Remembering the scripture story, from the Gospel of John, let us pause for a moment, to listen to words of prayer and blessing by Joy Mead:
God of our open futures,
to explore once upon a time moments
where stories begin
and outrageous hope,
justice and joy
where the nudging angels
move amongst people
longing for comfort and community
sensing beginnings of friendship
wanting touch and affirmation;
life’s great feast to happen,
hearts and hands, baskets and pockets
neighbour to share bread
and peace with neighbour,
to make a place for another;
so that in the most ordinary of miracles
all are fed.
(The Miracle of Sharing, by Joy Mead, Holy Ground, edited by Neil Paynter and Helen Boothroyd, Wild Goose Publications, 2005, p.80)
The story of The Feeding of the Five Thousand, read this morning from the Gospel of John, is a wonderful account of needs being met with generosity, thanksgiving, and openness to creativity and the movement of God’s spirit in gathered community. No one is too small or insignificant to play a part in God’s commonwealth. John tells us that a child, who had no social status in their society, gave what he had and in the abundance of God’s blessing there was more than enough for everyone.
This gospel story reminds us of the resourcefulness of a gathered community; of the mysterious and wondrous nature of God’s presence in all life; of the importance of pausing to give thanks to God; and of Christ’s mandate to share with one another the abundance of God’s love and blessing.
The story of The Feeding of the Five Thousand is about more than just “food for the body”. The people who gathered to hear Jesus speak were also looking for “food for the spirit”. Jesus’ reputation as a healer, teacher of wisdom, prophet, and holy man, was widespread and people were hungry for words of hope and liberation.
This is a story that was very important to 1st century (C.E.) Christian communities. In fact, it is the only miracle story to appear in all four Gospel accounts. The centrality of communion, in the worship life of the early Christian church, was based not only on Jesus’ last supper with his disciples but also on this extraordinary story of sacred communion in the midst of an ordinary place filled with ordinary people. It’s not surprising that common folk, which comprised the majority of members in the early Christian church, identified with this story of the sharing of life together in community. The usual food taken on a journey, by poor folk, was barley loaves and dried fish. Biblical scholars have long known there were two types of communion in the 1st century (C.E.), one involving bread and wine, the other using bread and fish.
The gospel of John has some common themes that are highlighted throughout his account. One of these themes is that Jesus is the “bread of life”. John emphasizes that for the early Christian community, Jesus was the bread from heaven, the manna in the wilderness, described in the Exodus story we read two weeks ago. In dangerous and trying times for Christians in the 1st century (C.E.), Jesus was the sustenance that gave them strength to continue to live their faith in word and action.
Another thing that occurred to me this week, as I was thinking about the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, is that the story reflects a theology of abundance. My understanding of a theology of abundance comes largely from the work of theologian, Walter Bruggemann. His theological perspective presupposes that God has provided enough resources for everyone if shared equitably. It is a worldview in which people recognize the abundant blessings of their lives and share with others in a spirit of gratitude and hopefulness, trusting in God’s presence and guidance to see them through the difficult experiences of life. It is what Moses and the Israelites learned in their wilderness wanderings. It is what thousands of Jesus’ followers learned from travelling in his company. It is what we learn every time we set aside our fears, trust in God and share our resources with others. It is a way of life that is based on faith and hope rather than fear and isolationism. It is grounded in love, relationship and faithful community.
I find it awe inspiring, and empowering, to know that on this day there are thousands, upon thousands, of Christians in our country and around the world who have gathered to celebrate the sacrament of communion. On this day, we remember that we are part of a story that is much bigger than ourselves. Our Christian story transcends all boundaries of language, culture or race. When we gather around the table of Jesus Christ and share bread made from wheat, corn, rice, or whatever is our staple food source, we do so in communion with all members of the Body of Christ throughout the world. Together, we remember that Jesus welcomed all to join him at God’s abundant table. We remember that he embodied God’s love for the world and that he dedicated his life to serving others and to advocating for those whose voices were not usually heard or valued. In remembering we also dedicate our lives as Christ’s disciples, seeking to follow his example and live God’s way of love and justice.
And so, on this day we gather, as Christians for 2,000 years have gathered, to share our story of faith, to remember and give thanks for the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and to be renewed and strengthened in our common vision. The sacrament of communion connects us to our past, embraces us in our present, and gives us hope for the future. With this in mind, I’ll close with words of blessing from Keri Wehlander:
An invitation so unexpected,
a messenger so insistent,
we accepted, in spite of ourselves.
We arrive, and delight answers.
We are anointed with laughter and clothed with wonder.
Joy is our banquet, and mercy our song.
Every heart is fragranced by a dazzling, holy love.
Spirits are bathed and bright,
voices share glad tidings, good news.
We dance the steps of innocence and wisdom,
and love this life again.
These gifts, so unexpected,
a giver so insistent
we accept, in spite of ourselves.
(Joy Is Our Banquet, pgs. 79-80)