Preached November 20, 2011
St. John 6:5–14
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Because of the rather late date for Easter this year, we come to the end of the Trinity season today, which is actually only the twentysecond Sunday after Trinity. With the first Sunday in Advent coming up next week, we jump today to the special Sunday known as Sunday Next Before Advent. As it happens this year, today is also the feast day of our parish patron saint, St. Edmund, King and Martyr, so we make that commemoration today as well.
In order to lay the groundwork for Advent, that the Church might begin to ponder the Advent message of God’s promise, it is necessary that the Lesson be taken from the Old Testament Prophets, rather than from one of the Apostles. The Prophets were the ones who originally brought God’s promise to His people, so we turn our attention first to the message of Jeremiah. The opening verse of our Lesson is: Jeremiah 23:5 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. The word Branch is one that implies a new growth from the root after the house of David has been totally destroyed, not a shoot off to the side of the main stem of the standing plant. He will be a righteous Branch, a true descendant of David who will stand well in the eyes of the Lord, and He will rule as a King. The reign of this King will bring prosperity and justice to the people, the things that the people most desire from a royal ruler.
Continuing on with the Prophet, we see the benefits of the reign of the Messiah: Jeremiah 23:6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. To properly appreciate what the Prophet is saying here, we need to know the circumstances in which he lived. The united Kingdom of David had long since been divided, and the Northern Kingdom of Israel had fallen into captivity just before the time of Jeremiah. Toward the end of the days of Jeremiah, the Southern Kingdom, Judah, also is marched off into captivity. Thus we can understand that when he speaks of Judah being saved and Israel dwelling in safety, he is literally speaking of the restoration of the sovereignty of the Jewish nation. We understand this as saying that Jesus Christ reigns over His Church, undivided because it is His, under His protection and safety. In particular, His Church makes no distinctions regarding races or nations, but all belong to Him. His title is given as THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. Later, Jeremiah also applies this same title to the new Jerusalem, Jeremiah 33:16 In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The LORD our righteousness, because both Christ and His Church are to manifest the righteousness of God.
The great, founding event in Jewish history until the time of Jeremiah had been the Exodus and the Passover. The Prophet tells us Jeremiah 23:7-8 7 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; 8 But, The LORD liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land. Instead, something new is coming that will blot out the memory of the Exodus and the Passover, which is exactly what has happened with the Holy Eucharist, our Lord’s Last Supper. We no longer say much at all about the Exodus or the Passover; these are no longer the key events in the life of the Church. Rather, we are focused on the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and particularly upon His death and resurrection, both of which proceed out of the Last Supper event. In the Eucharist, we celebrate Christ’s conquering sin and death for us, and our release into a new life of holy freedom. The text also points to a final return of the Jewish nation in their own land, the presumed final return of the Jews at the end of the age when the Messiah comes for the final time. Thus we see the greatness of the redemption expected in the promised Messiah from the house of David.
The Prophet Jeremiah has presented the promise of God that a great savior would come to His people from the house of David. We look to the Gospel lesson for the day to see the evidence that this promise has been fulfilled. The Gospel lesson is the familiar story of the feeding of the five thousand from the five barley loaves and two small fishes. When we compare the account of this same story in Luke 9, we find that Jesus has been speaking to the people regarding the Kingdom of God, a topic on which He would be the ultimate authority. Elsewhere in the Gospels, we find that John the Baptist had just recently been beheaded, so the people were now pinning all of their hopes on Jesus as the promised Messiah who would set them free from Roman rule. They observe the royal manner in which He gives commands: Luke 9:14b And he said to his disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company. He gives commands just as a King would give! They saw Him as a King, and Jesus recognized this fact, as observed in v. 15, just following the end of our Gospel lesson for today: John 6:15 When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone. It is obvious that this would have worked contrary to the entire plan of salvation, and Jesus could not let Himself be taken by the crowd to be made King, even as appealing as that might have been to Him. Thus He does the dutiful thing and departs quietly alone to the mountain, to be with His Father and away from the temptations of the world.
In this story, we see two things regarding the reign of Jesus our Lord. The first is the security that we have under His Kingship. He had bidden them to seek first His righteousness, and this crowd of people had followed Him into the wilderness on faith. Now He provides for their material needs, and so it is with us as well. If we will trust in the Lord, our physical needs will be met in one way or another. This is often difficult to do, to place all our trust in God, but if we will do it, He will provide for us, just as He does for the birds of the air and the wild animals.
The second point is the generosity of His provisions for His people. Note that the Scripture does not tell us that each person received a tiny portion, but rather John 6:13 Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Starting with what we would consider to be next to nothing, five barley loaves and two small fishes, the food is multiplied enough to feed the five thousand with twelve baskets of pieces left over afterwards. We can hardly imagine such a thing! Thus not only does Christ the King provide for His people, but He provides such a feast that the people are unable to eat it all. This is particularly significant to people who are all too well acquainted with crop failure and other causes of not enough food.
Note most importantly that this is spiritual food as well, food for their souls. They are receiving Christ’s love, patience, forgiveness, and renewal in great abundance, food that bring them ever closer to their eternal home. They find in Him the very bread of life who is The Lord our Righteousness.
We are drawing to the close of another Church year. Through out the year, it is the duty of God’s priests and other ministers to distribute His Word and Sacraments, and the duty of His people to receive them, and to incorporate them into their daily lives. Those who have made best use of these things during the year now ending are those most likely to make good use of them in the year now beginning. For each of us, this is a time to evaluate our lives, to consider how well we are living into the life of sanctification, and to make whatever adjustments are called for as a result.
One of the characteristics of a martyr is that he truly puts his faith in the promises of God, placing his faith above all else. Thus it was with our patron saint, Edmund, King of East Anglia, who was tortured by Viking raiders for his Christian faith in the year 869 AD. He was shot full of arrows, but Edmund would not disavow his faith and he was eventually killed. It is a truly grisly story, not something to read shortly before bedtime. But we remember his perseverance, his witness to the faith of Christ, making it clear to all who saw the event that this was more dear to him than his kingdom, more dear to him than even his life. For this reason, we give thanks to God for Edmund and others like him who were willing to make this ultimate Christian witness to the world in earlier times. It was through them, that many were brought to faith in Jesus Christ, particularly in what we now call Europe. Let us pray for a resurgence of people willing to witness for Christ to the same extent, instead of the half-hearted, shrinking witness that we have in so many places today. Lord, send us more saints like Jeremiah and Edmund today, we pray.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.