The apostles returned to Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. (Mk 6:30)
Being a follower of Jesus can be full of surprises. No matter how long one has lived as a Christian there will continue to be astonishing moments in one’s life. There is nothing dull about faithfulness to Jesus. There may be stale periods in one’s prayer life. Our worship may at times feel simply routine and monotonous. In the course of our Christian lives we may even meet uninspiring Christians. But really, for those who follow Jesus with a strong and deep devotion and commitment, there will be wonderfully strengthening surprises. I think that is what the apostles are experiencing in the Gospel for today. They amazed themselves as they were sent out to preach, to teach and to heal. Now they have been spiritually fed and are reporting back to the teacher of all teachers, Jesus. Saint Mark records in his Gospel, The apostles returned to Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.
They were really experiencing a portion of what it’s like being part of the kingdom of God in this world. They received the spiritual authority to cast out evil spirits from Jesus. It worked and they saw evidence of it. The teaching, healing, and preaching they had done must have known great success because the crowds became larger and their worked increased. The work increased to the point where Jesus is seemingly giving them an opportunity to rest. Jesus says, Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while: for many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. The fruits of their labor, the healing, the crowds, the receiving of the teaching are strong signs of the presence of the kingdom Jesus has established by his presence and authority among them.
We too have seen all the miracles that witness to what it’s like when the kingdom of God is present. Today is the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. And yes, it is a miracle. The message is sent and made present that when Jesus Christ is present people are fed. They are fed food for their bodies, but they are also fed by the grace of God. It takes grace to heal. It takes the grace of God to supply what we need. It takes the grace of God to establish the kingdom of God and when it is established those present are made whole and given new life. This all comes through Jesus Christ.
When we are part of the kingdom of God we can be opened to receive his saving grace. Where the kingdom is established in this world we find the Church and it is in that church, the spiritual body of Christ, that saving grace can surely feed us. Grace is available everywhere, but surely and certainly in the church Christ established with his apostles. The feeding of the five thousand bears witness to this very thing.
It may be helpful to think of the feeding of the five thousand as a prefiguring of the establishment of Holy Communion. The mystery and miracle of Holy Communion is given by Christ as a means of grace. The ultimate purpose of Holy Communion is to save and bring us to the part of the kingdom of God where we dwell in and with the Trinity forever. Until we get there, we will need the grace of Christ available in the Sacraments.
Even though we are baptized, we still have tainted and spoiled wills. This makes us in constant need of God’s grace that is available to us in His Church. Notice that there are some of the sacraments that are repeated over and over as many times as we would like to avail ourselves of them. The sacraments are objective, real signs of God’s grace which He gives, which we need, and over and over again. Communion is one of them, but there are others.
Confession, a sacrament that we need regularly and often. Sin needs to be dealt with all the time. Holy Unction for healing – because we need healing in our souls and bodies, not just once, but constantly. We are constantly bombarded by Satan, and Christ has seen fit for his Church to give us some armor to fight against it time and time again. You see, the liturgy of the Church actually reflects and provides for this constant need of God’ grace.
We will need continual feeding by Jesus Christ if we are going to accomplish the goal of perfect reunion with God. Feeding that takes our whole life. Feeding that requires us to not be stagnant but alive and growing spiritually in every single way. It is very easy when one’s spiritual life is going well. It is extremely easy to pray and feel at one with God when things are going well. It is not so easy, when thing are not going well.
One serious complication in this whole process is the way we block grace. How often do we stop and block God’s grace? How often have we had that little twinge of jealousy over someone else’s success? How often have we envied someone else’s position, or thought that we could do a better job than the person in charge? How often have we belittled the Church’s teachings when they conflict with present-day societal norms or political stances? How often have we not said our prayers when we know that we can say them if we simply make the time? There are innumerable times each day when God’ grace has been stopped from getting through to us. There are many times when we could have helped someone else and we chose not to. There are many missed opportunities when the Gospel would have been put forward, and we chose to do, or say, or even think, something else. You see how our present situation requires God’s constant, loving, and self-giving grace?
This only reinforces for me the need we have of the sacraments. They are objective and real signs of grace. God has seen fit through his son to bless us with a sacramental system that feeds us each time we are ministered to by the sacraments. We do not need to well up some big emotional reaction. Although that can happen. We don’t need to whip ourselves up into a spiritual frenzy. God feeds us in the way he wants and he does it constantly. The progress of sanctification cannot be stopped. Isn’t it comforting, despite our condition, to know that God still and will always work on us?
Thank God every day for his grace and help in our lives. Let it feed you to form you and mold you into having a deeper relationship with God. Let it be your guide to having a deeper relationship with those around you. This is all accomplished through God’s work of sanctification. He wants you holy and gives you the means to be just that. Have your Communions be regular and frequent. Make you confession a regular part of your spiritual life. The Prayer Book liturgy calls for it for a very good reason and that is because the devil is out there hard at work. Read and study the Bible regularly and thoroughly. Give support to those who are in obvious need. Give time to the church, which is your means to receive the grace you need. The Word will grow in your heart, and your soul as a result, and you will indeed by granted the grace of the Holy Spirit. And through the Holy Spirit your devotion to will be right and true in this world and remain forever in the next.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.