Preached April 3, 2011
St. John 6:1–14
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Laetare! Rejoice! This is the opening word of the ancient Latin Introit for this Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent. We rejoice because we are nearing the end of our journey to Jerusalem with Jesus. This day has several other names as well, such as Refreshment Sunday, referring to Jesus’ great miracle feeding of the five thousand in our Gospel lesson. We are midway through the long fast of Lent, and for today only, we get a brief reprieve, the tone of the day is lightened just a little bit. You may notice that we have flowers on the altar for the first time since Lent began; they will go away again after today until Easter. If our parish had rose vestments, we would be using them today instead of violet. Thus there is distinctly a bit of refreshment for us this day. It is also kept as Mother’s Day in England, some say because of the reference to Jerusalem in the Epistle lesson in Galatians 4:26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
This is the midpoint of Lent in more than simple time. In the first half of Lent, we have been immersed in three Sundays of intensive contemplation of our sins, the temptations of devil, the flesh, and the world. Today we pass away from temptations to a Sunday on Grace, illustrated for us in both of our lessons. In the Epistle lesson, we have the grace of adoption of sons laid out for us, and in the Gospel we have the grace of sanctification presented. Let us pay close attention to what both of these have to say to us.
Our Epistle lesson is drawn from St. Paul writing to the Galatians, referring back to the two sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael as the son of Hagar was born a slave. This put the two half–brothers in rather different relationship to their father Abraham. Thinking in terms of allegory, St. Paul sees these two families as representing Judaism on the one hand, and the Christian Church on the other hand when he says Galatians 4:25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. He is pointing to the fact that the Jews are strictly bound under the Law of Moses given on Sinai, and as such are in bondage to the Law. Jewish life under the Law had become a heavy burden to be borne under a severe Master, rather than a loving Father. All that Judaism had to offer to its people was more and more of the same; remember that it had been four hundred years since the last of the prophets spoke.
Isaac was the son of Sarah, a free woman, the chosen wife of Abraham, and was thus himself free. Sarah, the free mother whose children are all free, comes to represent for us the Christian Church, the Jerusalem which is above, Galatians 4:26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. In each case, it is the status of the mother that determines the relation of the child to the father. Thus the fact that we belong to the Christian Church through our baptism determines our relation to the God the Father, making us His children by the adoption as sons. It is because we are members of Christ that we are children of God and have received the baptism for the remission of sins. By God’s own will, He establishes with us in His grace, a position of being His adopted sons. This is nothing that we do, but solely the action of God the Father.
Being adopted as sons, we are under the obligation to act as sons, not as servants or slaves who only do the minimum that is required to meet the master’s demands. As sons, we are obliged to give what the slave withholds, and for this reason, some may prefer slavery. The son gives all for he must say, “I am my father’s son.” At some point, he will realize that this enables him to say, however, “My Father is mine,” allowing him a conscious dignity and liberty that comes from identifying with the Father. The son serves as one in favor, not for favor; as a debtor to love rather than for wages. While the thought of the crown that lies ahead is a source of joy, the real driving force for the son is the Cross that stands behind him.
The service of sons must be a willing offering, rather than simply a dull, heavy burden. If it becomes the later it looks much like the Jewish Church at the time of Christ, dull, joyless, and legalistic. Thus we are cautioned to be sure that Galatians 4:30b Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. They are not to be found among us! We must throw them out, literally eject them from our midst.
Our Gospel lesson for the day is the story of Jesus’ miracle feeding of the five thousand as recorded by St. John. This story is one of the few events recorded by all four evangelists, which puts it in a special category all by itself. It serves as the Gospel lesson today when we are bidden to turn to Jesus for refreshment, and once again late in the Church year, on the Sunday next before Advent, when we are bidden to gather up all the fragments that nothing may be lost.
John 6:2-3 And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. Jesus has been followed into the wilderness by a large crowd. This is a remote area, far from sources of food for the crowd. It is Jesus who raises the concern about the welfare of the crowd, John 6:5 When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? When Jesus looks at the crowd, He has sympathy because, unlike us, He sees individuals, not a mob, and He is concerned for each person in the crowd. The same is true today; Jesus still sees individuals, not masses of humanity. He deals with us one by one, and is aware of our individual needs and problems. He is never too weary to love each of us as individual people and He anticipates our needs.
Jesus then asked Philip about the possibility of buying bread, John 6:6 And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Our Lord wants us to be aware of our need for Him, our inability to provide for ourselves. He wants us to realize just how completely inadequate we are without Him. Philip’s response makes this point, John 6:7 Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. In the thinking of men, there is simply no way forward. This is reinforced by Andrew who says, John 6:9 There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? From a human perspective, there is simply not enough to work with to feed the great crowd. But they are not thinking from a divine perspective at all. Poor sad people, poor sad Church, if everything were to depend upon us!
Jesus increases the sense of expectation when He says, John 6:10b Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Just imagine this vast assembly of 5000 men, sitting on the ground, waiting, waiting for what Christ would do next! To wait for Christ is a major part of the process of sanctification; Isaiah 30:18b for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him. Waiting for the Lord is much of the process of our sanctification, sometimes a very hard part. For those that do wait, they shall never go away dissatisfied from worship, prayer, or sacrament.
Just as in this great feeding miracle, the only source of satisfying food is our Saviour Himself. He gives thanks to the Father, and then breaks the bread, over and over, multiplying without end in His hands. In the same manner He gives Himself to us in the Eucharist as solid, life sustaining food, multiplying endlessly until the end of time. As long as He blesses the Meal, it is His Body and His Blood, given for the remission of sins unto life eternal. There is always enough, until the last of His children is fed.
Through baptism we are brought into the grace of adoption as sons. Through the Holy Eucharist we are fed by the grace of sanctification in our lives. Let us close with the words to O Esca Viatorum, Hymn #192 of The Hymnal 1940:
O Food of men wayfaring,
The bread of angels sharing
O manna from on high!
We hunger; Lord, supply us,
Nor thy delights deny us,
Whose hearts to thee draw nigh.
O stream of love past telling,
O purest fountain, welling
From out the Saviour’s side!
We faint with thirst; revive us,
Of thine abundance give us,
And all we need provide.
O Jesus by thee bidden,
We here adore thee, hidden
‘Neath forms of bread and wine.
Grant that when the veil is riven,
We may behold in heaven,
Thy countenance divine.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.