Jesus looks to us for solutions. It’s easy to think that it should be the other way round. After all, he is God incarnate – the Word made flesh. When his disciples are ready to disperse the hungry crowd which had come to hear the teachings of Jesus, he says to them: “Give them something to eat yourselves.” I can imagine a pregnant pause as the disciples look at each other, wondering what on earth to do. It is a surprising and perhaps annoying response for them to hear. They are acutely aware that they do not have the resources to meet the needs of all these people sitting or standing around them. “We have no more than five loaves and two fish,” they reply rather feebly, “unless we are to go ourselves and buy food for these people.” It didn’t look at all promising.
Then we see Jesus taking charge of the situation. He doesn’t leave his disciples to struggle all by themselves. He shows that their faith in the Son of God is not misplaced. With God all things are possible. Human strength has its limits, but by faith in God those limits no longer have to determine what can be done. Somehow, those meagre resources of five loaves and two fish become enough to enable the feeding of this multitude of people. We don’t really know what happened there, but we do know that God was at work in that situation, among those people. But still those words remain in the minds of the disciples and also in the gospel for us all to hear: “Give them something to eat yourselves.” Jesus meant us to hear this for a reason.
As the Church we are called to continue what we see and hear in the gospel. First of all, our calling as God’s faithful people is to deepen our faith through prayer, through pondering the message of Jesus and through our reception of the Eucharist. But we are also called to go out into the world. We are constantly reminded of just how much need there is in the world. We live in a world of need and in a country of need. People hunger and thirst. There is longing for peace, for release from oppression and for relief from material poverty. We all need food and all the other things that keep us healthy and enable us to live in dignity. We also hunger and thirst for what can bring us inner peace and connection with each other. Most of all, whether we are aware of it or not, I believe that we all hunger and thirst for God.
As we meet together here, our purpose is to do what we hear in St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. We hear the words of Jesus as he takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it and shares it. This is the Eucharistic action and every time we meet before the altar, we eat this bread and drink this cup, proclaiming the saving death of Our Lord. By his death, Jesus has left us a lasting memorial, not just so that we can remember the past, but so that his presence can become the centre of what we do here and now. What we prepare to receive is not just a bit of bread or a sip of wine, but the Body and Blood of Christ.
As we reverence these holy gifts, let’s also hear for ourselves those words that Jesus said to his disciples: “Give them something to eat yourselves.” Jesus gave the gift of his presence to the people around him and he is present among us now. What we are called to do is not something we do alone or merely in our own strength. Just like the disciples we offer our own ordinary lives and our own limited gifts. Christians can make a huge difference through the part they play. This may be in material ways through foodbanks at a time when so many people are struggling. It can also happen though being in touch with the people who need a listening ear. We can encourage one another with our faith, so that people do not go away hungry and empty. We can offer the little that we have. Like Melchizedech in the book of Genesis, our offering can find favour with God and can become a blessing for ourselves and for others.
In this time of pandemic, our gathering at the Eucharist has been severely disrupted. There have been months where we have been unable to gather. Some people who were with us physically before are no longer able to return. During the pandemic people have also become more used to engaging digitally and have become unused to taking a full part in the Eucharist. There is no doubt though that the Eucharist is our identity. Jesus meant us to do this in memory of him. He intended us to receive the sacrament of his Body and Blood, so that we could continue his work in the power of the Holy Spirit.
As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, today’s feast reminds us that in the Eucharist there is no separation, no lockdown, no self-isolation. This is the sacrament that unites all people, wherever they may be. It feeds us so that we may reach out to others who need to be fed, either physically or by the comfort of sharing our faith. Let us give thanks for so great a gift and pray that we may receive it in the spirit in which it is given to us.