Read Sermon


Gathering up

Lent 4 BCP

18 March 2007 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

The crowd follows Jesus again – but is it really Jesus they seek, or a miracle worker who has cured the sick? Jesus accepts their motives as a starting point and feeds them. But he points beyond physical material needs to spiritual ones.

The heart of today’s gospel has to do with gathering…of Jesus gathering the crowd and meeting their needs…and instructing that all the fragments of food be gathered…that nothing be lost. This theme chimes with Mothering Sunday and the role of parents as gatherers - both of physical provisions, and of family. I love some of the small details in today’s story…we are told ‘there was much grass in the place’…and not in the slang sense associated with a possible Tory future Prime Minister. It was probably spring – the time of the barley harvest. Maybe it is worth remarking only the very poor would eat barley bread…most people ate wheat bread. The wheat harvest would not take place until a few months later. Jesus makes people sit down…thereby encouraging everybody to take time for and with each other, and with him. Though overstretched himself he highlights what might today be called a proper work life balance. Looking after children forces a proper consideration of this issue of balance, and interestingly it is a child who provides the food for the 5000. Barley loaves were small – maybe the size of a bread bun, so when Andrew noticed a lad with five – there was probably enough for no more than a 3 person picnic.

The King James Bible tells us that Jesus went up a mountain for the feeding of the 5000, but modern translations refer to a hillside. Today’s gospel event possibly occurred at Tabgha near the shore of the Sea of Galilee – not far from Capernaum. Today there is a church named after the ‘Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes’ containing an extremely famous mosaic under a rough irregular stone altar…regarded as the stone table from which Jesus distributed the bread and fish. The artist is thought to have been an Egyptian, since the fish look like Nile perch rather than any local fish from the nearby lake. (St. Peter’s fish is the local fare!) But the striking thing about the loaves is that there are only four. Why not five as in the story? Well, it is possible that the artist considers the bread on the altar above the mosaic to be the fifth loaf…or maybe the missing loaf is the Christian community who break bread in the name of the Lord. You and I therefore become the fifth loaf. Whatever the intention of the artist was, there is no doubt that through his (or her) beautiful mosaic we are drawn swiftly into the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.

Today’s miracle though not a Eucharist nevertheless resonates with Eucharistic overtones. Jesus gives thanks and shares the bread. Just a little after this morning’s gospel excerpt St. John develops the image of Jesus himself as the bread of life extensively. There is a lovely prayer based on the gathering of fragments in the pilgrim manual of the shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham – known as England’s Nazareth. This is our local ‘gathering place’ for people to honour Mary, the mother of God and of the Church. Mary’s apparition to Lady Richeldis dates right back to the time of St. Edward the Confessor, and Walsingham in Norfolk was in its day one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Europe, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors…from monarchs to slaves. In those days the church in this land was undivided, but today in the restored pilgrimage sites there are chapels for different denominations. The prayer is suggested for use at the present Roman Catholic shrine at the slipper chapel which was a last staging post before getting to Walsingham itself.

‘Just as the bread that we break was once distributed on a hillside and its fragments gathered so as not to lose any, so let your Church be gathered from the farthest parts of the earth into your Kingdom, Lord.’
This is a prayer about Christian unity of course, but also a recall to all who are lost and aimless in the world, as Jesus gathers those whom he beckons, and from whom he invites a deeper response. ‘Come closer…get more involved with me’. The gift of God is not to be wasted. Nothing must be lost. This is true of the bread of the Eucharist, but also true of ourselves – for all of us are given to one another…the child to its parents…sister to brother…bridegroom to bride…friend to friend. And whoever among us desires to be a blessing for others should bring whatever they possess to Jesus to be shared…and multiplied.
Cookies used on this website
New EU legislation requires that all web sites clearly specify the presence of cookies and their purpose. Cookies are used to enhance the user experience. StGeorges uses Google Analytics to track activity on its site, helping to keep the site relevant and easier to use, via the use of these cookies . For an enhanced site experience, consumers will need to consent to the use of StGeorges cookies. A preference cookie, that will become available to you when you choose the ‘I agree’ button, will be a long-life cookie that will not automatically clear when you close the browser window. If you manually delete this cookie you will need to re-confirm your preferences every time you next visit this website, unless you choose accept the long life option.