Exodus 16:1-5,13-15; John 6:25-35
2nd Sunday of Lent
St Barbara’s; 28.2.2021
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Hunger does different things to each one of us. Ask any member of my family and they will tell you: If it is two o’clock in the afternoon and I haven’t had my lunch I go a bit wobbly, I tend to become a bit panicky and stressed, and lose perspective on things. I find it difficult to focus and become terrible at listening. A few mouthfuls of food later and I‘ve revived and back to my normal self and everything regains its perspective. Colleagues in previous places where I have worked learnt not to book meetings with me over the lunchtime slot for that very reason! Others in my family, however, can skip lunch entirely, and still function entirely normally, and be civil and polite to everyone. I can’t quite work out how. However, whether you are someone who needs their breakfast, brunch, elevenses and lunch, or someone who can quite happily skip all them, in the end, we all need food, we all need nourishment. We can’t survive for long without.
Nourishment is even more important when undertaking a long journey. We quickly flag and struggle when we become hungry, and run out of energy. That’s why most long-distance runners have a favourite meal before running a race, and it usually involves some form of slow-release carbohydrate, such as pasta, that gives them the energy for the entire run.
In our second week of our series exploring the spiritual essentials that we need to have as we go through the journey of life, we are thinking about our spiritual nourishment – the things that sustain us, that help us to keep going, as we follow God. It is the theme that both our Bible readings touch on.
In our first reading, the people of Israel have escaped slavery in Egypt, have crossed the Red Sea, and are journeying towards the Promised Land. But they need nourishment. The food they had brought with them is beginning to run out. And so, even though it is only six weeks since the miraculous events of the crossing of the Red Sea, an event that was so clearly of God that it led to joyful and spontaneous celebration, Miriam leading all the women of Israel in dancing and the shaking of tambourines, despite that, we now find them in a very different mood. They are angry, grumpy. “We should have stayed in Egypt,” they grumble. “At least we had food there.”
Their hunger had led them to lose perspective. Was life in Egypt really a picnic in the park – of course not. Was their God going to miraculously deliver them from the hands of Pharaoh only to allow them to starve to death in the wilderness – of course not. But they have problems seeing that. So God, in his love and mercy, provides them with food – bread, manna from heaven. God has not deserted his people – he provides for them; he meets their need.
A thousand years later and we find Jesus providing a crowd with similarly miraculous food – multiplying five loaves and two fish – to feed a crowd of over five thousand.
On each occasion the people failed to get the point. The Israelites try and store up food for the next day and discover in the morning that it has gone mouldy. The bread from heaven meets their physical needs but, more importantly, it is teaching them to trust in God. God is delivering them daily from hunger, not just on one-off spectacular occasions like the crossing of the Red Sea, but each day. The message: rely on God daily, not just when crises loom.
And the people pursuing Jesus around the lake after having eaten the bread and fish? Well, they want to see more miracles, they want more free bread. They haven’t cottoned on to the fact that whilst they are clamouring for ordinary bread, Jesus is offering them something much, much more valuable, spiritual nourishment, food to feed their souls, something that no other food can satisfy. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus says. “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Jesus, the bread of life, is a daily gift to us. He is a gift of eternal value. He is our nourishment for the spiritual journey, he and he alone, even when life feels like a wilderness.
It is possible to miss this gift of life, like the people of Israel did, like the crowd following Jesus did. It is important that we put ourselves in a place to receive this gift, hourly, daily, weekly, monthly – this gift of nourishment for our souls. But how?
A good place to start is by recognising that it is Jesus who is the source of all the spiritual nourishment we need. We need look nowhere else. And so whatever helps us to enter into his presence, whatever helps us to draw closer to him, whatever helps us to know him more, we are to do those things.
That may be for you reading the gospels, immersing yourself in the story of Jesus’ life, allowing his words, his actions, his character, his love to enrich you and fill you. One of the traditions of Lent that I have grown to value and love over the years is the reading of the Passion narrative, the reading of the whole story of Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem in one sitting, allowing the story, allowing Christ, to become a part of me. And we’ll do that again for on service on Palm Sunday
We may also find it helpful in growing closer to Christ to read the words of those who have trodden the path of faith and intimacy in Christ before us, whether the words of St Paul in his New Testament letters, or the words of followers since, such as Augustine, John Bunyan, Henri Nouwen or Paula Gooder, to name but a few. In all such reading, it is asking, how does this bring me closer to Christ.
But our nourishment doesn’t just have to come through reading. Prayer is another way by which we put ourselves in a place to receive the nourishment of Christ. Praying to Christ, speaking with him, whether on the hoof or in a church service or in some set-aside time at home; whether in silence or out loud; whether alone or with others; allowing time to acknowledge and experience the presence of Christ with us. Being nourished as we spend time in his presence.
Singing can be a wonderful way of expressing our prayers too. It helps us to express our emotions, our hopes, our struggles, our longings, before Christ. We will sing in a few moments time: “Guide me O thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land.” All of us I think can identify with those words, all of us have experienced some form of barrenness over these last few months. The hymn goes on: “I am weak but thou art mighty, hold me with thy powerful hand.” We know we need his strength. “Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me now and ever more.” Song can put us in a place of receiving the nourishment, the bread, of Christ. And I’m so glad to know that so many of you stand up in your homes and join in with Norman in singing the hymns during our services each week. But don’t just wait till Sunday. If you have a CD of hymns play them during the week. And if you search the internet you will find a recording of almost any Christian song, chorus or hymn you can think of, to listen to and sing along to, and help you be nourished by Christ.
Reading, prayer, music are all ways of putting ourselves in a place to receive the nourishment that Christ longs to give us. Attention to Christ’s presence in the world can help us too. In the beauty of the world he has made – and especially in this emerging season of Spring – we begin to see the wonder of his divine creativity. In the people around us, in their kindness, hospitality, creativity, thoughtfulness, we may see the image of Christ shining through. Let us allow the Spirit to open our eyes to how he may be working in the world around us. He nourishes us in so many ways.
Christ is the bread of life. He is our nourishment, the source of all that we need for our journey in life, and he longs to feed us. Let us feed on him this day, now and ever more.