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The Word of the Sacrament
Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 26, 2017
Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.
The apostle John tells us that Jesus knew what He was going to do. He knew He was going to feed thousands of people with a small amount of food.
But I can’t help wondering if John is also tuning us in on something bigger, something greater. I mean, feeding thousands of people in a miraculous way is great. But after this miraculous action and they follow Jesus looking for more, He tells them not to labor for the food that perishes. They were fed miraculously, but it was only one meal.
I can’t help but think that Jesus knew what He was going to do beyond that. Something bigger, something greater. Jesus knew Himself what He was going to do, and He knew why He had come to earth.
And if we are going to see how John shows us His picture of Jesus, that is exactly what happens. In John Jesus’ miraculous actions aren’t miracles, they are signs. Signs point to something else. Something bigger, something greater. Signs are important in themselves but they are never the main thing. The main thing is always what the sign points to.
John gives us the clues. He says that Jesus went up a mountain and a large crowd was following Him. And when He sat down with His disciples John tells us something: Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.
Why are we told this? There doesn’t appear to be any significance to this festival and what Jesus was about to do in feeding the five thousand. If it were just a stray comment it might simply refer to the time of year it was, as we sometimes tell a story and say when it occurred even though the story would be just as meaningful without it.
But as John goes on to tell what happened we get the sense that there is more to it. Jesus tests Philip by asking him where they’ll buy food to feed all these people. To Philip it’s impossible, they should all just pack up and leave so they can get their own meals. Andrew chimes in with the offer of five loaves of bread and two fish from a boy who was there.
This is all Jesus needs. And rather than simply telling us that Jesus miraculously fed the crowds with this small amount of food John says that “Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.” It was on the night in which He was betrayed that our Lord took bread, gave thanks, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat, this is My body which is given for you.” It was during the festival of the Passover.
So here in chapter 6 John is giving us this sign. He is pointing us to something greater. In chapter 6, at the time of the Passover, Jesus fed the crowds with loaves and fish. At the Passover on the night He was betrayed, He took bread and wine and fed His disciples with His body and blood.
But there are more signs. John says, “And when they had eaten their fill, He told His disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten.” In chapter 6 Jesus feeds many with a little and there is an abundance left over. At the Passover, on the night when He was betrayed, Jesus took a little bread and a little wine and gave all there is to give, His very self. The very body He would give over the next day on the cross He was giving to them in this Sacrament. The blood He would shed the next day He was giving to them in this sacred meal.
The crowd’s reaction at being fed so miraculously was to make Him king. They wanted more of what He had given them. But Jesus was not performing a miracle so much as He was giving a sign. A sign pointing to something greater than bread and fish. Or, as He said, the food that perishes. He was pointing to the greater food that is the Bread from Heaven. Later in the chapter He says straight out, “I am the Bread of Heaven.” He says, “The food I give for the life of the world is My flesh.” He says that His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink.
The people on that day were fed miraculously, they were given as much as they wanted, and there was an abundance left over. But the true food, the body and blood of Christ, is food that gives eternal life. Whoever feeds on the flesh and blood of Christ lives forever. And this doesn’t point to anything, it is the thing.
So for you today, what does this mean? What does this mean for you in this coming week? What does it mean for you when you face trials that blindside you? Or the daily grind of the slow, dull pain of loved ones whose love you are losing? What does it mean for you if you have doubts about the greater things God has in store for you?
Here’s what it means. We have seen it every Sunday in this season of Lent. It is the Word of God. In the First Sunday in Lent Jesus relied on the written Word of God. We have a treasure beyond comprehension in our God giving to us in black and white His will for us is.
In the Second Sunday in Lent we saw how the Holy Spirit gives us a gift which is really something we need in order to obtain the gift the word of God brings. This gift is faith, and faith latches on to the only thing that can give us eternal hope and salvation, Jesus and His suffering, death, and resurrection.
In the Third Sunday in Lent we saw how the Holy Spirit first opens our ears so that we can actually hear God’s Word. So that we may see that we need to repent of our sins and so that we may hear the forgiving word of God.
Now, this same word, the Word that brings about life, is the very Word that brings about the forgiveness of sins, the life, and the salvation you need in the Sacrament of the Altar. The Lord’s Supper is not really something different from the Word of God. It is the word of God in the flesh. Jesus speaking as He does, that He gives you His body and blood, brings about the Sacrament. The Word of the Sacrament is the Word of Christ that you can rely on as Christ relied on the written Word of God. It is the Word that your faith clings to just as the woman who sought mercy from Christ clung to Him for that mercy.
It is the Word the Holy Spirit uses to open your ears and hear the amazing and abounding promises of Jesus: This is My body, for you. This is My blood, for you. This is Me. All who I am and all I have. In this meal I give you not just food to carry you through each day but for eternity. In this Sacrament I give to you a feast far surpassing the Passover which commemorated the slaying of a lamb and the sparing of life. The feast I invite you to join with Me in is My eternal Feast, where you commune with Me and the angels and the archangels and all the company of heaven.
There is no truer Word than this. The Word of your Lord. This is how you go into your week and through any struggles you endure, having been given not simply something greater but the greatest, your Lord Himself. Amen.
Pastor Paul L. Willweber
Lutheran Service Book Lectionary: One-Year, Gospel
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, San Diego, California