26 March 2017
Text: John 6:1-15
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Feeding people is an act of love. It is the very first interaction between a newborn and his mother. It is the very thing our grandparents insist on doing when we visit them as kids. When we invite friends over, we share a meal. When we meet new people, often we go out to eat. When there is a celebration of a milestone in life: a birthday, an anniversary, a holiday, a promotion, a new baby – there is food. And when there are sad times, we bring food to alleviate the sorrow. In fact, we even have an entire category called “comfort food.”
We intuitively understand this connection between love and feeding people.
When Adam and Eve were first created, God put them in a garden, a place where they were surrounded by trees bearing fruit. And they could eat of the fruit of all of the trees in the garden, except one. And even the prohibition was an act of love, as that fruit at that time had bad consequences. Perhaps when the time was ripe, Adam and Eve could have safely eaten that fruit as well.
When Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery, and when God was carrying out His wrath on the Egyptians there was a meal of bread and wine and the flesh of a lamb.
And when the wandering children of Israel were starving, God expressed His love for His people by feeding them with the wondrous food called “Manna” – which is Hebrew for “What is it?” – the question the children of Israel asked in wonder as the Lord rained down bread from heaven just for them.
To feed people is an act of love, because food is a means of preserving life. But it is also something that makes life joyful.
St. John the Evangelist’s sixth chapter is a magnificent text that includes our reading for today: the feeding of the five thousand. Later in the chapter, Jesus will teach the people about the Bread of Life, the new and greater Manna – which is Jesus’s very own flesh and blood, which bears a promise of eternal life by eating and drinking in faith.
This feeding of the people is a constant theme in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and indeed, eternity is described as a never-ending banquet, a wedding feast in which Jesus is both the host and guest, both victim and priest, both the one beloved of the Father and the One who loves the Father even to the point of His obedient death upon the cross.
And there is indeed no greater love than that a man would lay down His life for His friends. And the Lord’s friends are all of the people in the world for whom He dies. And Jesus doesn’t only die upon the cross – which forgives our sins, atones for our guilt, and destroys sin, death, and the devil – our Lord does something even more wondrous, in the words of the ancient hymn: “That last night at supper lying / Mid the Twelve, His chosen band, / Jesus, with the Law complying, / Keeps the feast its rites demand; / Then, more precious food supplying, / Gives Himself with His own hand.”
Of course, the author of the hymn, St. Thomas Aquinas, speaks of the Lord’s Supper.
John Chapter Six does as well, only indirectly. For what greater love could a man have than to lay down His life for His friends, and feed them as well?
For in our text, the Passover was coming: the feast with its demanding rites, the chief rite of which will be the Lord’s crucifixion as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. And with the approach of the Passover, people by the thousands are coming to the Passover Lamb in the flesh. They have come to hear Him speak and to experience His miracles.
And knowing that the crowds needed to eat, and knowing that the logistics of feeding so many could not be done in the usual manner, Jesus gives us a glorious sign, teaching us about the Lord’s Supper, by performing a miracle involving food.
Yes, Jesus loves us, and so He feeds us. And He doesn’t feed us merely with bread, for man doesn’t live by bread alone, but rather by bread that is also His body, and wine that is also His blood. Jesus feeds us because He loves us, and His food, even more so than the Manna that fed the Old Testament believers in their journey, is the food that sustains us to eternal life.
When the people sat down, the Lord Jesus “took the loaves, and when He had given thanks,” distributed the miraculous bread to those who gathered together to hear His Word, those who have come to be fed with the Word, or as Thomas’s hymn puts it: by the “Word Made Flesh, the bread He taketh, / By His Word His flesh to be; / Wine His sacred blood He maketh, / Though the senses fail to see; / Faith alone the true heart waketh / To behold the mystery.”
For it is truly a mystery, dear friends. How can five loaves and two fish feed so many? How can a wafer and a sip of wine deliver eternal life? How can flakes fall from the sky to feed the people of God? How can bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ by His Word and at His command? It is a mystery, which is what the word “sacrament” means.
So many were fed that twelve baskets of leftovers remained, miraculous food that will feed others who hunger, especially them that hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Yes indeed, feeding people is an act of love. It is the act of a Father who loves His children, of a God who loves His creation, of a Bridegroom who loves His bride, of a Holy Spirit who loves the Church that is His creation. And dining together is an act of love, dear friends, love for the God who creates us, redeems us, and sanctifies us, as well as a sharing of a holy meal that calls us to “fervent love for one another.”
Let us partake of the miraculous feeding of the billions at the hand of the Lord in His miraculous Supper. For this feeding of His people is truly an act of love – a love that will have no end.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.