The crowd in today's gospel passage are from the crowd in last week's gospel passage: those who were on the beach when five thousand were fed with a few loaves and fishes. They've followed Jesus and sought him out again to try and learn more about him, but also, predictably, to ask for more of this bread. They are in search of more of this miraculous food that sustained them when they thought they'd go home hungry.
The crowd questions Jesus about when he came to this place and whence came the bread that was so delicious, so filling, so good for them. Jesus reminds them that the bread was all of God’s provision but, also, that if they want more of it, they have found it in him. Jesus is the bread of life and is standing before them.
There are parallels here between other conversations that Jesus has in scripture. Notably, the woman at the well. Jesus does a miraculous thing in describing to her the circumstance of her life and she is persuaded that he must be a prophet. Jesus then describes to her the water of life which, when one drinks of it, takes away thirst for ever. She asks where she can find this water and he reveals that it is in following him that the water of life is found.
In both cases, there is a pattern to observe: First, Jesus invites people into a particular moment where they realize that God is present in a particular way, both in a miraculous feeding of many people and a socially-suspect but life-changing conversation at the well. Once the people are aware that this is no everyday moment and they admit that they want to prolong the experience, to continue in the presence of God, to inhabit completely this divine moment, then Jesus reveals that this is possible if they will join him. First as followers of teaching and, eventually, transfiguring their lives into mirrors of his.
Just as, in scripture, Jesus called people to follow him and conform their lives to be mirrors of his own, so we are called to join the life of Christ. We meet in baptism and eucharist to establish and strengthen our relationship with God, with the Word made flesh who dwelt among us. This mystery is at the core of our faith: God, who takes on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and, in doing so, invites humanity to enter into communion with God. We contemplate this reality that is both miracle and mystery from different angles throughout the year, usually most intentionally at Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. But we also contemplate this every time we gather to celebrate Holy Eucharist together. We join as the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, to meet God where God has promised to be: in the breaking of bread where Christians gather. When we come to the table to meet the God who took on our flesh, we take in the Body and renew that incredible relationship rooted in divine love.
God’s grace and God’s love for us are freely given, because it pleases God to do so. We are invited to respond to this incredible gift and to enter the relationship that is offered. Encountering God’s love is like a picture where we are a glass and God’s love is the wine being poured into us. Very quickly, we are filled and the wine begins to spill out, overflowing into the world around us. And this is where that part about conforming our lives to Christ’s example and becoming mirrors of Christ in the world is critical.
To be sure, God’s love and grace are freely given and sufficient for us. There is nothing that we can do to earn those or prove that we deserve them, nor do we have to. God delights in us, in creation, and chooses to love and bless us freely. Thanks be to God. However, if we believe what we say about the effect of God’s love and grace in our own lives, about the wisdom of Christ’s teaching, about the values and principles of the kingdom of God, then at some point, our beliefs will shape our actions.
If we truly believe that a particular business treats its employees badly, is environmentally irresponsible, and is motivated entirely by selfish greed, then at some point we ought to reconsider spending our money for their products and services. Even if those products and services are terribly convenient or favourites of ours, perhaps our principles and values are worth more.
In the same way, when we speak of justice, equality, provision for the welfare of all people, the end of hate and the presence of the kingdom of God, we should be able to point to some act, no matter how small, and say “Here I have taken a stand for those values.” Elizabeth Gray-King is a British artist and theologian. In a recent sermon, she made this point more eloquently than I will:
We can believe in justice as a thing. We can believe in love and care and kindness and humility. But until we start living and acting as love, living out that care, graciously spilling over with kindness and working with others in humility as compared to power, a belief is just a belief, almost an object to be admired … Believing in resurrection is ok. Living resurrection is quite another thing. Elizabeth Gray-King
Living resurrection is exactly what Jesus is calling the woman at the well and the multitude who were fed to do. It is exactly what God is calling all of us to do. Not for the first time, our parish is changing around us. This congregation has decisions to make about how we will live resurrection, how we will be the Body of Christ, how we will invite people to share in the divine love and grace and blessing that spill over out of our lives.
What does God’s love and grace look like here, today? What does the overflowing of blessing look like here, today? How can you and I live resurrection with our hearts and our hands here, today?
For the gift of being overwhelmed by God’s love, grace, and blessing, let us give our greatest thanks.
Preached at Holy Trinity Church, Winnipeg.