We begin our worship this week with a Psalm which we seldom sing nowadays, though in my youth it was probably next in popularity to the 23rd Psalm. I chose it because of today’s Gospel reading – though it fits well with recent weather!
God is our refuge and our strength,
In straits a present aid;
Therefore, although the earth remove,
We will not be afraid:
Though hills amidst the seas be cast;
Though waters roaring make,
And troubled be, yea, though the hills
By swelling seas do shake.
A river is, whose streams make glad
The city of our God,
The holy place, wherein the Lord
Most high hath his abode.
God in the midst of her doth dwell.
Nothing shall her remove;
God unto her an helper will,
And that right early, prove.
Great God, our loving heavenly Father, we praise you.
Through Christ you created the world,
In Christ you redeemed the world,
By his Spirit the world is sanctified;
Holy God, Father, Son and Spirit, we worship you.
Great God, in presence of your holiness we know our weakness, our failures, our faults:
We lay them now before you: Pause
Be gracious to us, Lord our God,
And restore us to fullness of life with you;
That mercy and truth may be our guide,
And peace be a pathway for our feet;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil;
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory
For ever and ever Amen
2 Kings 4: 42-44
(This story takes place during a famine)
A man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing the man of God twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe corn, along with some ears of new corn.
‘Give it to the people to eat,’ Elisha said.
‘How can I set this before a hundred men?’ his servant asked.
But Elisha answered: ‘Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says: “They will eat and have some left over.” ‘
Then he set it before them, and they ate, and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.
John 6: 1-21
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far side of the sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias); a great crowd of people kept following him because they saw the signs that he had performed by healing those who were ill. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover festival was near.
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards him, he said to Philip: ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
Philip answered him: ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough for each one to have a bite!’
Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up: ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’
Jesus said: ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down. (About five thousand men were there.) Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples: ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say: ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing, and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified.
But he said to them: ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’ Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore towards which they were going.
Thanks be to God for these readings from His holy word.
Hymn MP 64
1.Break Thou the bread of life,
Dear Lord, to me,
As Thou didst break the bread
Beside the sea;
Beyond the sacred page
I seek Thee, Lord,
My spirit longs for Thee,
Thou living Word.
2.Thou art the bread of life,
O Lord, to me,
Thy holy word the truth
That saveth me;
Give me to eat and live
With Thee above,
Teach me to love Thy truth,
For Thou art love.
3.O send Thy Spirit, Lord, 4.Bless Thou the bread of life
Now unto me, To me, to me,
That He may touch my eyes, As Thou didst bless the loaves
And make me see; By Galilee;
Show me the truth concealed Then shall all bondage cease,
Within Thy word, All fetters fall,
And in Thy book revealed And I shall find my peace,
I see Thee, Lord. My all-in-all!
Today’s reflection is, in part, about connectedness – connectedness across Scripture, connectedness between creation and Creator, connectedness across time throughout the Church.
The story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand is told in all four Gospels. In all but Luke’s Gospel it is immediately followed by the story of Christ walking on the water. These two miraculous events, together with the story of the stilling of the storm, are the so-called ‘nature’ miracles, distinguished by some commentators from the ‘healing’ miracles.
In each gospel today’s story is told with slight differences in detail; but in all four gospels the central event, which is the abundant feeding (with leftovers) of a large number of hungry people by miraculous means, recalls one of the outstanding episodes in Israel’s foundation story in the Book of Exodus, (chapter 16) when the liberated Hebrew slaves, wandering in the desert under Moses’ leadership, were fed by manna.
In John, however, that historic connection is strengthened by the detail that the miracle took place when Passover – the feast which celebrated the liberation from Egypt – was near; while the story of the boy who offered his meagre packed lunch for Jesus’ use, which occurs only in this gospel, connects with today’s Old Testament reading from the era of the great prophets, when an unnamed man brought to the prophet Elisha the offering of the first fruits of his harvest, with twenty barley loaves (the bread of the poor), which Elisha then used to feed starving people in a time of famine.
