all up into a cyclone of data and opinions, of government intervention and the judging of neighbors. Our minds have been wounded and with them our bodies and souls, our families and friendships and churches.
Kyrie Eleison! We need to repent. We need to make deliberate efforts at limiting screen time, swearing off of the so-called “news,” of mindless scrolling and mindless watching. We need to engage in physical and mental activities that are healthy and recognize their spiritual aspects. If we have been diminished, sobeit. Let it make us humble. For the past year, we’ve been stuck by the rivers of Babylon and not even known it. May God in His mercy awaken us and call us out of the darkness.
It is time to head to Jerusalem. That is where we belong. To get there we need grace, forgiveness. We need to receive the Sacrament with renewed concentration and confession. We need to embark upon a reinvigorated prayer life including intercessions for others. We need to turn off the screens and open the Bible. These things provide the food that will get us home. These are the things that will heal us body, mind, and soul.
Easter is coming. Let’s get ready.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
The feeding of the five thousand is more than simply an assertion of Christ’s divinity. The miracle is revelatory. It shows us who Jesus is, who we are in Him, and how it is that He provides for us. He is unchanging and promises to work all things together for our good, to keep our feet from hitting a stone, and to bring us to that which He has won for us.
The miracle does, of course, demonstrate Christ’s Divinity. He is the Lord of creation. He can make something out of nothing. He can also multiply a small gift to do great things. He is the God of Israel who acts in the history of Israel. The One who multiplies loaves is the Same One who caused manna to appear in the wilderness and who multiplied the widow’s flour and then the widow’s oil through Elijah and then Elisha. He is both the Lord who destroys the wicked, like Pharaoh and Jezebel, and also the Lord who has compassion, not only on Israel but also Gentiles like Namaan and the Shunammite woman.
There in the wilderness He provides for a real need out of real compassion. The people are desperate for food, more food than can be bought, and He gives it to them. The fact that they turn on Him and seek to take Him by force does not stop Him. If it did, He would not have ever become a Man. Still, we should not take His benevolence for granted nor mistake His patience for weakness.
There is some foreshadowing of Holy Week in this miracle. The compassionate Lord of creation gathers His confused disciples about Himself and institutes the Holy Supper on the night before His sacrifice. Judas has already betrayed Him and He knows what the morning brings. Still, He takes the time to wash the feet of the apostles and to institute the Sacrament of the Resurrection. He is not yet crucified, and yet there He gives them His risen Body and Blood to eat and to drink. He is far more than a rabbi or a prophet. He is fulfilling the Law in their presence, giving them His life in His blood.
This is how He prepared them for the ordeal of His trial, their failure, His sorrows and death, and also for the unsurprising victory of Sunday morning that takes them by surprise. They are also prepared by this for their own sorrows and eventual martyrdoms. That night He gathers them about Himself in compassion, has them sit down, takes bread, breaks it, gives thanks, and gives it to them. He is far more focused on their sorrows and needs than His own. He forgives their sins and strengthens their faith in and by that Sacrament. None of them asked for this, it is unlikely they were even aware of what they needed, and it is almost certain that none of them really appreciated it. The Lord is ever at work in earthen vessels, perfectly consistent in His unending mercy.
In the light of the resurrection and the attendant opening of Holy Scripture to show that all of it testifies of Him, it is obvious now that that Sacrament is the life of the church. This is what He has given to the Baptised to do: eat His Body, drink His Blood, proclaim His death. We receive, by our mouths, the living Blood that was poured out on the cross for the life of the world into our hearts. He cleanses us from the inside out, opening our lips that we might confess Him and proclaim His death to all the world.
That isn’t to say that the people sitting on the grass that day received the Body and Blood of Jesus. They didn’t. They got bread and fish, as much as they wanted. But we must see the consistency of God and His interactions with us. We must see that there is a clear and discernable pattern. The Lord of Creation, who calls Himself the Bread of Life, has more than simply earthly sustenance for us, is preparing us and feeding us for more than simply physical life and health, but He does this in a physical way. We need to actually eat and drink it. The only way to get to our souls is through our bodies.
The Sacrament of the Altar is a miracle similar to the feeding of the five thousand. IUn both Jesus takes bread, breaks it, gives thanks over it, and then gives it to His disciples who distribute it to those who would die without it. At face value it seems as though they were in physical danger, without food they couldn’t make it home alive, and we are in spiritual danger, we need the spiritual benefits of the Sacrament so that can make it home to heaven. But I don’t think God really recognizes a distinction between physical and spiritual. There is nothing that is not spiritual and other than God there is nothing that wasn’t created and doesn’t exist in creation. We are also in physical danger. Mind, body, and spirit are intertwined and what happens to one is felt directly by the others. This is the reason anesthesia works. Doctors can cut you open, break your ribs, and slice organs apart and as long as the mind is asleep there is no pain. It works the other direction also. If your mother dies, you lose your appetite and feel sick. Nothing has happened directly to your body, only to your mind and spirit, but your body feels it. There are few things worse to do a body then that which the mind wreaks upon it by stress and worry.
That crowd did not know what was happening and they were able to discern their advantage in it and sought to seize Christ and control Him like a goose that lays golden eggs. We do know what is happening or we should. Christ would not leave us ignorant on this matter. We also ought to be able to discern our advantage here and not rebel or seek control. For in the Sacrament Christ gives us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Here there is as much as you want. There is no reason to hang on to a single sin or to cling to this dying life. For Jesus is the antidote to death and wrath. He is bringing us to Himself. Through the Sacrament He enters into us in order to absorb us into Himself. So we certainly do not need to seize Him and we could never control Him. The time of His humiliation is over. He now promises to be with us, according to the resurrection, in His flesh, in the Sacrament.
And this is preparation and strength for our own coming tribulations, whether that be persecution and violence or simply old age and disease, whether we live as free citizens or are put into gulags, whether we asked for it or not: Jesus lives and He provides for us in this desert place, giving us a foretaste of the feast to come. Come out of the bondage to sin and fear of death, He bids us, be hidden no longer or ashamed in darkness, but appear. He is leading and guiding us. Easter is coming.