In this great sign of the feeding of the 5000 the physical and spiritual collide in an explosion of meaning.
It is a parable of God’s love and trust in that love.
And it is not an abstract idea of love but love made concrete in satisfying the physical needs of the people gathered.
Not only are the physical and spiritual needs satisfied of the people gathered there but there are twelve basketfuls left over – a highly significant detail - A super abundance of practical love for anyone and everyone that feels hungry and is looking for sustenance.
The inference is that God’s love itself which God has tried to communicate down the centuries to the Jewish people has now become real and physical and embodied in the example of the man Jesus and in the practical application of love in feeding such an enormous amount of people.
For us nowadays, it is the spiritual dimension that is directly relevant to us in the Eucharist. A spiritual reality made real and acted out in the physical reality of eating bread and drinking wine.
That same spiritual reality that we give living form to in the sharing of bread and wine also demands to be made flesh in the way we love ourselves and our neighbours as a natural overflow of our love and communion with God. When the spiritual and physical become one we have a sacramental reality – true of the Eucharist but also made just as true in the helping hand you offer someone less fortunate than yourself, made real when you speak up for justice when no-one else will.
A sacramental reality made real and true in the encouragement you give to the brow beaten and fearful, the helping hand you give to the person who is down on their luck. These few examples are every bit as much a sign of the sacramental presence of God as is the blessing, breaking and sharing of bread is in church this morning. In fact the two cannot and must not be separated
One cannot exist without the other. To go from this place and not love your neighbour as yourself is to make this Eucharist a fraud. “There is no other commandments greater than these” as we say.
In a well known commentary on the excesses of the Charismatic movement a Bishop apparently said “I don’t care if they fall over. It’s what they do when they get up again that concerns me”.
The same burden of authenticity applies to all quieter versions of Christianity also. That same Bishop might also say “I don’t care that they get on their knees and share bread. It’s what they do when they get up that concerns me. “
Is the sense of communion, love and fellowship that we model in the Eucharist in church carried into the rest of our life or not? That’s the true test of the validity of this Eucharist.
In the current debate in the CoE on making women Bishops certain Anglo catholics are concerned with what they call the validity of the Eucharist. I have given this some thought and in my opinion the validity of any Eucharist does not depend on whether I or anyone else have been properly ordained or not, or whether we are displaying the right colours or not, or whether we are in communion with Rome or not, or whether I am a man or woman, or straight or gay, or whether I’m wearing the right liturgical gear or not.
The only true test of the validity of the Eucharist is the intention and the result. “By their fruits you hall know them.” It is how far any of us truly commune with God, how far we apprehend the peace and wisdom and strength and unity through that communion - and how much that gradually transforms our character. Those tests will tell you of the validity of any Eucharist.
Are we fed and satisfied and do we have enough left over to feed others? That’s the true test of the Eucharist using the example of that great sign of the feeding of the 5000. Does the bread of our lives get blessed and transformed and will it then be used to feed others?