Monday, November 26, 2007

The Sunday next before Advent

The Holy Gospel is written in the 6th chapter of St. John, beginning at the 5th Verse.

When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.


Beginnings and endings have always been important times. We mark them with rituals and, in the church, set them apart with sacraments. When babies are born we bring them to Church and baptize them, washing them from original sin. When children reach an age of decision, we come again to the Church and, through the imposition of hands by the Bishop and the anointing with the holy oil of Chrism, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation. In fact, all of the Sacraments stand as markers and consecrators of time and our passage through it. Next to the Eucharist, the most prominent markers of the church are baptism, matrimony, and burial. Or, as some clerics call it, “hatch, match, and dispatch.” This desire to mark beginnings and endings has its counterparts in the secular world, as any graduation ceremony will show. Beginnings and endings are indeed important and few times in the Church year show this more than our celebration today on the Sunday Next Before Advent.

The Church Year runs on a different calendar from the secular world. Each liturgical year begins on the First Sunday of Advent. So, next Sunday, December 2, 2007, will actually be the first Sunday of Liturgical Year 2008. On first thought, this seems somewhat odd. Why wouldn’t the two calendars correspond to each other a little better? Maybe this answer will help: Starting the church year almost a month before the secular reminds us that God’s time is not our time. It reminds us that God’s timetable works off a different standard, a standard that is based on the salvation of souls rather than the accomplishments of secular power. Perhaps our task on this day is to take stock of where we are in our Christian journey and see what our Gospel can tell us about the road ahead.

Today, we hear the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes. But this story is different from the others. First of all, it occurs in the Gospel of St. John. All the other stories are found in the first three Gospels, so this marks one of the few occasions that all the Gospels record the same story. Jesus looks up and sees a great multitude before him with no money to buy food for them all. So he takes five barley loaves and two small fish. Following a clearly Eucharistic formula, Jesus blesses and feeds the multitudes taking care to gather up all the crumbs, so that “nothing be lost.” In this story, we learn two simple truths on which we can meditate as one year ends and another begins.

The first truth is this: Christians find their source and summit, their beginning and end in the Eucharist. As Christ gives His Body and Blood to us, we are healed and strengthened for our Christian journey. To a certain extent, then, we are the multitude in this story, hungry and lonely, without provision. We are the multitude that needs the healing bread that only comes from the loving hand of Jesus. We are fed miraculously by what appears to be a small piece of unleavened bread and a cup of wine, but is actually the food and drink of the Angels. We share in the Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving, where Christ offers Himself to the Father in an unending Sacrifice, and offers Himself to us as the Food of our Salvation. Yes, for us the beginning and end of all things is the Eucharist.

The second truth follows: As Christ fed the multitudes so we, as the Body of Christ, are called to feed the multitudes of our day with the truth that comes only from Jesus Christ. We live in a starving world, a world that can almost seem insane. In our time we are told that there is no such thing as truth, that salvation is a meaningless illusion, and that sin is not something that demands justice but a behavioral condition that can be fixed with the right psychological and sociological solutions. The world in which we live is confused, hungry, and isolated. Our task as Christians is to feed them with the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. Our task to is to let the world know that there is a Word of Truth and that Word is Jesus Christ. And as Jesus Christ fed the souls of the early Christians, as He feeds our souls today, so too He will feed the souls of all who will come to Him with outstretched hands, a humble heart, a desire to become new creatures in God.

On this Last Sunday of the year, let’s give thanks for this great gift, this Eucharist, this Thanksgiving. And as we begin the liturgical year 2008, let’s resolve to call all the hungry, all the lonely to the truth that is Jesus Christ, so that no fragment, however small, be lost.

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