All Saints and All Souls     November 2021

 

A service of remembrance and thanksgiving.

Luke 9: 10-17

 

On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.

The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, ‘Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.’ But he said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.’ For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, ‘Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

The season of harvest now moves seamlessly to the remembering of the saints.  Seamless because there is a connection between the two. Both have echoes of the Sabbath, that time when God rests from his creative labours, and mankind takes a break from its field of work. The saints and souls that we recall too are at rest. For a timeless moment humanity is held in the presence of the Lord.

There is no mention of the Sabbath in our reading from Luke's gospel, and no need for one, as the connection is visible not spoken.  Seeing it refocuses the well known story[1]. It is not just about a crowd being fed by Jesus.  Something deeper is happening to the disciples, and by implication to us.

In the lead up to our story, the disciples have all been sent out to be missionaries for a short time.  They were told very clearly "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread nor money".[2]  Now they are back with tales to tell. Time for a team briefing, an away- day with their leader.  Luke has them meet up again at Bethsaida. Mark's original version has the disciples set off in the boat to get to somewhere remote; a deserted place, only to find that a large crowd has legged it along the coastline and got there first.  We don't know disciples attitude to this best plan gone astray.  Are they displeased?   Jesus however has a deep compassion for the crowd and spends the rest of the day with them teaching, and in Luke's account, healing. 

Late in the afternoon the disciples recommend that the crowd be dispersed, perhaps that is just them being practical, after all they needed feeding.  The Lord's response, "You give them something to eat" comes as a shock.  The disciples reaction in Mark's original account, and omitted in Luke, is based on logistics and the price of bread.  The disciples it appears know the cost of things, but not the value. 

Jesus sticks with values and asked what they have to start things off. The irony is that they have 5 loaves and some fish. Presumably it is their picnic for the away day. So much for the lesson of taking nothing with you and relying on the generosity of others!

Jesus blesses the bread.[3]   The people sit in the presence of Jesus, eat, and once satisfied they make their way home. 

Next comes the bit of the story that would resonate for a 1st century Jewish audience, and is easily missed.  The twelve disciples are told to collect up the fragments of bread left over. They do it. Nothing is said about it, and the story closes.

When the Israelites were nomadic in their long exodus they realised that God was with them every step of the way.  Their god did not belong to a location, or a natural phenomenon, or to an image.  To make this understood they had a tent, beautifully designed and made in which Moses and later Aaron could enter into the presence of the God who effectively camped out with his people.  When the people moved on, the tent of meeting came too. This idea became a fixture once the Israelites became settled farmers.  The holiest part of the permanent temple was tent-like: the tabernacle.  In it was a table, (not an altar) and a lamp stand.  Only priests were allowed in. 

On the evening before the start of the Sabbath they would enter and place twelve loaves of bread on the table.  This represented the meeting point between the twelve tribes who now are sustained by the land given them. Also it reflects their work and harvest, their commitment to the covenant, and the Sabbath honour of the Lord of all creation who feeds them. The bread is known as the 'bread of the presence', or sometimes as the 'show-bread'. It was kept on the table until replaced the following week[4].

Take another look at our disciples. There are twelve of them, there are twelve samples of bread that they have gathered. They are in the presence of God, although may not have known that significance of Jesus at the time.  It is evening.  The work of the day is over, and the Sabbath can begin, an away-day.

They have also just been shown that they are indeed priests, mediating between the Lord and the crowd.

The Sabbath is where we can again connect with those who we remember, saints and sinners who have left a mark on our lives, and with whom we long to be reconciled. Our service of remembrance today connects us not just with them but with the whole company of heaven. From apostles who were affirmed by Jesus as priests, through the writing of the evangelists, to each of us on our way through life.

We have a tradition of saying the office of Compline on Saturday evenings in the seasons of Advent and Lent (you can join on Zoom). The work of the week is over and a Sabbath begins.  In that office we often use the following exhortation from the letter to the Hebrews:

" A sabbath rest still remains for the people of God;  for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labours as God did from his.  Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest. ". (Hebrews 4: 10-11)

Like the disciple that we are, we too are invited to gather up our broken fragments and be in the presence of God.

 

Mark Taylor.  Reader 

 

[1] The story of the feeding of the 5000 originated with Mark's gospel, and was copied by each of the other evangelists.  Mark was careful to relay two parallel versions of the story. In the first the crowd is clearly Jewish, in the second, the feeding of four thousand, the crowd is gentile.  Matthew copies this exactly. Luke omits the separate feeding of a gentile crowd: he is writing for gentiles. Our story today is of a Jewish crowd, and we are, as it were, on Jewish soil.

 

[2] Luke 9:3  The Gospel message cannot be transmitted by power.  The disciples need to be powerless in their relationship to others if the message is to be meaningful. They are not selling anything!.

[3] In John's gospel he refers to  barley bread, not the bread of the presence which has strict rules for the ingredients. In doing so his story links to Elijah feeding  100 men in 2Kings 4: 42-44. and the first yield of harvest.  The synoptic gospels following Mark make no such connection.

[4] In churches that have a strong Eucharistic tradition, the tabernacle motif is retained as a furnishing  to hold communion bread for later distribution:  the reserved sacrament.

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