Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity
2nd Aug 2020
Sermon for Trinity 8 Year A
The God who gives himself for us and who feeds us…
In Matthew's account of the feeding of the multitude, Jesus is moved with compassion to heal the people (v. 14). In Mark’s he is moved to teach them (Mark 6:34). Both aspects are important and interrelated. The Lord loves us and wants to heal us and to realise his loving presence in us. This he does supremely in the Eucharist. He feeds and teaches us at the altar of Christ’s love. We cannot grow spiritually unless we are being taught - through the Word of God and through the teaching of the Church. In the Eucharist the Lord also feeds us with his own body and blood, healing us and giving us new strength. It’s marvellous that this morning this text comes to us as we come to receive the sacrament of the eucharist for the first time in months.
The monastery and church at Tabgha on the shores of Lake Galilee, the site of the Feeding of the multitude, was destroyed in the 7th century, probably during the Arab conquest of the country, and then buried beneath a thick layer of silt and stones. In the 1980s, after excavation, the church was restored, incorporating portions of the original mosaics. A woman pilgrim named Egeria in the year 380 wrote about the Tabgha Chapel and of the wonder that its site on the banks of the river Galilee manifested in the pilgrims of her day…
In the same place (not far from Capernaum) facing the Sea of Galilee is a well watered land in which lush grasses grow, with numerous trees and palms. Nearby are seven springs which provide abundant water. In this fruitful garden Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. The stone upon which the Master placed the bread became an altar. The many pilgrims to the site broke off pieces of it as a cure for their ailments.
From the very beginning of the Church’s history even before Egeria, in fact from the first century onwards, the early church saw itself as a Eucharistic community – that is to say a community which was united with Christ in the Eucharistic meal. To be a eucharistic community was to draw sustenance from the one source, Jesus Christ, and to receive the bread and wine which was his body and blood. This powerful identification tells us that the church was distinctive and like no other community of faith. It was passionate for Christ, obedient to his word and faithful in to the Christian calling.
St Paul, in prison and at the point martyrdom, delivers up a poignant and powerful cry for the God who remains present to us and for us at all times and in all places
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
(2 Timothy 2.8-13).
Written only decades after the death of Christ, we are given some sense of the intensity in which the faith of Christ was upheld from earliest times. Another passage from the earliest Christian work The Didache offers a Eucharistic prayer which is vivid and bristling with confidence:
As grain that was scattered on the hillside was gathered together and made into one loaf, so too, we, your people, scattered throughout the world, are gathered together around your table and become one. As grapes grown in the field are gathered together and pressed into wine, so too are we drawn together and pressed by our times to share a common lot and are transformed into your life-blood for all. So let us prepare to eat and drink as Jesus taught us: inviting the stranger to our table and welcoming the poor. May their absence serve to remind us of the divisions this sacrament seeks to heal, and may their presence help transform us in the body of Christ we share. Amen
The Didache 90 AD
I once knew a woman who had lost her son. He had committed suicide. She was beside herself with grief. She herself was a devout churchwoman and made her grief worse. She was in a state of great confusion. She felt the expectation that she should be able to bear all these things as befitted her well-known status as ‘a pillar of the Church’ and a proper Christian. But this could not be the case. People kept on asking her about how she felt. In her grief there was to be ready-made set of consolations. But at a crucial point, early on in her grieving, her Vicar, whom she had known for many years, arrived at her home one day while she was out shopping. He left on her doorstep a beef casserole which he had taken hours to make, and with it a small message.
That woman recalled to her Vicar many months later that it was that gift, of the casserole dish with its food waiting on her doorstep, which spoke louder than words could at that time, and remained for her human and memorable. Its kindliness stood for that sharing of loves, that staple diet, informed by the Word of God and of his teaching, which blesses and gives hope. It is the grace for loving, which is the gift of God to the one who, within the Eucharistic community, has truly become what they have received in Christ…. A small act of human kindness may contain within it the seeds of great healing for others and a greater good for our world. We may not know, we cannot tell what graces are given as our bread is cast among the waters shared among and within our common lot. The Eucharist in action. God in Christ nourishes us in all goodness...