Harvest Festival

Rev'd Heather
Sunday, October 6, 2019 - 5:45pm

Bread had been a staple food in the UK for centuries, and the equivalent of nearly 12 million loaves are sold each day. It’s full of goodness – energy (in the form of starch), fibre, vitamins and minerals. And according to the flour advisory bureau there are over 200 different kinds of bread produced in the UK.

Yet it is also a staple in many countries and cultures... you’ll find Baguettes from France, Panini from Italy, Rye Bread from Germany, Tortilla wraps from Mexico, Naan Bread from India, Pitta bread from the Middle East – the area including Israel/Palestine where Jesus lived on earth.

And you’ll find references to bread in the Bible too – not only in our Gospel reading this morning, but also in the Old Testament. It was the absolute staple food of the Middle East.

In Genesis, when God visits Abraham and Sarah at the tree of Mamre, Sarah quickly bakes some bread for them to eat together.

Bread was such a staple at the time of the Exodus, that even as the Israelites were getting ready to flee slavery in Egypt they were still making bread for the journey. Except they didn’t have time to add the yeast and let it rise, so they made unleavened bread “Matzah’, the bread of haste, which they took with them.

And when Moses led the Israelites across the desert, for 4o years, God feeds them with bread – manna – the bread that comes from heaven, and God gave them as much as they needed every morning. Although they had to trust God – they were not to store it overnight (and when they did try it filled with maggots!) So God provided new every morning, this bread which is described as ‘white like coriander seed and tasting like wafers made with honey.’

The in the New Testament, in the Gospels, bread continues to feature. Today’s Gospel reading follows on from John’s account of the feeding of the large crowd – what we often call the feeding of the 5,000 (referring to the number of men present! – there would of course have been women and children

there too). When the crowd were hungry, after a day sat on the grass hillside listening to the inspiring teachings of Jesus, Jesus took all the food there was available – the food of a young boy – 5 small barley loaves and 2 fish and gave thanks to God for them and asked his disciples to share them round until everyone was fed. It is probably one of Jesus’ most famous miracles. And once again it is bread that is the staple food. Bread that sees that people’s hunger is satisfied – at least for that day.

And that’s the thing about hunger, it always comes back. After we’ve eaten breakfast, it’s only a matter of time before our hunger comes back and we’re ready for lunch and dinner – if indeed you get that far – I know I’m often hungry for a mid morning snack!

Of course, when we think about hunger it’s not just food that we hunger for. Hunger comes from a place of emptiness, and a desire to fill that emptiness with something. Our souls all hunger after that which will make us happy and content. As children we might hunger after a new toy, or video game, or bike but it will only satisfy us for so long,

before we hunger after another new toy, game or bike. We might hunger after good grades or success in sport, yet after the initial buzz of achieving them be left feeling empty. Or as adults we might look to a new house, or car, or different job to satisfy our hunger for something more. So often trying to satisfy our hunger for happiness through possessions, leads to disappointment and a desire for more.

And so Jesus’ claim today, that he is the bread of life, that he is the one who can satisfy our hunger, our desires, is a bold one. Jesus tells us that he can fill our hearts, our souls, in a way that no material things on this earth can. Yet it is a promise that Christians throughout the ages have found to be true. St Augustine famously said ‘Our soul is restless until it finds rest in you.’ Created and loved by God, we have a spiritual yearning, a desire to be united with God, and when we respond to that, when we come to God, be that in prayer, in the Eucharist, we find a peace and joy that only God can give.

God’s peace and joy fill us in a way that no material food or things can. And that is something that is celebrated in the Bible - in the Psalms, the songbook of the Bible: ‘For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.’ (Psalm 107:9) ‘In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures for evermore.’ (Psalm 16:11)

This Harvest we have much to be thankful for. Not only the physical food that we enjoy and that we share with others today, but we are also thankful for God’s presence with us, God’s promise to fill our hearts and souls with good things.
And so as we come to receive Jesus in the bread and wine today, we remember Jesus’ amazing promise. I will fill you, I will satisfy your heart. For ‘I am the bread of life. Those who come to me will never be hungry.’

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