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Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church

An Episcopal Church in the Anglo-Catholic Tradition Where All Are Welcome

The Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare)
March 10, 2024

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which giveth life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

2 Chronicles 36:14-23
Ephesians 2:4-10
John 6:4-15

One of the things that I continue to find remarkable about our faith is how, from the beginning, Jesus’ followers have been comfortable with a certain amount of ambiguity. What I mean specifically, is that we are able to live with multiple versions of the same story. More than tolerate it, in fact, it is central to who we are. It is central to the Good News in Jesus Christ, to the Gospel. From very early on, the Church collected together four distinct account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Four Gospels, from four different communities and contexts, each telling the story of the Paschal Mystery from a different perspective. Not only this, but the Gospels contradict each other, tell different versions of what seems to be the same episode. And we have always seen that as a strength, not a weakness. In fact, early attempts at a Gospel harmony, like Tatian’s second-century Diatasseron, were rejected and branded heretical.

The Gospels diverge in many ways, but they agree on, let’s say, four things. One: Jesus was baptised, the Holy Ghost descended upon him, and he is marked as special. Two: Jesus, on at least one occasion, fed the multitude until they were satisfied, even though at the outset there was clearly not enough for everyone to eat. Three: that he Jesus came to Jerusalem at the time of Passover, ate a last meal with his friends in which he gave them instructions on how they should live after he was gone, suffered, was crucified, and died. And fourth: that he rose again on the third day and appeared to the disciples (although, I have to say the earliest text of Mark did not have resurrection stories). Sitting at the heart of the matters on which the Gospel traditions agree are those stories of Jesus feeding the crowds.

Although scholars have disagreed on this question – usually along a Protestant / Catholic divide – I have always firmly believed these feeding stories to be a type of the Eucharist. That is to say, they represent for us the heart of the Eucharistic life to which we are called, and that the church from earliest times found in them the principal elements of the Eucharistic celebrations with which we are familiar. Of course, the Last Supper stories in the three Synoptic Gospels – Mark, Matthew, and Luke – show Jesus identifying the bread and wine with his body and blood, and contain the explicit instruction to “do this in remembrance of me.” Nevertheless, all the feeding stories contain the essential elements of our Eucharist, and point to it in ways the Last Supper does not.

In fact, John does not include this institution of the Eucharist – as we like to call it – in his Last Supper story, concentrating instead on Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet and the commandment to “love one another.” Instead, his Eucharist is found in the feeding of the five thousand, which he also sets at the Passover, and in it Jesus performs the very same actions we have come to know in our Eucharist when he: “then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated.” Jesus invariably takes the bread, blesses it, and presumably breaks it so that he may distribute it to the people. As pointed out by the great twentieth-century Anglican monastic and liturgist Dom Gregory Dix, these are the three principal actions that define almost any Eucharist from earliest times.

Here, Jesus feeds not only his band of disciples, but he feeds thousands with the bread (and fish) he provides, and they leave satisfied. In the end, there is even more than the people need, twelve baskets full. When Jesus feeds the people, it is a meal of abundance in which no one is left out. Not only this, but “when the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!’” The public feeding of the five thousand from what had appeared to be nothing is a sign to the people of who Jesus is, a sign to us of what he does for us.

The feeding stories, then, sit at the centre of these convergences among the Gospels. From here we can look back to Jesus baptism, that first instance when Jesus was identified as something new, marked as “the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit,” the one who is God’s beloved son. Here we look forward to the Last Supper and the meal in which Jesus commands his disciples to “love one another,” the meal in the other Gospels in which Jesus specifically identifies the bread with his very body. We look further ahead to his death at the Passover and the new life that comes in his Resurrection, all of which we participate in by way of the meals we share together.

In today’s Eucharist, we see echoes of all the stories in which Jesus fed his friends, in which Jesus fed the multitudes. In it we are reminded of who God in Christ is and what he does for us, the ways in which he sustains us and gives us new life. In it we are reminded that God in Christ feeds us, and that the food he gives us is abundant, so abundant that it never runs out, there is always enough for everyone with bread left over. In it we are united with each other and with Christ.

Today, I give us a challenge that I have given before. It is easy to see the Last Supper in our Eucharist. It is a little more challenging to see the feeding miracles, but I think we can and must do, and I don’t think it’s actually too much of a stretch. Can we, however, make another step and connect Jesus’ feeding the five thousand, the Last Supper, and our Eucharist with the meals we take in our daily lives. Can we instill a sense of thanksgiving and of remembrance when we break bread at home, in a restaurant, at the home of another person? Can we see in those moments the sustaining love of Christ, and can we in turn come back to church and see our meals in the Eucharist? If we can, I believe we can come to know Jesus more profoundly, find him in the bread not only of the Eucharist, but in the bread of our own table. We can see how all meals unite us with God and with each other, and strengthen us for the ministry to which we are called.

Andrew Charles Blume ✠
New York City
The Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare), 14 March 2024

© 2024 Andrew Charles Blume