Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sunday before Advent

John 6: 5-14

I recall specific miracles that I have seen with my own eyes. For years my mother carried around before and after x-rays of her spine, sort of the way some people have before and after pictures to show the results of a diet. Before we prayed for her spine, every vertebra was out of place and the whole spine was crooked. Afterward, immediately afterward, the whole spine was perfectly straight (I recall watching her move in response to what looked like reactions to invisible hands under an aqua colored blouse quickly rearranging each vertebra). I remember in 1976 a lady who had a deformed left shoulder, in the town of Westminster Maryland, whose husband always drank away half their income. Through a camel colored blouse, I saw the left shoulder instantly straightened and rebuilt during a prayer. The real punch line to that story is that her husband, seeing the obvious result of a miracle, sobered up and became very serious about his Christian faith. The last time I saw them was twelve years later, and they were doing very well. I don’t want to sound at all like one of those faith healing television evangelist types; but, I do want to make it clear that I am an eyewitness to miracles, and could not have a problem accepting as literal fact the miracles of the Bible, including the one we just read about, even if I wanted to.

In the 1960s it was rather trendy to try to explain away the miracle in today’s Gospel, using the Stone Soup theory. Of course, there would be no point in telling this story at all unless it was for the purpose of reporting another miracle of Christ. People who need to try to explain away miracles really do not need to be reading the Bible, since they cannot make sense of any of it. Either believe the story or don’t; but don’t play with it. But we need not fear that the Church will ever succumb to unbelief. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote, we have a Divine promise that His word will always be taught faithfully. “And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding (Jer. 3:15).”

The problem is partly a philosophical void: the Rationalist cannot use his mind rationally. Anyone who notices that the universe just happens to exist, is living all the time with the evidence of the first miracle of the Bible, the Creatio ex nihilo. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” To make everything out of nothing is much more impressive than the multiplication of existing material, a little bit of bread and fish to feed thousands.

Notice, in today’s Gospel the miracle came at a time of need, since there was no food for the people in the wilderness, just as there had been no food when the people came out of Egypt and were in that wilderness. The manna came in the days of Moses, and Jesus fed thousands of people on this day with next to nothing. In scripture, we often see miracles coming in the time of need. Imagine the people with Pharaoh’s army behind them, and the Red Sea before them. This was a perfect setting for God to show the power of His hand. The people being pursued appeared to be in the greatest of danger. But it proved safer to be one of those escaping slaves on the shore than to be in the mighty army, because everything was in the hands of God. The former slaves went forward on dry land in the midst of the sea, forward into freedom and the Promised Land; and the mighty army drowned.

The fact is we all are on the edge of the Red Sea with the Egyptians coming up after us. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (I Cor. 15:19).” We all need a miracle, because we shall most surely die- unless the Lord returns first. Even so, those who are alive at that time will have to die to this life, and shed their mortal nature.
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. (I Cor. 15: 50-54).”
To share in Christ’s resurrection is our only hope, inasmuch as mortality reigns through sin in this life; unless the waters of that sea part, we are doomed. So, we must believe in miracles in order to have the hope of eternal life, and we must believe not only that miracles can still happen: We must look forward in anticipation of the greatest miracle promised to us for the future, which roots our hope in the past. Christ rose from the dead after bearing away our sins on the cross. Saint Paul reminded the Church at Corinth that Christ's appearance to witnesses after His resurrection, was an essential part of the Gospel as he preached it. Because they died rather than change their eyewitness account, the word “martyr”- that is, witness- has come to mean someone who dies for his testimony. The shed blood of the early martyrs is a guarantee that they have left to us that we may always have hope, knowing that the dead are to be raised. So we call it “the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.”

Among Satan’s ministers, preaching in many pulpits today, the mission is to destroy your hope and joy, and to restore to you the terror of the grave. “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Cor. 15:57).” We have the food and drink of eternal life, given to us by Christ Himself. When we read on in this sixth chapter of John, after Jesus walked across the lake, the multitudes came and met Him on the other shore.

“Jesus answered them and said, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled… Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world… I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst… I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world… Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him (see vs. 26-51).’ ”

Ultimately, that is the greater message of this Gospel passage. The Lord Jesus multiplied those loaves and fish because He was teaching, by that miracle, that He Himself is “the True Bread that comes down from heaven, which, if a man eat thereof, he shall live forever.” He taught that His flesh is food indeed and His blood is drink indeed, and that by Him we are nourished with eternal life.

He commanded that the fragments left over from this miracle be gathered up and that nothing be lost. In this world, first by His creation, and then even more so by His coming in the flesh as fully God and fully Man, material things can take on the quality of holiness. This bread was too holy to be treated with disdain and left to spoil. And, it was only a mere symbol of this bread and wine, which will become the Reality of His Body and Blood in the Blessed Sacrament of this altar. If you wonder why we go to so much trouble not to profane the Sacrament, to preserve it set apart in the tabernacle, remember this story. It was a miracle that only served to shadow this Sacrament, this means of grace; it was used by Christ to teach that we must feed on Him, and do so in faith, to have His risen life within us.

The miracle of His resurrection is our hope for the future. We depend on the God of miracles to give us our share in Christ’s resurrection. 

1 comment:

Brendan said...

A great and thought provoking sermon. Thank you Fr Hart.