A homily for the fourth week of Lent
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Bread of Life. Amen.
One year, one week, and two days. That’s how long it has been since we last gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Macon.
Fifty-three some-odd weeks of spiritual hunger.
And this as the economic recession from the pandemic has launched millions of people into poverty, emptied grocery store shelves of the staples, shuttered some food pantries and stretched others to the breaking point.
Over a year of increasing physical hunger.
So when Jesus tells the people, “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry,” it’s easy to scoff. It’s a bold claim.
For Jesus’ first century audience, hunger was a daily concern and a very real threat – somehow even more so than it is today. Remember, this was a time before supermarkets or modern, long-term preservation techniques. Too much or too little rain could spell ruin for an entire region. But even in good years, the idea of spending hard-earned money on moldy bread, rancid grain, rotten meat, or sour wine was an ever-present fear which overshadowed every trip to the market.
Put yourself in that position, then.
Turn your imagination away from our 21st century kitchens back to a world of cooking fires and open-air markets, to a world defined by even more scarcity. And in this context, imagine what took place just before tonight’s cryptic sayings: the feeding of the five thousand. Feel your stomach: never quite satisfied, and now, after a long day in the arid wilderness, listening to a wandering preacher, you’ve missed what little food you might have eaten.
And then the bread and fish start coming, and coming, and coming, and you keep getting handed more food, and taking small bits at first, unsure if there will be enough for everyone, but you just keep getting handed hunks of bread.
Soon, you’re more full than you’ve ever been before – it’s like that wedding banquet you once went to, but somehow even more so, and now you’re stuffed to the brim but the food keeps coming. What a sight to behold, full stomachs everywhere, and the disciples wandering around picking up the leftovers, filling large baskets. Here is a miraculous display of real power addressing a real problem with tremendous implications.
Now hear again our Lord’s words:
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.
Listen anew to this promise:
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
What must we do to eat this bread, to find the food that endures for eternal life? Believe in the Son, the one sent by the Father, the one who feeds the multitudes.
In the wilderness of this world, our Lord Christ nourishes us with himself, a meal to endure unto eternal life.
And when we gather again on Sunday, to celebrate the Eucharist again for the first time in a year, cling to the promise. Eat your fill, until you are full.
Dear ones, we have been fed with more than enough, a grace to endure unto eternal life, a trustworthy promise that we shall be raised up on the last day. In this sacred meal, then, we are set free from the destructive powers of sin and death. Come on Sunday, and eat your fill, trusting that there will be enough. And then let us go forth in the name of Christ to feed the hungry, filling empty stomachs and starving souls.