Sermon for Lent IV
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
March 14, 2009
One of the great joys of preaching on a text such as the Gospel for this morning is that one can explore the differences between the accounts of the story. With the major exception being the Passion, there are not a too many places where all four Evangelists record the same story, but the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is one of those occasions.
The rarity of this is quite significant because prior to the triumphal entry, there are really only three times that all four Gospels relay the same story. First, all speak of the ministry of John the Baptist and have some recording of Jesus’ baptism by John. Second, all four make record of St. Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Finally, all four record the feeding of the 5,000 as we heard just a few moments ago. I don’t think we should push this significance too far, but there is clearly a special importance since in this case all four Gospels record this story in a similar fashion.
Today is one of those rare times where I’m not planning on expending upon the story and speaking about details contained in one of the other three accounts. Rather, I’m going to address something that I find most interesting and unique that I find in St. John’s account.
There are a number of instances when reading the Scriptures that a particular sentence, phrase, detail leaves you puzzled, and almost begging the question, “Why did the author include that?” In this morning’s Gospel lesson, I wondered about the phrase, “Now there was much grass in the place.” Most of the time I would probably glance right over something as seemingly insignificant as John’s detail about the terrain. A phrase that appears out of place like noting that it was sunny outside, the flowers smelled nice, or the birds were singing a lovely tune. However, I believe there is more here than meets the eye.
Certainly, I believe that the comment is a description of the area where the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 would take place. John is trying to paint a mental picture that there is in fact enough room for a mass of people to assemble and sit down as the story explains.
However, if we dig a little deeper I believe there is something else behind those brief words. One of the great I AM statements in John’s gospel speaks about Jesus being the Good Shepherd. One of the attributes of Jesus the Good Shepherd is that he leads his sheep out and goes before them leading them as the 23rd Psalm says, “beside the waters of comfort…[to] feed in green pasture[s].” The people who were following Jesus that day were being fed by the words that he spoke to them, and would then be filled physically as well. Of course the physical need for food was merely temporal, but the words that Jesus spoke were true bread and met their spiritual needs, which of course are the things eternal. They were in just the right place to receive this nourishment because the Good Shepherd had led them to a field with much grass. The environment was perfect, and I believe that John is conveying that detail when he mentions that there is much grass in the place.
As we sit here this morning, we too are in a place with much grass. A place where we were led by the Good Shepherd to receive nourishment in the form of Christ’s Body and Blood. Like the feeding of the 5,000, what seems like a woefully insignificant thing, the receiving of a small wafer of bread and a sip of wine is transformed into the most significant thing we can ever do. As St. Paul told the Corinthian church, “For as often as we eat this bread, and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
With the most remarkable of twists, and through God’s divine Providence, the Good Shepherd who leads us into green pastures where there is much grass, becomes the true Lamb, which was slain so that we might taste death no more. It is not grass that we are to feed upon, but Christ Himself.
When we gather together to celebrate the Holy Communion, we come to another miraculous feeding. No, we are not seeking to multiply loaves and fishes on the altar. Rather, we pray that God, through the Holy Spirit, might transform the gifts of bread and wine into the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. That He might so change that which seems so small, into something that surpasses everything we could ever imagine. That we through faith might worthily receive the greatest gift that has ever been given. And, that as we offer our selves, our souls, and bodies as a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice we seek God’s nourishment that we might be forever changed, and transformed.
Part of our life-long journey is the process of sanctification or being made holy. We bear God’s image and we were created in His likeness. Receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is a critical component of our sanctification as we strive to live out the last line of the Prayer of Humble Access in which we pray that we may evermore dwell in Christ as He does in us.
Jesus told his disciples as He ascended to the Father that He would be with them always. He made that promise to us as well. Behold there is much grass in this place and the Good Shepherd has led to a pasture where he has promised to be truly present.