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Service for Eighth Sunday after Trinity

[Keep a moment of silence, calling to mind that, though we are unable to gather together, we share fellowship as a Church family as we offer this short act worship in our own homes]

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life, those who come to me shall not hunger and those who believe in me shall never thirst” [John 6.35]

Collect

Almighty Lord and everlasting God, we beseech you to direct, sanctify and govern us in the ways of your laws and the works of your commandments; that through your most mighty protection, both here and ever, we may be preserved in body and soul; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Gospel Reading: Matthew 14.13-21 

A reading from the Gospel of St Matthew

When Jesus heard of the death of John, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.  When he landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Reflection

Today’s Gospel reading begins with some devastating news for Jesus and his disciples. His cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded by order of King Herod Antipas.

John had been critical of Herod’s unlawful marriage to Herodias, which was one of the great royal scandals of the day. He had John imprisoned and was later tricked into ordering his execution by Herodias and her daughter. The news prompted Jesus to leave his teaching and healing ministry in the villages and towns of Galilee and to cross the sea to a place where he could get away from the crowds and find some peace.

Matthew tells us that the people could see where the fishing boat was taking him and they followed him around the shoreline, on foot and in even greater number. But far from being annoyed by the presence of a large and needy crowd Jesus had heartfelt compassion for them. He healed the sick and taught them.

In the evening the disciples suggested that he should send the crowds away so that they could buy some food. Instead, Jesus asked them to give the people something to eat. Rummaging through their own provisions they had only five loaves and two fish to share with the people. St John, in his Gospel, tells us that the bread and fish were a gift from a small boy.

Taking the meagre offering Jesus looked up to heaven and prayed the traditional Hamotzi prayer of blessing, ‘Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, of your goodness we have this bread to offer...’ After breaking the bread he asked the disciples to distribute it to the people. That day, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, five thousand men and a similar number of women and children ate of the bread and satisfied their hunger. What became known as the ‘Feeding of the multitude’ was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry.

Over the years a number of interpretations of this great miracle have been offered.

There are those who accept it as literally true, that the bread went on multiplying until everyone ate their fill. There are parallels here with the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, which we read of in the First Book of Kings. During a terrible famine the widow shared her last bread with the great prophet, even though she and her son were literally starving to death. God blessed her selfless generosity with a jar of flour and a jar of oil that didn’t run out until the rains came again. Many see the miracle of the feeding of the multitude as a similar blessing from God.

Others look at the event sacramentally. With a crowd of several thousand people it would have needed a mountain of bread to feed everyone that day. So the people took just a small and sacramental token of food, not enough to satisfy their physical hunger but to feed them spiritually in the way of the kingdom. In a similar way, reporters who return from famines of ‘Biblical proportions’ across the world in our own day often speak of how they shared what daily provisions they had with as many starving men, women and children as they could. All they were able to do was to give a small morsel to each person. Some of them have referred to it as a ‘sacramental sharing’. That might well have happened on the grassy slopes above the Sea of Galilee.

Many see the feeding of the multitude as a miracle of sharing, for it’s unlikely that most of the people would have set out without any provisions for the day, their own packed lunch. The offering of the five loaves and two fish might have prompted them to share what they had too. If this is actually what happened then perhaps it is the greatest miracle of all. Listening to Jesus’ teaching touched their hearts that evening and they experienced the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

Matthew leaves the interpretation of the miracle to us and there are two aspects of the story that we can reflect on this week.         

First, it tells us about Jesus’ great love for us, for it was out of deep compassion that he told the disciples to let the crowd stay into the evening. John, the Gospel writer, puts it this way, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life’. [John 3.14]

Second, it’s a miracle where the disciples have their own role. They were the ones who offered the food for the blessing, who took it to the people and who gathered up the fragments left over. Such a ministry was a precursor of what would happen after Pentecost, when they would become Christ’s body in the world.

During this long period of lockdown one of our main priorities has been to find a safe way of getting our ‘daily bread’, the food and other necessities we have needed. Instead of going to the shops, which is what the disciples wanted the crowds to do, many of us have been relying on home deliveries, ‘click and collect’ or on family and neighbours who have shopped for us. There are parallels here with what happened at the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. If we open our eyes we will see that we have been touched, these last few months, by the selflessness of others, which is always the way of the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s also what the crowd were touched by when they were fed by a miracle in Galilee.                     

Prayers

Father in Heaven, we thank you for your grace that always exceeds what we hope or ask for. As we are fed by your word and sacrament, make your Church strong in the service of your kingdom on earth. Bless John our Archbishop and all who minister in your name.

            Lord, hear us.

Lord, feed the spiritual hunger of the world where many are lost in the desert places, far from their true home. Come to those who know you only partially and bring them into the light of Christ.         

Lord, hear us.

Lord, show us the way to relieve the needs that lie close to us; poverty, homelessness and loneliness. Take our small offerings and make them great in your service. Bless the leaders of the nations, especially as they respond to the global coronavirus pandemic and guide those who are searching for a vaccine or new treatments at this time.

           Lord, hear us.

Lord, may the compassion of Christ still prevail to heal the sick and feed the hungry, through the divine love that never fails.

            Lord, hear us.

Lord, grant refreshment, light and peace to those who no longer need the bread of this world. In your love and mercy, receive them into their eternal home.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayer for those who are unable to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion

O Blessed Lord, in union with the faithful throughout the world, at every altar of your Church where the Eucharist is being celebrated, I desire to offer you praise and thanksgiving. I present to you my soul and body with the earnest wish that may always be united to you. Since I cannot now receive you in the Sacrament, I invite you to come spiritually into my heart. I unite myself to you and embrace you with heart and mind and soul. Let nothing ever separate you from me, so that I may live and die in your love. Amen.

[Keep a moment of silence for spiritual communion with the Lord and with our brothers and sisters]

I, the Lord of wind and flame, I will tend the poor and lame.
I will set a feast for them, my hand will save.
Finest bread I will provide, till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give my life to them, whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord, is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.

Dan Schutte [b. 1947]

May God who clothes the lilies and feeds the birds of the sky, who leads the lambs to pasture and the deer to water, who multiplied loaves and fishes and changed water into wine, lead us, feed us, multiply us, and change us to reflect the glory of our Creator now and through all eternity. Amen.

Bible Readings: New Revised Standard Version [1989]  - Word of the Lord: Church in Wales - Leading Intercessions [adapted] - CCL Parish Copyright Licence:  753662