A Meal Like No Other

Unity Lutheran Church
2 August 2020 + Lectionary 18A
Matthew 14.13-21; Isaiah 55.1-5
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching



It’s amazing what you can find on the internet. Or, more accurately, it’s amazing what you can find when you’re mindlessly scrolling through Facebook videos late at night – in the semi-paralyzed state between “I should go to bed now” and “but this couch is so comfortable.” But I digress…

Lately, I’ve discovered one YouTuber who, by her own description, “makes and tastes novel and curious foods so you don’t have to” – including Great Depression-era Mock Apple Pie (which substitutes Ritz crackers for apples) and Ketchup Soup (which combines an assortment of fast food condiments – ketchup, sugar, coffee creamer – and hot water to make a virtually free meal).

I haven’t tried either of those recipes myself, but I’m struck by the ingenuity of these recipes – how a few simple ingredients combine to make a whole dish that (usually) tastes good in the end. (I’ll take her word for it.)

It also strikes me how food has the great power to connect us. From unusual internet recipes to backyard barbecues in the summer to church potlucks to the family dinner table, our social lives seem to center around food.

So it’s no surprise to me that our scripture is filled with stories that also center around food. Our reading from Matthew – the feeding of the (at least) five thousand – is one of Jesus’s most well-known miracle stories. It’s even found in all four gospels. With just five loaves and two fish, Jesus feeds thousands of men, women, and children, and with leftovers! There is abundance in this story, and a reminder of a God who cares for us so deeply to fill us with good things.

That’s usually how this story is read: a simple “miracle” story about a lot of food. But do you notice what else is going on?

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, [Jesus] looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples…” Does that sound familiar?

Blessed…broke…gave…those are eucharistic words. The words that gather us around this table and this holy meal…words that connect simple bread to a profound promise.

Something similar is happening in Isaiah, too. The prophet begins with an enticing invitation: wine and milk without money and without price! And then the invitation shifts to covenant language – a reminder of God’s steadfast, sure love for the people.

It’s a stunning move: The ordinary stuff of life – bread, fish, water, milk – becomes a vehicle for divine promise. A promise of abundance and life.

And there’s something else going on here, too…even before the meal is served. Jesus has compassion on the people, the gospel writer tells us. The Greek word – esplagchnisthe – is much more poignant than that. It suggests a compassion and an empathy and a solidarity that you feel in your gut, viscerally.

Jesus is physically moved to compassion, moved to action, moved to feed hungry people. To show them abundance in the midst of scarcity, to offer them hope in the midst of despair, to give them something to cling to in the midst of uncertainty.

Isn’t that the communion meal? A meal church communities had to go without for a while in the early days of this pandemic…a meal we so hungered for that church leaders grappled with creative ways to celebrate it?

This is a meal like no other. A meal that fills us until we are full. Full of God’s steadfast, sure love for us. So full, in fact, that we are overflowing with abundance – an abundance that can’t help but spill out beyond this table and this gathering.

This meal that we share is never for our own sake alone but for the sake of the community – that’s why we call it communion – for the building up of the body of Christ.

Catholic priest Gustavo Gutiérrez, often called the father of liberation theology, says this of the communion meal: “Without a real commitment against exploitation and alienation and for a society of solidarity and justice, the Eucharistic celebration is an empty action.” For Gutiérrez, what we do after this meal and because of this meal is as important as the meal itself.

The meal doesn’t end here. It fills us and sends us out. Jesus is moved to compassion – gut-wrenching compassion – and he calls his disciples to get swept up in that work, too: “You give them something to eat.”

But how? With just these five loaves and two fish? That will never be enough!

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a planner. Starting a project without a detailed checklist or timeline scares the crap out of me. So I definitely relate to the disciples’ pragmatism here. But if we’re going to wait until all the details fall into place, we’re going to be waiting a long time…if only [this], then we can…

We don’t have to have everything we think we need, because we already have everything we need. Or rather, God already has given us what we need.

What makes Unity such a vibrant congregation is not necessarily that we have it all together all the time. But we just do and act. In ways big and small. In places far from home (like El Salvador) and in places right next door (like the Waukesha County Food Pantry).

This is my continued prayer for this community: Keep gathering around this table to celebrate this feast. Share God’s abundance and goodness with each other. And be empowered to boldly renew the world with God’s justice.


Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

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