My grandmother—Amelia Augusta Dunn, or Granny as we called her—was a stubborn, sassy, southern woman who grew up on a farm right outside of Mobile, Alabama. And goodness did I feel spoiled whenever I visited my Granny. I remember as a little girl that somehow everything tasted sweeter in her country kitchen. The cereal was sugar-filled and the milk rich. The sandwiches flavorful and immediately devoured. The salads and vegetables of all things were to die for. And of course the fried food was abundant. Granny’s tiny kitchen in that 1950s converted Army barrack, was like heaven on earth.
It wasn’t until about middle school that I began to enquire to my parents why everything tasted better at Granny’s house. Well basically what I found out is that my own momma (bless her heart), she had been skimping out on the good stuff. Instead of the corn flakes we ate at home, Granny had frosted flakes. Instead of skim milk, at Granny’s we drank 2%. Instead of fat-free mayo, Granny put miracle whip on our sandwiches. And instead of vinaigrette dressings, we had that creamy Hidden Valley ranch. Then on top of all that fatty goodness, there was fried chicken, fried okra, and fried catfish. Oh how satisfying was every single meal—from breakfast to dinner—, and always with many a leftover tucked away in the back of the fridge. At Granny’s house I never went hungry.
In some ways this is how I imagine the feeding of the five thousand—the only one of Jesus’ miracles found in all four Gospel accounts. In today’s reading from John, the little boy’s food presented to the disciples and to Jesus, is definitely not that glamorous—it’s just the staples of a simple country life. This packed lunch for one small child consists only of 5 loaves and 2 fish. And it is not even food of decent quality. One ancient Jewish writer stated that barley—as the loaves are described in John’s Gospel—was food fit only for the beasts (although our gluten free friends might disagree on that). The fish would not have been fresh but dried and preserved. These five loaves and two fish were food of the masses, food of the poor, food of the normal day to day life of the ancient Mediterranean world—nothing glamorous, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing unusual, just the staples of a simple country life.
But friends, how good it all must have tasted once Jesus took bread and fish, gave thanks, and distributed it amongst all those people reclining across that grassy hillside. What a delicious feast it must have been! Dare I speculate: perhaps even better than Granny’s? For not only were a few grandchildren filled, but thousands of people were satisfied. And there was a bountiful leftover—filling twelve baskets in total! The food that Jesus had to offer was more than enough for all.
Yet the miracle here is not whether or not the loaves and the fish were multiplied, but the miracle is that through Christ all those who hunger are fed. The miracle is that this banquet, touched by the hands of the Divine, is filled with God’s grace. The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is that it is a sacramental story—a story where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. As the catechism in the back of your Book of Common Prayer reminds us, “A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of a inward and spiritual grace (p 857).” That outward and visible sign of 5 loaves and 2 fish signified the inward and spiritual grace that all who hunger and thirst for Christ hall hunger and thirst no more, but they shall all be satisfied. That in Jesus’ kitchen of the kingdom, the banquet will be Divine, and there’s always plenty to go around.
When we look at this famous miracle through such a sacramental lens, the feeding of the five thousand begins to look like another meal with which we might be acquainted: the Last Supper, Holy Communion, or the Eucharist. Today’s Gospel may remind us of that Passover night when Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. Even though this ancient Christian ritual has become so important to us that we celebrate it every Sunday, somehow the author of the Gospel of John seemed to have felt like he needn’t include such a narrative. The institution of the Last Supper is only found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John instead leaves us with that beautiful foot washing story, which we read on Maundy Thursday. Yet, I think perhaps John may have done this on purpose. Because perhaps for John, this feeding of the five thousand is a sign of the feeding that takes place at the Eucharist. It is an opportunity for the multitudes to gather together in community. It is the moment when this world and the next collide; when simple bread and wine are transformed into a feast ready to fill all those in our midst, no matter how they hunger and thirst for God.
Our Eucharistic meal is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. It is the outward and visible sign that no matter how long you’ve been wandering, no matter how much in despair you may feel, no matter how you hunger for more, at this feeding of the kingdom of God, no one leaves the Divine table without exactly what they need. For the heavenly banquet, the communion meal, the Eucharistic feast is far sweeter and more savory than we could ever ask or imagine. This feast in which we are about to partake can finally fill that well deep within us, that aching in the pit of our souls, that readiness to accept the grace of God, the invitation of love freely given to us all.
My friends, smells are wafting in, swirling around us in celestial anticipation. The table is richly laden, set with everything your heart desires. The food is abundant, with more than enough to go around. In Jesus’ kitchen of the kingdom, no one goes hunger, no one is turned away, and everyone is filled and welcome to partake. Come and eat.