In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The last few weeks on this planet haven’t been very good now, have they? In the Ukraine, we’ve had the downing of a Malaysian Aircraft by who-knows-whom and heaven knows nobody is going to take responsibility for that disaster, for those lost lives. And then there’s that gawdawful war in Gaza and Israel with a civilian death count that rises seemingly every hour, and most of the dead being Palestinians. All parties concerned in this debacle are busy pointing their fingers at everyone else with none behaving like Children of the One God as they all claim themselves to be. And, as you know, the latest cease-fire lasted all of 20 minutes – never mind trying to make it last for 72 hours. Vengeance and retribution, swift and savage seems to be the only goal anyone is interested in pursuing. Forget about an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. It’s rather been a U.N. school for an eye; another U.N. school for a tooth. And in the wake of the downed Malaysian aircraft, in the wake of Gaza we view in every newscast and on the front pages of our newspapers the images of grieving multitudes – in Holland, in the Gaza, and throughout Israel and Palestine. Closer to home, some of us here grieve at the death of a long-time, faithful parishioner and friend gone too soon – and a mere six weeks after the initial diagnosis of brain cancer – John Buschagen’s place in the choir loft now forever vacant – but his niche in the columbarium soon to be occupied.
Flash-back some two-thousand years. Jesus has just heard that his cousin John the Baptist has been executed by Herod. Herod had wanted all along to put John to death – but he had feared the reaction of the crowds who regarded John as a prophet. But then came Herod’s birthday, and the daughter of Herodias – Herodias being Herod’s unlawfully wedded wife – this daughter danced before those gathered at Herod’s birthday party, and she danced so well that Herod promised to give her whatever she might ask. The girl apparently had no idea of what she wanted, so prompted by her mother, the girl said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” Now Herod was still fearful of rebellion, but because of the promise he had made to the girl in the presence of those reclining at dinner with him, he had John beheaded in the prison and did indeed have the head of John the Baptist served up on a platter for all those reclining at dinner with him and his wife.
So when Jesus heard about all of this, he went by boat to be by himself in the desert, the wilderness. When the people heard about John’s execution, they came out from the surrounding towns and met Jesus when he came ashore, and the sight the unruly mob caused Jesus’ gut to churn. But what did they want Jesus to do? Some of the mob were overcome, and Jesus tried to help them. But what of all the others? The last time Jesus had gone out into the desert he had been tempted by the Adversary – tempted to display the power that was his by dint of being God from God, true God from true God. Had this mob likewise come out to tempt him with their expectations? After all, his fame had been growing by leaps and bounds, and many thought him to be the long-awaited Messiah, come to save the people from the hands of their enemies. (Messiah, the original Iron Dome missile defense system?) It would be reasonable to expect that a goodly number of this mob wanted Jesus to rally them, to lead them in uprising against Herod, that puppet of Rome, in vengeance for the death of John the Baptist. After all, John was a prophet from God – and the most Messiah-like thing to do – according to popular opinion – would be to seek vengeance, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, would be to set the captives free as the prophets of old had led the people to expect. And certainly, some expected Jesus, the preacher, to rile people up, to get their blood boiling with talk of God, country, and ethnic superiority; or perhaps he should thunder forth with some hell, fire, and brimstone. The least Jesus could do was demonize and vilify Herod, the Romans – and all others in high places.
I come to bear witness, I come to give testimony, I come to tell you: you will be filled – WE WILL BE FILLED – in ways that defy ordinary language…
It would also make narrative sense to assert that many in this mob of thousands had come out not knowing either what they wanted or what they needed, and certainly their actions had been impulsive – they’d not planned ahead, had not brought anything to eat and darkness was descending – and no one able to kindle a fire – for cooking or for light. And now another temptation for Jesus – Send these people away! The disciples admit that on their own they certainly could not provide the people with anything they needed. So Jesus commanded the people – even as Herod had commanded the execution of John – Jesus commanded the people to recline on the grass – to take the same position as the revelers at Herod’s macabre banquet. And then Jesus took bread into his holy hands, blessed, broke, and gave it to them. (And file this away in your brain for future reference – the phrase “blessed, broke, and gave” – along with its variants – is always Eucharistic language – always means that the True Body of Christ is present.) And even as Herod offered up in his horrid hall the head of John the Baptist to his guests, so here Jesus offers up his very own self for the sake of the darkening and conflicted lives of those reeling in grief at the death of that innocent baptizer, John. And then the unfathomable: they all ate and were filled – and there was great plenty left over. Of the Body of Christ – the Body of the One who will not rise to the bait of vengeance, retribution, power, incendiary politics, nor even crowd-pleasing speech, of the Body of Christ there is no shortage; of the grace, mercy, and peace – the faith, hope, and love bestowed in Holy Eucharist – there is rather overflowing abundance for all people of every tribe and nation – light in the darkness that comes TO us, not FROM us – to us who are always unprepared and unready to receive the True Body of Christ.
And we have come here this Sunday – not a multitude of the grieving as in Holland or the Gaza Strip or in Israel and Palestine – but rather impressively few – some of us here this morning grieving the death of our brother John Buschagen, and others here have come with that quiet, subtle mourning that has become a way of life – and some of us are here not really knowing quite what we want or need – and still others have come out of habit, out of a life-long discipline – and some, as has happened to me, succumbing to the temptations of culture and have come confusing political ideology with devotion, chronically afflicted with having to do works of self-justification thus confusing Jesus with Moses and thereby turning Gospel into Law. Then too doubtless there are here some who know they cannot feed themselves, who know they cannot summon up from within themselves much, if anything, of what they need. Regardless of the motivation, however, YOU ARE HERE – not to serve up or have served up anyone’s head on a platter – but invited – no, commanded, and for your very salvation – to take, eat – to take, drink.
And I come to bear witness, I come to give testimony, I come to tell you: you will be filled – WE WILL BE FILLED – in ways that defy ordinary language, filled in ways that I have heard and that I have come to know do indeed become apparent as the days, weeks, months, and years pass by. We shall be filled in ways that do and will become apparent even – or most especially – amidst the disappointments, the griefs, the losses, the temptations, our wrong-doings, our victimhood and our victimizing. Here we SHALL be filled in ways that do become apparent amidst the seemingly inconsolable sadnesses of life on this darkly shadowed planet. The ONE who IS the light shining in the darkness, the Bread of Life, that One’s Body and Blood shall fill us with what is sufficient for life’s journey, until the day when all our wandering is ended and we are safely home, fully united with Christ in God, beyond all measure of time and place and reason.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.