It has been said that the oldest profession in the world are the ladies of the night, but as much as I hate to disappoint those of a more salacious disposition, this opinion is quite wrong. In the second chapter of the Book of Genesis we read that ‘the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.’ Thus, to work the land is to engage in something which takes us back to the very beginnings of humanity, an honourable profession indeed. The practice of coming together to offer our praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God for the goodness of creation and a harvest safely gathered in is, likewise, an ancient and honourable thing – just as the Ancient Israelites gave thanks for their life in the promised land, so do we. We should, as part of our worship of God offer him the best of all that we have as a response to a loving and generous God.
But while this is important, we need to be careful not to get things wrong – we need to ask ourselves what are we here for, not as a question of existential angst, but as a serious question. Is what we are engaged in a bit of cosy folk religion, a matter of duty, an excuse to be seen, or perhaps something more? When this church was built, its congregation, who lived on and worked the land would gather on the 1st August for Lammas, or Loaf-Mass to give thanks for a successful grain harvest and with the renewal of the Church in the nineteenth century the idea of a harvest celebration became popular once again.
But as well as giving thanks to God, we also need to be shocked challenged and changed by the example and teaching of Jesus in the second lesson. Are we as a church and a society, content simply to be fed, or is God asking more of us. Our faith is not something we can keep safe in a box, to put on like a hat for church on Sunday – it needs to be more than that. Our faith must form all that we are, and all that we do, and say, and think. Our belief in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ needs to form the very ground of our being. This faith, like a plant, needs to be tended, watered, and protected from weeds. Like a child it needs to be nourished, encouraged, and taught.
The crowd in the Gospel story have not grasped the meaning and importance of their being fed, they have not understood its spiritual meaning but are rather interested in the prospect of another free meal, whereas Jesus feeds them as a sign of their heavenly food, the bread of eternal life. Rather than working for the food that perishes we need to work for the bread of life, which is Christ himself. We need to meet at the Lord’s table to be fed by his word and his very self, his body and blood under the forms of bread and wine, to have our bread for the journey for our life of faith together, as God is the sustenance of life itself, of our very existence, for those who trust in him, and he will fill our every need, by giving us that which we cannot work for ourselves, and for which we hunger most.
Our desire for a world where none are hungry, where all are loved, requires our cooperation with the will of God, and our trust in him. By our being fed by his word and the Eucharist our lives can be transfigured, our faith strengthened and renewed, enabling us to transform the world around us, conforming it to the will of God. We can only do this through being nourished body and soul by God – through our participation in the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper – fed by God, with God, for God’s work in the world. Only this can satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst, and give us true peace, and hasten the coming of God’s kingdom on earth.