Thursday, January 29, 2015

Crumbs (Mark 6:30-46)

From very early times Christians have read these stories of Jesus miraculously feeding crowds as eucharistic. It’s not hard to see why - the sequence of taking, blessing, breaking and giving the loaves echoes directly the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper.

So this is eucharistic - yes, we like this, we’re Anglicans! But then surely the Anglo-Catholic in each of us feels a certain disturbing question arising. What about all those crumbs? Five thousand people, reclining on the grass outdoors, bread and fish going everywhere - what are they doing about the crumbs?

The answer is, as often in liturgical conundrums, “God will cope”. But there is more to the crumb issue. Actually they do seem to care about the crumbs - twelve baskets worth are collected. The crumbs matter.

Modern differences of opinion about the proper reverence to eucharistic elements assume an attitude to food that is inconceivable for the first hearers of this story and for most people everywhere, who do not have enough to eat. Even unconsecrated crumbs are important, if you’re hungry. Our eucharistic food is, yes, in some ways unique and remarkable, but it is so because it is “food indeed”, not because it is not food. What pertains to all food pertains even more to the Eucharist, not less.

The crumbly messiness of the Eucharist is not then meaningless. Its inconvenient fragments spill out into how we think about all our eating, and how we deal with the rest of food and of life. Although we don’t bring monetary offerings to these morning celebrations, I am always encouraged when we hear news of an upcoming visit to the Loaves and Fishes food pantry, or to Chapel on the Green and its opportunities for feeding the hungry spiritually and physically. These are eucharistic actions too. Or remember the famous words of Bishop Frank Weston of Zanzibar, that we cannot claim worship Jesus in the tabernacle if we do not pity him in the slum.

St Augustine was one of those early fathers who thought about this story, and to him are attributed words that place us at the heart of this process: "You are to be taken, for you are the Body of Christ. You are to be consecrated, broken and distributed, so that you may be the means of grace and vehicles of eternal charity”. In coming to this table we not only reflect on this, we enact it, become it; even when we are not full engaged with him, he becomes concretely engaged with us as we eat and drink; and we find ourselves transformed and empowered for his life in the world, as he feeds us with his crumbs.

[Preached at St Luke's CHapel, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, January 29 2015]