1 And concerning the Eucharist, hold Eucharist thus: 2 First concerning the Cup, "We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the Holy Vine of David thy child, which, thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy child; to thee be glory for ever."
3 And concerning the broken Bread: "We give thee thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy Child. To thee be glory for ever.
4 As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, but was brought together and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy Kingdom, for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever."
5 But let none eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized in the Lord's Name. For concerning this also did the Lord say, "Give not that which is holy to the dogs.” — DIDACHE; CHAPTER 9, The Eucharist (1-2 cent)
It is time to begin our journey into the Bread of Life discourse from John 6. We read the opening sign in that discourse today: The Feeding of the 5,000. We note quickly that there are similarities with the other Gospels but also differences. John tells us what time of the year it might be: It is Spring, near the passover, right at the time of the first grain harvests, with barley being the fastest ripening and therefore the first harvested grain.
We can also note that the Elisha story from 2 Kings includes “Barley Loaves” and a miraculous feeding. But it is not likely that Elisha is on John’s screen in this story. In the prologue John has said: “1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” Note that Moses might have given the law, but he never saw God. The Son on the other hand has.
Moses makes another appearance in chapter 5:
Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:45-47)
This is after it is stressed again that Jesus, unlike Moses, has seen the Father:
“5:19 Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.”
We are on a mountain. There is a multitude. There is bread on a mountain in a lonely place. Could this entire episode be a statement about a better manna in the desert?
Furthermore, there is a eucharistic character to Jesus’ actions — or, better, we have taken some cues from this story for the enactment of our Eucharist Liturgy.
Finally, we need to make note that John is quite clear: This is a sign — a miracle — and the people in the story acknowledge it as such and receive it as such. This is re-enforced by the next little story that follows; another sign: The walking on water. Only John’s account of it is short and sparse when compared to, especially, Matthew.
The law came through Moses and grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (Jn1:17) They wanted to make him king after this episode but he removes himself from the place. Later he will point out that they seek him just for bread. (Jn 6:26) It is sort of like Moses’ struggles. He came with the law and the promise of a land from the mountain only to find that the bellies that were satisfied with manna had made their own “god.” There is bread and there is God. Can they be separated?
To put it another way: A man lay by the pool of Bethesda on his mat, too weak to enter the water. Jesus in passing bid him to rise up and go. But, it was the “wrong day to be healed,” a Sabbath day. Jesus’ reply to the challenge that he had healed on Sabbath was that: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working,” and further: “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does..” (Jn 5:17 & 19) Can one then pray to the God of Moses for help and healing but complain when that healing comes at an inconvenient time?
The Law came through Moses but grace and truth through Jesus. God discloses divine will in the Torah. But that Torah is not God. God discloses divine mercy in the providence of earth, given to just and wicked alike (Mt 5:45) but that providence is not God. To take either by force and make it “king,” grasps at things less than the totality of God and as a result makes an idol of what God has supplied as self disclosure. All idols eventually fail to supply what their worshippers demand though for a while they are “a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.” (Jn 5:35)
Jesus’ flight following the feeding of the 5,000 and his quiet slipping into the crowd after healing the lame man at Bethesda are what God does when the danger arises that we seek only the benefit of the divine presence but not the heart of the Trinity. God will quietly withdraw leaving the echo of the passing of the Holy presence.
The problem with idols is that once, like the stone tablets and the temple, they were a holy self disclosure, but then something went wrong and they were sought out for their own sake and not for the sake of the Triune God who gave them. In a way the cross can suffer that fate as well. We love it because God forgave our sins but we do not love the God who forgave those sins through the cross. We love the resurrection because it hints of our eternal life but we overlook that that eternal life is beyond our definition of how we shall live it. It is not our’s to shape, God will do so according to the will set clear in Torah which you better not love for its own sake but rather cherish as the Holy will of a Holy Triune heart.
The Holy Eucharist is a mystery. Hold the bread for a moment as you take it. Are you thankful for the bread that has spent over a year being created? Are you thankful for the salvation in Jesus that stands behind it? Are you grateful that the Holy Spirit will at that moment renew Faith and recreate life? Is it just bread? Is it just medicine against condemnation? Is it just the presence of the Spirit? And if you said: “yes,” to all, is that a complete answer? If the Word became flesh is even the “yes” to all those questions sufficient?
The bread will be eaten the wine will be drunk. They will pass out of sight. They must. It would be heartbreaking if we made idols out of them. They are but gracious hosts, carriers, of the Holy to us. With them, we become likewise carrier of that Holy presence to the world, though we are never the presence itself. Cracked vessels that carry the Holy but are not holy, that will pass from life, and that will be gathered from the hills into one to Jesus Christ.
Moses and Torah, the fish and barley loafs, are invitations: There is a totality of God that you are being invited to. Do not settle for less. The Eucharist is such an invitation: It is “only wine and bread” but it is always “all” of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is Torah and Gospel, providence and grace. It is all, until it withdraws into . . .