Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on The Fourth Sunday in Lent, 2018.
In Anglican and Roman Catholic tradition, the Fourth Sunday in Lent has a characteristic unique from the other Sundays in Lent. Coming roughly in the middle of the season of Lent, seen as the time from Ash Wednesday to Easter, this Sunday has taken on a characteristic of being a kind of intermission or half-time. In England, today is known in popular piety as Mothering Sunday, and indeed this is where the secular holiday of Mother’s Day originates. In England, people would travel back home to the parish church of their youth, their “mother church.” The day has other names: “Refreshment Sunday,” “Mid-Lent-Sunday,” “Rose Sunday.” It was also the only Sunday in Lent when the Sacrament of Matrimony was allowed to be celebrated. Food is involved, with a variety of cakes and buns often baked for this occasion. Mothers themselves were honored with presents, such as small bouquets of early spring flowers. In this season wherein we give a certain emphasis on the Ten Commandments, Mothering Sunday becomes something of a robust enactment of the commandment to honor thy mother—because to genuinely believe is to not only to say what we believe but to act it out.
This sense of refreshment shows up, in a way, in our Gospel reading. The five thousand gathered on the grass certainly would have been refreshed from hunger. Our Collect echoes this: “Evermore give us this bread,”—“the true bread which gives life to the world,”—“that He may live in us, and we in Him.” In John’s Gospel this moment comes as a kind of echo of the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at the well. She learns that whoever drinks of the living water that Jesus gives shall never thirst. While it is not quite right to see the feeding miracles directly as the Eucharist, nonetheless the eucharistic overtones ring clear.
Yet unlike the Samaritan woman, who believes Jesus and correctly interprets His teaching, when the people saw the sign which He had done in feeding the five thousand, they did not correctly interpret this teaching. Rather than being thrown into prayer and thanksgiving to God, something of a mob mentality took over. The desire for a political leader was so strong that these people were about to come and take Jesus by force to make Him king. This, too, is a kind of idolatry—idolatrous thinking. They made their political ideal the first priority, not the humble worship of God through daily prayer, study, and giving thanks.
But these five thousand people were hardly alone with getting things wrong about God. Quite the contrary: they put themselves into a long line of well-intentioned people. Getting things wrong is something of an ancient custom. The New Testament is filled with descriptions of a wide range of people misinterpreting the revelation of God—from the closest circle of disciples of Jesus outward to the outer rings. Same for the Old Testament, as in our reading from the Second Book of the Chronicles. This cataclysmic event of the Temple edifice being destroyed comes on the heels of a general failure to heed God’s prophetic word. God had repeatedly sent messengers of His word to call the people back to right worship (which is the true meaning of “orthodox”). Failing to be orthodox—to worship rightly—so repeatedly that “there was no remedy, ” God in what appears to be a kind of divine desperation “brought up against them” the enemy. The house of God burned, and all the previous vessels either destroyed or stolen.
The implication of all this for our Lenten journey as the Parish of Tazewell County is this: We must go to the house of the Lord. We must make sure that it is to the house of the Lord that we are going, rather than some other house, some other edifice of our own making. We are floating on the Ark with Noah and his family; we are walking with Abraham and Isaac to sacrifice our lives to God. But are we seeking Jerusalem? Are we seeking the company of the saints crowned in glory within the walls of Jerusalem? Where David stands with harp in hand? Where Our Lady sings her Magnificat and the martyrs accompany her in magnificent harmony?
Saint Paul, writing in his Letter to the Galatians, is clear: “The Jerusalem above”—the new Jerusalem, the city of God—“is free.” And then he goes on to write, “and she is our mother.” Within her walls is peace; within her towers is quietness.
To seek Jerusalem, to seek our mother, is to be constantly seeking the heavenly places. Constantly seeking—with zeal for the Lord and His grace: the real Lord and His real grace, not our own projection upon Him, making God into our own image. For us to pray with the account of the destruction of the Temple and to pray with the misinterpretation of the feeding miracle is to recognize that any edifice, whether physical or mental, which we have created about God that is false will crumble and be destroyed. We cannot control God, we cannot control anything of the divine life: we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. All we can do is humbly approach our mother, the City of God, and in doing so, humbly approach God Almighty Himself—and ask Him on our knees to evermore give us the bread of life, that He may live in us, and we in him. God grant that we may see His endless joy, and of the same partaker ever be.
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