Sermon for Laetare, 2021

Text: John 6:1-15

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There is a theory that has been put forth by liberal Biblical scholars that the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 was a not a miracle at all, but that it was a lesson that Jesus was teaching. Jesus, they say, wanted to teach us about the importance of sharing what we have with others. Now, that is a rather important lesson. It’s a lesson that is taught to us by the seventh commandment. The seventh commandment forbids stealing, but also makes it clear that the reason that God gives us gifts is that we might use them in service to others. It is also true, that the boy with the five loaves of barley bread and two fish shared what he had with the crowd. The boy who had the food probably didn’t leave with any of the leftovers, either. It was truly an act of love that he was willing to share what he had. But the place where this theory that this isn’t a miracle at all falls apart with the fact that there were twelve baskets full of bread left over. If it truly were a matter of those sharing with those who had nothing, there would be no leftovers. Everything would be eaten and most folks wouldn’t have eaten their fill. They would have eaten just enough not to starve. But John makes it clear here that everyone had as much as they wanted. Besides all of that, John also provides the detail that Jesus asks Philip about buying bread but that he already knew what he was going to do. He was just saying this to Philip in order to test him. Jesus knew what he would do. Jesus was going to do something. No, this truly was a miracle that Jesus performed right before the eyes of the crowd of 5,000 and in front of his disciples. Rather than speculate how we might explain away the miracle, let us instead concentrate on what Jesus does and teaches through the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus hadn’t planned on dealing with a crowd at all on this day. He had taken his disciples with him up on a mountain that he might teach them. Jesus spent quite a bit of time teaching his disciples. After all, they were to be his apostles – sent out into all the earth to proclaim the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus. But, as is often the case when someone who’s gained popularity tries to get away from the crowds, the crowds find them. The crowds kept coming after Jesus. Wouldn’t you? After all, Jesus was, as John says, performing all kinds of signs on the sick. That is, he was healing the sick. The crowds were looking for more signs. They were looking for Jesus to continue doing more of the same. Even with all of that in mind, though, they certainly didn’t expect what happened next.

It might strike us as rather odd that nobody except for a young boy thought ahead enough to bring food along as they tried to follow Jesus, but we can all relate to the idea of not really thinking clearly when we’re excited. These people simply weren’t thinking about the basic physical needs of their bodies as they pursued Jesus. The fact is, though, that they are not in a place to get food. Jesus has brought the disciples out to a mountain. They can’t go to the market. Jesus can’t simply send them away. They won’t make it. Something has to be done. So Jesus does something. Jesus performs a miracle. Jesus takes the five loaves and the two fish and he feeds the 5,000 with it. Not only that, but Jesus has the disciples collect the leftover bread at the end and there’s far more bread than what they had even started with. The people rejoice at this miracle. They rejoice that their bellies are full, but, more importantly, they rejoice that, as they say, “the Prophet has come into the world.” This is a reference to a promise that the Israelites had heard long ago from Moses. Moses was near death and giving his farewell address to the people. He told them that God would give them a prophet like Moses, but better. This prophecy of Moses was a Messianic prophecy. He was talking about Jesus. The people realize it. There’s even an obvious tie-in to Moses. Moses was God’s representative on earth when Manna fed them in the wilderness. Now Jesus, in even more miraculous fashion, feeds the people in a desolate location. This, indeed, is cause for rejoicing.

This is very appropriate for today. Today is Laetare Sunday. Laetare is Latin for “rejoice.” As is often the case for the Latin names for the Sundays In the Church year, it comes from the opening words of our Introit for today. “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast.” But the next question might be, “Why, during Lent, do we have a Sunday that’s about rejoicing?” Lent is a penitential season. It’s a time to reflect upon our sins and upon the suffering and death of Jesus Christ was that necessitated by the sins of mankind. That doesn’t seem like a reason to rejoice. After all, the Church even ceases from speaking and singing Alleluias during Lent. The Church foregoes the singing of the Gloria in Excelsis during Lent. Next week, we’ll even refrain from using the Gloria Patri at the end of our Psalms and canticles.

Lent is, in a way, a microcosm of our entire life. Lent is a time of restrained joy. Our life so often seems to lack joy. We recently marked one year since the coronavirus forced us to change the way that we live. While some of those restrictions seem to be easing up a bit and some sense of normality returns, the fact is that it has robbed us of joy over the past twelve months. We’ve missed gathering with family, friends, and fellow Christians. Vacations have had to be canceled. Loved ones who are in nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been forced to live in isolation that’s affected their mental and physical health in some cases beyond repair. Lives have been lost both directly and indirectly. All of this is on top of the effects that we see of sin all around us in our world. We are robbed of joy as we realize that we’ve hurt others with our thoughts and actions. We’re robbed of joy as we witness the most vulnerable in our world suffer abuse and neglect. Just as Lent calls to mind our sin, we can’t help but see sin and its effects all around us in the world. We truly live in a desolate world.

Jesus enters into this desolate world, though. He comes today, bringing healing. His death and resurrection almost 2,000 years ago paid the price for all the sins of the world and restored peace between God and man. There at the cross Satan was defeated. Even in defeat, Satan still comes after us, though. Again, the evidence of evil is everywhere. Sin, death, and the devil conspire together to make the world a desolate place, but Jesus comes to bring food for the journey. He gave bread and fish to the hungry crowd. He gives his body and blood to us as we hunger and thirst for righteousness today. The psalmist encourages us to rejoice and as he compares Jerusalem to a mother. The Church is Jerusalem, and the Sacrament as her consoling breast. Just as an infant nurses at his mother’s breast, we nurse at the consoling breast of the Church. That is, we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is the priceless treasure who comes to us in his body and blood that we might eat, drink and be satisfied. Rejoice this day, dear friends in Christ, for Jesus has given you reason for joy in sins forgiven.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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