Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

The Sunday next before Advent.
The Feast of Christ the King, 2010
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Anglican Church, West Lebanon

Let us pray: O Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This Sunday has several names associated with it. Our prayer book refers to this day as: “The Sunday next before Advent.” It is a quaint phrase and, like those pre-Lenten names that include “Quinquagesima,” we enjoy them for their uniqueness. The terms make us mindful of our origins and of the language used to tell the story of Christ in earlier times. It is also called The Feast of Christ the King. And, because of the first two words of our collect, it is often referred to as “Stir Up Sunday.”

This Sunday signals a departure. We move from the familiar rhythms of the Trinity season and look forward to the season of Advent.

This week, too, we will celebrate Thanksgiving, our great national holiday. It was set apart as a day of Thanksgiving during a time of conflict in our nation's history. Hardly, it seems, a time to offer thanks. And yet, the holiday has caught on and we look forward to giving thanks for all that God has given us.

And as we settle down to our Thanksgiving feasts, we often observe family customs. We will tell each other stories; stories of the past year; stories of the present day; stories of great moments in family history and stories of long ago.

The American writer, John Cheever, is a superb storyteller and I often turn to his works for entertainment and enlightenment. I have read all of his short stories twice; some more than that. One of his finest stories is called: “The Day the Pig Fell into the Well.” The title  reveals something of what is to follow. The story tells of an annual family gathering. Many years before, even before World War II, a certain family gathered for a Summer vacation. There were, perhaps, two dozen people present at the family home. It was midday. Each member of the family was engaged in some activity. All of a sudden, the family pig fell into the well. Some members of the family heard its cries and rushed to its aid. Alas, they were too late; by the time they could pull it from the well, the poor beast had expired. No one seemed to mourn the passing of this unfortunate creature, but its departure became the source of a family tradition. Every Summer thereafter, the story of the day the pig fell into the well was told and retold. Family members recalled where they were when the event happened. They argued over specific facts. Some family members wished to hide certain details about that day. The chronology became muddied. Only a few details remained certain. But one thing the story revealed was this: that day represented the high point, the peak moment in the lives of every individual who was there. Cheever's story makes this clear; for those people it was all downhill after that.

John Cheever tells his story well, though it is a story where hope seems to have been abandoned. How different this is from the gospel stories we hear on a daily or weekly basis. Many of them we hear again and again. Some are recorded in more than one gospel. Here's a question for you. Of all the miracles performed by Jesus in His earthly ministry, only one is recorded in all four gospels.
Care to guess which one? Yes, you are correct; it is the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. This story does appear in all four gospels. It is the only one.

But we don't know everything about what happened on that day. Scholars are very fond of noting the differences between the gospel texts. Seminarians are often presented with these differences and required to write papers on them. The Biblical commentaries often include multi-page charts of the differences. Word choices differ. Certain details appear in one and not others. Points of emphasis vary.

But the central story remains the same. There were many people who needed food to sustain them on their journey. God was present with them. And they were fed. God was with them on that day and they were fed of the food He had blessed and they were filled.

Of the five thousand who were there on that day, each one had a different view of the situation. Each one had a slightly different perspective. Perhaps some had a better view and could see Jesus more clearly. Perhaps another was lost in the crowd and could only see the events unfold sporadically. Perhaps another arrived late; he missed seeing the blessing and yet received the food after all. He felt the presence of Jesus without actually seeing Him.

When each of these people returned to their homes, they would tell of this story. Each would include different details. Because of who they were on that day, they would see things in a slightly different way. But all would agree on one thing: “we followed Jesus,” they would say, “we followed Jesus and received the food of eternal life. It is a Passover feast” they would add, “ that we will never forget.” For in this one miracle, Jesus feeds the multitude of the same Passover food that binds the Jews to their traditions; traditions that include the ancient covenant with God. Jesus knows that the spiritual food of God has the power to sustain all in this temporal world. And so He offers this food to all who are there.

Will you tell us about the day that Jesus fed you all – all five thousand of you?” Those who were there would be asked this question for the rest of their lives. And they would do their best to recall the events of that day, the greatest and most memorable day in their lives. Is it any wonder that the each of gospel writers included this story?

As we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion on this day, we remember that it was on a particular day in ancient Judea that Jesus blessed a tiny bit of bread and a few small fishes and fed His people with the eternal food that would sustain them all their lives. We carry that memory with us, we tell this story over and over again and we recreate it once again at God's holy altar on this particular day.

Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, who hast exalted thy beloved Son to be King over all worlds, and hast willed in him to make all things new: mercifully grant that the kindreds of the earth which are wounded and dispersed by sin: may speedily be knit together under his gracious sovereignty. Who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit now and forever. Amen.