The text appointed for the Sermon comes from the Gospel: And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.
This is the third time we have been presented with the narrative of Christ feeding the multitudes during the liturgical year. First, we get the same passage from John 6 at the 4th Sunday of Lent. Then we receive the feeding of the 4000 from Mark 8 in the 7th Sunday in Trinity. And now, on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we again hear this narrative from John 6. When we encounter the narrative in each new season, new insights emerge and new applications must be made.
Now that we are in the last week of the year, the lectionary pushes us to examine the Gospel in a new light. And to do that, the wise compilers of these readings inserted an Old Testament lesson from Jeremiah as the Epistle to help guide our reading of the Gospel. Let us pay attention to the text from Jeremiah first and read it in light of the Gospel.
“BEHOLD, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgement and justice in the earth. ”
Ah! This prophetic passage is looking for the day when a new David will come to save Judah and Israel. Obviously, we are supposed to read this in light of Jesus’ coming. And so it is Jesus who is the righteous Branch, the king who is bringing salvation and safety to Judah and Israel.
Think of what Simeon declared when he finally held the Incarnate Lord in his arms at the Temple: “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” [Luk 2:30-32 KJV]
And indeed, Jesus Christ has brought exactly that. He has issued in the Kingdom of God. And he has done this as a judge, as a King, as a prophet, just as Jeremiah foretold.
And Jeremiah shows when this king comes, Israel will no longer just remember the ancient Exodus from Egypt, but they will now speak in present of a greater Exodus when they shall dwell in their own land again. This is an important connection with the Gospel this morning. In the original Exodus, the nation of Israel escaped the tyranny of Egypt and wandered in the desert for forty years. During that journey, God sustained his people by feeding the multitude with the bread of heaven. Through that nourishment, they were brought to the promised Land. So when Jesus feeds the multitudes in the wilderness, feeding them with a new heavenly bread, the people notice at once the implications. Jesus is now the new messiah who may lead the people of Judah and Israel on an Exodus to the promised land. But as we have seen many times before, what exactly this kingdom looked like, and what exactly this exodus entailed was missed. Remember, this is John 6! It turns out that most of His disciples leave Him just after this episode when he claims that the true Bread of Heaven is His flesh. This was a radically different Kingdom than expected, leading towards quite a different promised land….one greater than those Israelites, or the Romans, or even Americans have ever conceived. Jesus was leading His people on a much more amazing Exodus into an eternal Kingdom of Love in Service of God Almighty.
This is our present state. Now Jesus leads his people as a triumphant King, who has conquered the tyranny of death and the bondage of sin. He has freed his people and leads them into his eternal kingdom. This is beautiful–but this is more than a good story that we get to watch from the outside, like a movie. This narrative is the narrative of our own lives, for it is the narrative of the Church.
But the question is how do you experience it? How do you live in or through this narrative? As finite humans, we do not understand immediately or comprehensively but step by step. We read books page by page, watch movies scenes by scene. And we experience our lives day by day, season by season through time. This can be a terrifying concept to think about for some, because time cannot be grasped and conquered like material things. And yet it is our relationship with time that underpins or supports are relationship with things, that material world. As Abraham Heschel, the great modern Jewish philosopher and rabbi says: “We must not forget that is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significant to things.” Heschel goes on to point out that one of the most important words in the Old Testament, Kadosh, which means holy, is first applied, not to any physical creation, but time itself: “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” It is time itself that is declared holy!
This Jewish sense of time was not lost as the early Church grew and more Gentiles were converted. Let me give you an example: Even the most ordinary day in the liturgical calendar is called a Feria, the Latin for Feast! Why? Because even the most ordinary day, a Tuesday in the 14th week of Trinity that is not marked by any special day, is a day when we get to celebrate God’s great gift to us: the Mass. Even on this most ordinary day, we are fed by his Body and Blood, get to enter into the most Holy presence of God Almighty through his Son, and partake in the eternal feast in a temporal moment.
And by living through the calendar of the church, rather than the calendar of the secular world, what we see is that there is no ordinary time, but always the chance of us lifting up our mundane into the time of the kingdom of God. Therefore the process of your life through time, and your experience and understanding of time really matters. This is why I often think of the liturgical calendar as a great gift that God has given us, because the Church leads us through this narrative of Redemption each year by the liturgical calendar. The Holy Spirit has worked within the church to develop this calendar so that we may grow deeper in the knowledge and love of God.
The challenge for all of us is whether we are going to be attentive to living in this holy time. It is difficult, to say the least, to re-order our lives so that the calendar of the Church becomes the primary way we experience time. It takes a real sacrifice. Like Gospel reading this morning, the miracle depended on a sacrifice—someone giving up of their own to God. A young lad, John tells us, gives up five barley loaves and two small fish to Jesus. And Jesus then takes this sacrifice, blesses it and returns it as a gift overflowing. In our own lives, God demands a sacrifice, and Christian Rosetti puts it so well:
What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him —
Give my heart.
When you give God your heart, your will, your mind, your time, he will take that sacrifice, bless it, and return it to you transformed. God has already given us the gift of the liturgical calendar—it is our sacrifice to dedicate ourselves to it! Let me give you an example: this Sunday is declared as the Sunday Next before Advent. This week is set aside to help us prepare for a new season which is itself dedicated to preparation. Preparation for preparation! Truly, there is a wisdom that humans cannot jump from one attitude/mindset to another without time to prepare. And so our sacrifice is to spend the time to focus on the upcoming season.
This week, therefore, make time to prepare for Advent. Plan ahead to have a day in December set aside for quiet and meditation. Order a book on a spiritual topic to read during Advent. And start focusing on the meaning of Advent. This whole season is dedicated to preparation. But prepare for what? Well, as the Gospel and epistle are showing us, we are preparing for much more than just an empty celebration of a historical event. We are preparing our own lives for the coming of the Kingdom. And this is why Advent is often dedicated to ponder the 4 last things of Death, judgement, Hell, heaven. We are preparing ourselves for eternal life!
The seasons help us understand God’s glorious work of redemption step by step. Advent leads us to Christmas which moves us into Epiphany. Then we prepare again for three weeks before starting into Lent which prepares us for Holy Week and the glorious season of Easter, Pentecost, and back to the long season of Trinitytide. And so through the calendar, living it out, paying attention to each new season and meditating upon the work of God both in time and space, we are really preparing our own lives for that eternal feast we all hope to attain.
And so we prepare and as we prepare we grow in knowledge and devotion to God.