Home      Back to Lent 4




A Sermon on the Gospel
Dr. David Smith

Preached on the Fourth Sunday in Lent at St. George's Anglican Church,
Prince Albert Saskatchewan, March 6, 2005



The Bible takes on a special significance sometimes in our lives.  Imagine going through a difficult time - a loss, a period of uncertainty.  Perhaps the words of the Bible are a special comfort.  They are part of the way that God seems to support you when there is no obvious support.  Then you read the old story from the book of Exodus where the people of Israel are going through the wilderness and they are fed by the manna that falls from heaven. And you say to yourself - that is like my experience!  A heavenly food comes to you when you don't see how you can find strength to go on.  All around you seems like wilderness, but there is a special strength from God that you don't know how to account for.


When John wrote about the feeding of the five thousand in his gospel, it had a special significance for him.  This miracle, where Jesus fed five thousand people in the wilderness with a meal that started out as five loaves and two fish, reminded him of other meals.  It reminded him of the feeding of Israel with manna that we just remembered.  It reminded him of the Passover meal, where God's people fed on a sacrificed lamb.  The lamb's blood had saved them on the night of the Exodus.  And it reminded him of the meal that he and all Christians ate as their main act of worship and fellowship - the Lord's Supper.


When we hear the story of the feeding in the middle of Lent, it reminds us of how when we go on a journey of prayer and penitence, of redirecting our lives back towards God, he feeds us in the midst of it. A time of humbling ourselves and straightening out our lives becomes a time of blessing and feeding as well.  That too reminds us of the Lord's Supper, the Holy Communion or Eucharist that we share Sunday by Sunday.  Holy Communion is a time when God feeds us in the midst of life's journey. It is a time of refreshment for our spirits, giving us nourishment and strength to go ahead.


How is Holy Communion like the feeding of the five thousand?  The crowd of people were hungry, they needed a lot of food, and what there was was not nearly enough to feed them all.  So when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, he showed that God can make a full supply where from our point of view there was not nearly enough.   Jesus asked Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat."  Philip certainly didn't have any idea.  "Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get just a little."  Then Andrew chips in:  There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they among so many?"  The disciples could not see how the people could be fed.


So what is the need when we come to Holy Communion?  Isn't it the hunger and thirst for righteousness?  Isn't our great need to have a good standing in God's sight?  We all want to be accepted and respected by the people around us.  And whether we know it or not, we all need to be accepted by God and to have a good standing before him.  As the Bible says, "If God is for us, who can be against us."  If God considers us good and acceptable, then who cares what anyone else thinks?  But what have we got on our side to make us worthy of God's favour?  Perhaps we have five loaves and two fish worth of goodness, but what is that by God's standards?  Measured by God's law we all fall short.  And so like the disciples in the story, we don't see any way that we can meet the need to be good and acceptable before God.


Perhaps someone might say, how can he know that?  He doesn't know me that well.  He can't know how good I am.  And that is perfectly true.  But I don't have to know because every Sunday we all confess that this is our condition.  We admit every week that we do not have what it takes to do what God wants from us.  We all fall short - but unlike the disciples we know where what we need is going to be supplied


Our need is met when we are fed in the Lord's Supper.  Well, again, someone might say, "that's a preacher's answer.  They have to say that.  But what does it really mean?"  There are two ways that our spirits are fed when we take Holy Communion and they go together.  The first is that our spirits are strengthened because we remember what Christ has done on the cross for us.  The blood of the Passover lamb saved the people on the night that they were delivered out of Egypt.  And the blood of the Lamb of God, shed for us on the Cross supplies what we lack to make us accepted before God.  On our own we have only a few loaves and fish worth of righteousness, but by his death on the Cross Jesus gave us an abundant banquet.


Our righteousness, our goodness is not enough.  Our obedience to God is not perfect enough to win us his approval.  But Jesus as he went to his death showed perfect obedience. And God counts that obedience as if it was ours.  God has provided his own means to make us acceptable - the obedience of his Son.  As we think about the Cross we see there our acceptance, our restored relationship with God.


The second way that we are fed in Holy Communion is that we welcome Jesus into our hearts.  Jesus said, "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."  But "whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."  Jesus tells us to thankfully receive him into our hearts.  This is our communion, our participation in him.  Our goodness, our virtue, such as it is, is the raw material, the loaves and fish that he will start with.  But he will provide the banquet.  We are to receive, to welcome what he will give us.


These two ways in which we are fed are both important.  Perhaps many of us focus on receiving him into our hearts here and now.  We try to be in a reverent and receptive state of mind.  And this is good.  But we also have to remember - to recall what Christ has done for us on the Cross.  Our prayerfulness is something we have a part in, but Holy Communion is not mainly about us and our devotion.  It is mainly about the acceptance before God that Christ has won for us.  We can not add to that, nor do we need to. His work is finished and all we need to do is to trust it.  We can think of many things as we go to the communion rail.  We can think about our sins and about God's forgiveness.  We can think about our needs and the needs of those around us.  We can think about God's blessings and be thankful for them.  But if we never remember our Lord's death on the Cross for us, we are missing something crucial.


When the Jews celebrated the Passover Supper there were these two elements as well.  They remembered with gratitude that God had delivered them out of Egypt and they celebrated that they belonged to him as his chosen people.  In our Passover feast, in the Holy Communion we celebrate Sunday by Sunday we remember that God has made up the righteousness we lack through the death of the Lamb of God on the Cross.  And we celebrate the communion we have with him as we receive him into our waiting hearts.  This is the food that nourishes us as we journey through Lent and through our lives.  Whatever needs to be changed, whatever has gone wrong, as we remember and receive, God gives us the strength for our journey.