Since Passover was near, it is likely that the crowds of local people who followed Jesus about would be augmented by many pilgrims, both from Galilee and from Jewish communities across the Roman world, on their way to Jerusalem. The always potentially explosive mix of religion and political aspiration would be fired by this great event, when the miraculous feeding by bread would strongly remind the people of their great past. So, John tells us, the crowd recognised Jesus as ‘the one who was to come’; but, totally misunderstanding the Lord’s nature and mission, they planned to take him by force and make him King – a King like the great David, a political and military leader who would free their country from the hated Romans. Jesus, aware of their intention, withdrew himself from them, going back to the mountain to pray.
As evening drew on the disciples, instructed by Jesus beforehand (as St Matthew chapter 14 tells us), embarked to cross the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. The Sea of Galilee was notorious for sudden storms, and its dangers would be well-known to the Galilean fishermen. As they battled against a strong wind they saw Jesus approaching them, walking on the water. They were terrified, thinking, St Matthew says, that they saw a ghost. Jesus calms their fears, calling to them: ‘It is I; don’t be afraid!’
That little phrase: ‘It is I’ carries with it a depth of meaning which cannot well be expressed in our language, for the original Greek wording is literally I am – the phrase which begins the ‘I am’ sayings so characteristic of St John’s Gospel, such as I am the bread of life; and the Scriptural background to that phrase I am is the name of God, as he gives it to Moses in Exodus 3:14. There are many Old Testament texts which describe the absolute authority of the Creator God over the power of the sea – including the psalm which was our opening praise. In walking over the water Jesus displayed that divine authority.
The divine authority over the elements is the power of the Creator. John’s Prologue, 1:3, tells us that Through him (the Word) all things were made, and without him nothing was made that has been made. So, on that day, the waters of the Sea of Galilee responded to their Creator, as the barley loaves and dried fish had done; but the humans – the impulsive crowd, and the frightened disciples – had failed to understand, or to recognise and respond to, who and what Jesus was. Only the young boy, untroubled by theology or politics, did what he could, and offered what he had; and in so doing facilitated one of the central moments of Christ’s ministry on earth.
This Gospel passage makes many connections. John’s 1st century Christian church, reading of Jesus breaking and distributing the bread, would inevitably think of their Lord’s Day Breaking of Bread, and of the Last Supper where that sacrament began. (In fact, this story of the Feeding of the five Thousand, and the theological discussion which follows it, takes the place, in John’s Gospel, of the narrative of the Passover Eucharistic meal in the other three Gospels.) And in the closing chapter of John’s Gospel they would read, as we can, of Jesus’ Resurrection appearance by the shores of that very Sea of Galilee, when he prepared a breakfast of bread and fish for the tired, hungry disciples who had fished, fruitlessly, all night.
So from the centre-point of this parable the church throughout the ages looks back to the beginnings of Salvation history in ancient Israel, as well as forwards to the great feast – which featured so often in Jesus’ parables of the End Times – when Jesus, glorified, will preside, as he did on earth in the Upper Room, and beside the Lake of Galilee.
But the most telling, and most poignant image conjured by this parable remains that of the One who breaks and distributes the loaves, and who says of himself, I am the bread of life; the one who gives himself to be broken on the Cross, in order to give new life to the world. Thanks be to God.
Gracious God, our heavenly Father, we praise and thank you for all the blessings with which you shower us –
For this world, in all its beauty and all its strangeness
And for the freedom, peace and plenty in which we live.
Dear Father, we remember before you now the needs of those who are less fortunate than we are;
We pray for all known to us who are ill, or in want, or in trouble of any kind;
We ask your blessing on those who are near death, and on all who care for them.
Give peace and consolation, we pray, to those who mourn.
We bring before you the needs of our world, in all its wonder, and all its sorrow.
We pray for countries where poverty and ill health make life hard.
We pray for countries dealing with epidemic disease, and for all who strive to combat it.
We pray for all peoples who live under oppression;
And we pray for all world leaders,
asking for them integrity, humility,
a desire for peace,
and a due sense of their responsibility to you, and to the people over whom they rule.
These our prayers we ask in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
To whom with you, Father, and the Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory. Amen.
Hymn MP 210 (CH3 89)
Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand;
Bread of heaven, Bread of Heaven
Feed me till my want is o’er.
Feed me till my want is o’er.
Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through:
Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer
Be Thou still my strength and shield.
Be Thou still my strength and shield.
When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside!
Death of death, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side!
Songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever give to Thee.
I will ever give to Thee.
May grace, mercy and peace, from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, rest and remain on each one of us, and on all whom we love; now and always. Amen