The Rev’d Matthew David Larsen
Christ Church, New Haven, Connecticut
Year B, Proper 13
So mortals ate the bread of angels, he provided from them food enough. And they said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Google facts, a branch of Google that offers verifiable facts from the Internet, recently posted:
If the Earth stopped for one second, and you weren’t belt-buckled to the Earth, you would fall over and roll 800 mph due east—killing everyone.
It’s a Google fact.
From one perspective, nothing could seem more absurd; from another perspective, nothing could be more obvious. It was there all along but it all just depends how you look at it.
We find ourselves in the middle of long stretch in our lectionary in which our Gospel readings just won’t quit the feeding of the multitude. It’ll be a month before our Gospel reading talks about something else.
From a materialist perspective it is about a miracle of generosity feeding a proverbial boatload of people on a small amount of bread and fish. Viewed from another perspective, it is about something else altogether. Today, in a post-mortem after the great feeding, Jesus gets interviewed about what was really happening. He says, yes, it was about feeding people, but it was also about more than that. He tells us what was really happening.
The answer is that the feeding of the 5000 is incarnational. It is Eucharistic. And it is radically inclusive. Let me explain.
First, incarnational. In our Exodus reading, it is the LORD who rains down bread from heaven for God’s people in the wilderness. The people don’t care much for it, but nonetheless there is it. In the Psalm, it is the LORD who feeds mortals with the bread of angels. The people of God ate and were filled because the LORD gave them what they craved. The people who come talk to Jesus even cite this story and this Psalm to him. But in the context of the feeding of the 5000, it is Lord Jesus who gives the people bread to eat. Jesus is the bread and the Father is one who gives him. What is required of us is to believe in Jesus as the bread of life and in the one who sent him. We are to believe that God in Christ provides an abundant banquet even in the wilderness.
Second, the feeding of the five thousand is Eucharistic. The language in feeding of the five thousand is strikingly similar to the language of the Last Supper tradition. He takes bread, he gives thanks (the Greek is eucharistesas), he breaks the bread, and he distributes it. It sounds just like what Jesus did in the Last Supper, just like what we will do at the altar in a few moments. The word used to describe the broken fragments of bread collected after the feeding is a rare Greek word, klasma, and in early Christian literature it appears in all four versions of the feeding of the 5000 as well as in the earliest Christian Eucharistic liturgy, which is found in the Didache. Jesus does not offer food that will disappear, but food that remains to eternal life. This food is his body and his blood. Throughout the Gospel of John, characters often speak better than they know. Those who (probably sarcastically) respond to Jesus, rightly request of him, “Lord, give us this bread all the time!”
Third, the feeding of the five thousand is radically inclusive. Meals were places where social barriers were upheld. There is always a certain theater to meals. You are what you eat, but who you eat with also defines you. You did not just eat with anyone. Sharing a meal meant sharing fellowship, extending the right hand of hospitality. It meant acceptance, friendship, loyalty. Meals are often restricted by national boundaries, political boundaries, ideological boundaries. But when Jesus indiscriminately offers table fellowship to all who came to him, he offered full access to the Eucharistic life to anyone who wills. The only requirement needed is the sacrament of baptism, which is fully open to anyone who wants to share in the life of Christ, regardless of who they are. Out in the wilderness, at that meal Jesus doesn’t check their passport, he doesn’t care it they vote democrat, he doesn’t patrol about their sexual orientation, police their gender, look at the color of their skin, worry about their age, check their bank account, ask them to submit to an IQ test, write an essay about why eating with Jesus would be a benefit to their career path, or even ask about their theology. He basically doesn’t observe any of the normal barriers of meal sharing in his own day, or in ours. He simply says, everyone who comes to me will eat the bread of life, which I will give, which I in fact am, and everyone who eats the bread of life, which is given for the life of the world, will have eternal life. Anyone who comes to Christ in baptism is fully accepted at God’s table. Fully welcomed. Beloved.
Oftentimes preachers get the reputation of being guilt-trippers and bossy. Sometimes it is hard not to, because the Bible itself is guilt-tripping or a little bossy. But today is not one of those days. Jesus says the work that God requires of us is this: just to believe in the one whom God has sent. To come to the table in faith that God will meet you there. To believe that the Father sent the Son and that the Son is the bread of life. To believe that all who eat this bread will have eternal life now. And for me it’s amazing: as we come to altar doubts and fears melt away, fading into the background. They’re just not that important in that place. And we find the bread of life was always already waiting for us there. So let us come to the altar like those who come to Jesus in this story and say, “Lord, give us this bread always.” Amen.