Sunday 29 July - Pentecost 10 - Eucharist - Stephen Holmes

Pentecost 10 – John 6.1-2


+ ‘So they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus gave them the loaves and the fish, as much as they wanted.’

People who knew Jesus loved collecting stories about him, but some got left out. The gospels tell us that some women looked after Jesus and one of their stories has just been discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, from his landlady…..

‘Mr Jesus was in residence at Dead Sea View for many years, he was a model lodger, you know, very well behaved, didn’t have girls in his room or anything like that.’

‘I could go on for an eternity about what he did get up to. I do remember one amusing episode.

‘One afternoon Mr Jesus came to me and said, ‘Mrs McMann’, he always used to address me like that, “Mrs McMann’, I’ve got 5000 people coming for a picnic lunch today, could you give me some food’. I said, ‘Mr Jesus, 5000 people, oh my, this is bed and board for one’.

He said, ‘Look, do me a favour, just this once’.

I said, ‘Mr Jesus, I’ve only got five loaves and two fishes in the house’.

He said to me, and you could have knocked me down with a feather, ‘that is ample sufficiency’.

So, off he went with five loaves and two fishes, came back two hours later with twelve baskets full of leftovers.

All I can say is he was a very delicate carver.’

extract from ‘Behind the Fridge’, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore

Mrs McMann clearly had her own understanding of the feeding of the 5000: skilful carving. More scholarly voices have given similar explanations, Jesus’ teaching about being nice to people encouraged those with packed lunches to share with those who had forgotten to bring them. These answer the question, ‘what happened?’ Ultimately we don’t know because we weren’t there, and even if we were we would have missed a lot. What we do have is the story, in four slightly different versions in the four gospels – it is the only miracle found in all four. Today we heard John’s version. A much more interesting question we can ask about the story is ‘Why?’ – what was Jesus doing and what does it mean? It means much more than sharing packed lunches.

Firstly, what about the mountain? Jesus goes up the mountain, comes down to feed the 5000, and then goes up again at the end. The Prophets spoke of the end of the world as a banquet on the mountain of the Lord. It also makes you think of Moses who went up Mount Sinai to meet God and came down to the people with God’s Law. There are some clues about this. It was Passover, in the Spring when the grass was green, when Jews eat the bread of the Passover. After the first Passover, Moses led Israel out of Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea and the feeding of the 5000 is followed by Jesus walking on water crossing the Sea of Galilee. The Passover is followed by Israel being fed by manna, miraculous bread in the wilderness. Moses later promised a future prophet and the crowd say of Jesus, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’ The feeding of the 5000 is a sign of God’s love for his people, shown in Jesus who is the fulfilment of everything promised to Israel.

Secondly, what about the bread? The prophet Elisha fed a hundred men with twenty barley loaves, God fed Israel with manna in the wilderness. Jesus does more, and later in the chapter says that he himself is much more than manna or a few loaves, ‘I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. Most of chapter 6 of John is taken up with Jesus teaching about himself as the ‘Bread of Life’. This story is about much more than sharing your sandwiches. Look at some of the words used. Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks (the Greek is ‘eucharistesas’) and gives it out himself to those who are seated. The Greek for seated is ‘anakeimenois’, a word used in the accounts of the Last Supper for those reclining at a meal. Even Jesus’ words ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost’, pick up words used by the first Christians to show respect to the Eucharistic bread. The feeding of the 5000 is deliberately related to the Last Supper and the Eucharist.

Last week we had dinner with friends, someone said a particular event was ‘a nightmare’. His 4 year old son looked puzzled and asked what was in the nightmare, ‘was it about fire?’ We had to try and explain that the word ‘nightmare’ means a bad dream but it can also be used of things that aren’t dreams but are very bad. Grown-ups shouldn’t make that mistake and we need to be grown-up in our religion. One word or event can mean more than just one thing. The feeding of the 5000 is indeed about sharing, I thought about it as we were feeding all comers in this very church in February during the ‘Best from the East’; but it is also about Jesus as the fulfilment of the hopes of Israel and our hopes, it is about our community as we celebrate the Eucharist and hope for heaven. 

So, the feeding of the 5000 is about more than sharing sandwiches or skilful carving. Jesus’ action looks back to God’s love for Israel shown in the Exodus, Passover and manna in the desert; it looks forward to the Messianic banquet at the end of time, when God’s gathering in those he has chosen is symbolised by a generous meal; it also looks to us, the Church of Jesus Christ, sharing this eucharistic meal. It tells us that God loves us and that Jesus is the proof of this. It tells us that the Eucharist must be at the heart of our community and of our individual Christian lives if we want to be true followers of Jesus. It tells us that if we make the Eucharist the centre of our lives it should overflow into a sharing of all our good things with those in need. How can what we do here at the altar influence how we use the Cornerstone Centre to serve God’s people?