Feeding the multitudes, early 17th century, Bernardo Strozzi
GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
TELL me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bond-maid, the other by a free-woman. But he who was of the bond-woman was born after the flesh; but he of the free-woman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit; even so it is now. Nevertheless, what saith the Scripture? Cast out the bond-woman and her son; for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bond-woman, but of the free.
St. John 6:1-14
JESUS went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. And the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. When Jesus then lift 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 penny-worth 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.
The Fourth Sunday of Lent
from The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels.
A Devotional Exposition of the Continuous Teaching of the Church Throughout the Year, Melville Scott, Vicar of Castlechurch, Stafford,
Second Edition, Bemrose & Sons, London, 1903.
Refreshment by Grace
Lent is not the season of a single truth, but, beginning with the consideration of sin, ends with teaching as to the gift of pardon through the sacrifice and death of the Lord Jesus Christ. The transition between the two great subjects takes place on Mid-Lent Sunday. Grieved and wearied with the struggle against temptation, we are today bidden to enjoy a Dominica Refectionis, a Sunday of sacred refreshment, “lest we be wearied and faint in our minds, striving against sin.” We pass, in fact, from the Sundays of temptation to a Sunday of grace, which is brought before us in two aspects.
THE EPISTLE (GAL. iv. 21.) THE GRACE OF ADOPTION.
By an allegory taken from the two sons of Abraham, each of whom stood in a different relation to his father, Christians are taught their happy relation to God as His children by grace, and their consequent duty.
A. Jewish Bondage.
Ishmael owed his slavery to his mother Hagar, the slave-wife of Abraham, a type of the Jewish Church, “the Jerusalem that now is”–
(1) As wandering in the dreary desert of the Law;
(2) And as only able to give her children a share of her own bondage.
To the Jews the service of God was a burden grievous to be borne, for God was to them more of a Master than a Heavenly Father.
B. Christian Freedom.
Isaac owed his happy freedom to his mother, Sarah, the chosen and beloved wife of Abraham. Sarah, the free mother, whose children are born free, is a figure of the Christian Church: “the Jerusalem which is above, which is the mother of us all.” As in both cases the position of the mother determined the relation of the child to the father, so the very fact that we belong to the Christian Church by our baptism determines our relation to God and makes us His children. It is because we are members of Christ that we are the children of God and have received the “one baptism for the remission of sins.” The word covenant practically means relation, or position, and a covenant of grace a relation or position of grace. The word conveys no idea of mutual bargain or condition in either case. We are what God has made us.
C. Christian Service
Is the service of sons, which is more than that of slaves. The son submits his will to his father, the slave only his outward conduct to his master. The son gives what the slave withholds, and for this reason we are tempted to prefer slavery; but if he gives more he receives more, for if he must say, “I am my father’s,” he can also say, “My father is mine.” Hence comes the conscious dignity and liberty, the power of confident prayer and thankful praise. The son serves not for favour but as one in favour, not for wages but as a debtor to infinite love. While the thought of the crown before him gives him joy, his true motive is the Cross behind him.
That such service brings refreshment is the teaching of our Church on Refreshment Sunday. Our Lenten fast is not to be a dull and heavy burden, but a willing offering. This will be the secret of influence, for a dull and joyless Church wins few victories. It is the joy of faith that conquers the world. We are, therefore, to “cast out the bondwoman” as children of the free.
THE GOSPEL (S. JOHN vi. 1.) THE GRACE OF SANCTIFICATION.
This miracle, four times recorded by the Evangelists, serves twice as a Gospel. On the Sunday before Advent the meal of grace is ended, and we are bidden to “gather up the fragments.” Here the meal is about to begin, and we are bidden to seek from our Lord all we need for soul and body. The teaching of our adoption given in the Epistle is fitly completed by the Gospel of the refreshment given to the children of God.
A. The Need of Refreshment
In the wilderness of the world we need refreshment. Our Lord’s sympathy anticipates our wants, for the first suggestion of relief was made by Him, and before the need had been felt, “when He saw a great company coming.” He has tender sympathy with the masses of mankind, though, and indeed, because, He can individualise each one. He was never too wearied for acts and thoughts of love.
B. The Source of Refreshment.
Our Lord would have us feel our poverty and inability in order that we may be driven to turn to Him for relief. How poor are human thoughts compared with the thoughts of Christ, and how insignificant are human resources as seen in the “five barley loaves and two fishes!” Poor five thousand, if they had had to depend upon the disciples they would not have had a crumb apiece! Poor Church, if it depended upon us!
Our Lord drew out faith from a sense of need in the disciples, and also raised the faith and expectation of the multitudes by His command, “Make the men sit down.” See the five thousand sitting, waiting! To wait upon Christ is the secret of sanctification. “Blessed are all they that wait for Him”; they shall never go away empty from sermon, prayer, or sacrament.
C. The Miracle of Refreshment
This great miracle teaches that our Lord, and He alone, has power to satisfy human hearts. Our Lord can satisfy our human nature, and nothing else can–not the world, sin, pleasure, high position, learning, health, nor wealth. Our Lord alone is bread to us–bread solid, satisfying, sustaining, living, and life-giving. If we feed upon Him in all that He is and in all that He has done for us, in all His aspects and characters, we shall not want.
See the bread multiplying in our Saviour’s hands: He goes on breaking, breaking, breaking, so long as the least child remains unsatisfied. We shall find in Christ more than we ever expected to want, we that have wanted more than we ever expected to find. Let but Christ bless the meal, and the supply will never run short.
To-day is indeed a Refreshment Sunday, with its two views of grace, and a Sacrament provided for the supply of each, for by baptism we are made the children of God, and by the Eucharist the children of God are fed.
THE COLLECT. A COLLECT OF REFRESHMENT.
A. Our Deserts as the Children of Fallen Nature.
We deserve punishment both here and hereafter for our evil deeds. We deserve anything but refreshment.
B. Our Comfortable Relief as the Children of God’s Grace.
We pray for the relief of full forgiveness and acceptance, and the sure supply of all our needs through His power Who fed the five thousand in the wilderness. Through our Saviour’s mercy alone can we hope for His grace.