Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Bread of Life
July 26, 2015, 12:06 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, 26 July 2015

If you were very attentive last Sunday, you may have noticed that the Gospel we read had a hole in it. We heard from St Mark, chapter 6, verses 30-34, but then we jumped to verses 53 and 54. What happened in between? Well, this week we hear, only from St John. Because St Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four, in this year we have five Sundays, five very important Sundays, when we read the sixth chapter of St John’s Gospel. Today we have the story, for the next four Sundays we have our Lord’s commentary on its meaning.

Today, then, we have the very familiar story of the feeding of five thousand people beside the Sea of Galilee. This is almost the only miracle that all four Gospels tell in detail. Jesus, as we heard last week from Mark, wanted to get away from the crowds for a little while, to be alone with his disciples. It was not to be. Seeing him sailing across the lake, the crowds simply followed around the shoreline until he landed again.

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When I prepare a sermon, I often like to look up what I said in previous years. In fact I could not find a sermon on this particular Gospel, but I noticed that twelve years ago I preached, here at All Hallows, on the next-but-one Sunday. When I looked that sermon up, I realised why there was nothing for this Sunday. Twelve years ago this week, Marilyn and I were on holiday at Malcesine, on Lake Garda, and we went to church there. When I spoke here, two weeks later, I commented that we had come out of church to see the beautiful lake before us, just as those crowds had seen Lake Galilee. We had been fed with God’s word and the Bread of Life, just as they had.

The crowd followed Jesus because they had seen the signs that he did on those who were diseased. The word “signs” is important to John. They are actions that reveal who Jesus really is. He is one with divine power, who uses it in order to heal those who are sick. But although the crowds see the signs, that doesn’t mean they understand them. They are impressed by the effects, but they do not make the right connections. They see power, and, later, they interpret it in political terms- they want to make Jesus king, a king in rivalry to Herod and Caesar.

As John tells the story, when Jesus leaves the boat he goes with his disciples onto the hillside: the plan is still to have a quiet time with them alone. But then he sees the crowd, all those needy people who hardly know what they need, and he feels sorry for them. As Mark told us last week, they were like sheep without a shepherd. And what is a shepherd’s first responsibility? To feed his sheep. Jesus asks Philip, “How are we to buy bread?” And Philip replies, “It would cost two hundred days’ wages at the very least,” (even assuming there were anywhere to buy so much bread in that desert place). Well, as we heard, Jesus takes the little boy’s picnic, the five bread rolls and two fish, and with them he feeds the multitude, with more left over than he began with.

When the people saw this sign, they said, “This is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” They saw only the human Jesus, and they saw how he had given them physical food. They thought, even hoped, that he might be a political Messiah to free them from foreign oppression. They did not understand what he was really offering them. Jesus had to explain to them, as we shall hear over the next few Sundays, how he had come to give spiritual food, and that he himself was that food. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from God,” and Jesus is himself the Word of God made flesh.

By the time John was writing his Gospel, the Church had for maybe fifty years experienced this in the Eucharist. The night before his Passion, Jesus took bread and said “This is my Body;” he took wine and said “This is my Blood. Do this in remembrance of me.” When we come together on Sunday mornings, or at other times, we don’t come just to hear words spoken; we come to receive the Living Jesus who gives himself to us in his Sacrament.

When Marilyn and I attended Mass in Malcesine, although the Mass was in Italian, the parish thoughtfully provided copies of the Sunday readings in English, headed by a message of welcome. It said,
“Dear Sisters and Brothers, Welcome to our Sunday liturgy. Today you celebrate it with a Community you don’t know and in a language which probably you don’t understand. We are happy that during your holydays you find the time to spend for God. …. As help for the celebration we have prepared the readings of this Sunday for you in English. Don’t forget that even being foreigners in this country, nobody is a stranger in this building, in this Community.”
Far from home though we may be, no-one is a stranger or a foreigner in God’s house. Whether there and here, we are all God’s family, his People. Even more, we are one with those whom we love, but see no longer.

It is exactly six months today that our Lord took my dear Marilyn to himself; but he has promised that everyone who believes in him should have eternal life. In our Holy Communion, we are united to Jesus, and therefore to all those who are now with Jesus in eternal life. At the Lord’s Altar, in the Sacrament, time and eternity come together.

The dying thief said, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom,” and was promised Paradise. Jesus said at the Last Supper, “When you do this, remember me.” Our remembrance of Jesus, our sharing in his once-and-for-all Sacrifice, which is also here-and-now-and-for-ever in the Mass, is our pledge of eternal life, and of our union with Christ, his saints, and all those we love.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.

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