“But Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all.”
Today marks a full liturgical year of our parish dealing with Covid. It was Lent IV 2020 when we followed the bishop’s advice and had to turn to the livestream. The year since has not been easy as we have all struggled with isolation, the loss of life, and dealing with fear and anxiety. We have had to develop new ways to interact as a community, and live with a more simple liturgical expression of our faith. We have learned much in this year of sacrifice. It has made me step back and think about what is the purpose of all of this, what is the purpose of our lives in the church. It seems somewhat appropriate that Lent IV marks a full year, since this Sunday is traditionally called Rose Sunday, or Mothering Sunday. In light of the Epistle this morning, this Sunday is known as Mothering Sunday — traditionally a time when we reflect upon Holy Mother Church and when we would return to the mothering church of the diocese (the cathedral) or to visit the Church where you were baptized. The Church as our mother is a helpful meditation because it reminds us how the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, guides us as a mother prepares her children for adulthood. She does this by teaching us wisdom, by nurturing us with the sacraments, and bringing us to Christ. It is life in the Church that gives our lives purpose, meaning, and direction. And it is only life in the Church that can offer true freedom: freedom found in obedience to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. It is Holy Mother Church that leads us to this end: union with the Trinity.
To help explain this, let us turn our attention to the Gospel given for today to see how Jesus’ action of feeding the 5000 helps us understand our end and how we get there. The Gospel picks up in the beginning of John 6, a great turning point in the ministry of JEsus. Just before, in John 5, the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem have set themselves against Jesus because of his teaching. John writes:
“Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” John 5:18 Their threats do not exactly silence Jesus–in fact, the end of John 5 is Jesus’ response to their accusations and threats. Jesus says: “But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.[…] For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?”John 5:42-43, 46-47
Jesus accuses the Jewish leaders of not loving the Father because they do not love Him. Even more, he says, they do not even love Moses. Fighting words! The leaders of Israel live by the law of Moses, judge Jesus by their interpretation of the law of Moses, and claim their superiority because of the law of Moses. Jesus cuts through their moral high ground and claims that Moses spoke of him, referring back to Deuteronomy:“The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.” Deut 18:15
You might notice that this is what the people then say after the feeding! John records, by the way, that this miracle happened as Jesus had gone up on a mountain, around the time of the passover, in the wilderness. All of these details put us into the story of Moses. The people notice these details–they look at Jesus’ actions and see a new Moses. But notice that Jesus moves even beyond this claim! Right after the feeding, John records Jesus saying:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. … Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. … I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.– Jhn 6:26-27, 32-33, 51 KJV
It is important to see here that Jesus is claiming to be more than Moses. He is claiming to be one with the Father, not just a prophet! In fact, in this narrative it is the disciples who are the image of Moses for they talk with God (Jesus) face to face, it is the disciples who distribute the bread to the people at the base of the mountain, it is the disciples who do the bidding of God. This is our role as well: through Jesus we behold God. Just like Moses, we now behold the glory of the Father, but now through our relation with Jesus. The Apostle Paul states this clearly in his second letter to the Corinthians:
“Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, [which] put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord.”– 2Co 3:12-13, 18 KJV
Changed into the same image from glory to glory — that is eternal life! This is our end…and so our lives need to lead to that end. Now that we know our end, how do we get there? Paul is clear: we must grow into that end, and that growth comes, like any natural grow, through trial and change. This is the path of your life: being changed into the image of Christ from glory to glory. The most normal way this happens is through time as we mature in our lives. In the Gospel passage, Philip is a good reminder of what this looks like.
John records that Jesus tests Philip with his questions about how to feed such a large crowd. I do not think Philip failed the test, but it was Simon Peter who showed complete trust—he knew who Jesus was, and trusted that the offering he had found could feed such a crowd. We should not be shocked, then, by such tests. This could mean not receiving the answer you expected from your prayers, or receiving silence to your prayers. In the Gospel, there is a gap of time between Jesus’ questions to Philip and his actions in response to Peter. The silence of Jesus, however, was not a sign of inaction, but one of planning and testing. Once again, this period of testing requires an openness in ourselves to change our own desires and expectations to match those of Christ.
This is why we need the church for spiritual growth, because we grow within the body. Your life as a Christian is not just you and Jesus, but it is you as part of the body. Your growth is growth into that mystical body which is the mystical body of all the faithful, both the living and dead. Philip was tested but it was Simon Peter who helped offer an answer. Philip was tested but it was a small child who provided the answer. Within the silence, Philip was aided by those around him. And so we see the importance of the whole body and why we cannot be a Christian alone for we grow together under the guidance and love of Holy Mother Church.
And most importantly, it is through the Church that we come to Christ. This morning you will be offered, through the liturgy of the Church, the very Body of Jesus Christ so that as you receive Him, he may dwell in us and we in Him. Receive, then, her gifts. Partake of her sacraments as she leads you from glory to glory.