Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 26:1–11 | Psalm 100 | Philippians 4:4–9 | John 6:25–35
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35).
One of the pictures that comes to mind most often when I think about Thanksgiving has to be the food: the family meals where we’d all share delicious dinners together… eating until we were well satisfied, and then some… stuffed with all sorts of tasty treats and traditional recipes.
Now that I’m a bit older, I’ve come to appreciate these meals even more because I’ve come to understand a bit more about just how much work actually went into preparing them. As a child, I’d just show up and eat. All was made ready for us kids just to receive. It was all a big gift, a labour of love from those who put in all of the effort to share it… in the hopes that all who were gathered around the table would enjoy this time together.
But as wonderful and plentiful as all those Thanksgiving dinners have been… eventually, we’d always be hungry again. Usually, not right away of course. But eventually, the delicious tastes in our mouths would fade. The feelings of fullness would give way to familiar needs for another meal. And eventually we’d have to look for another source of sustenance.
In our Scripture readings today from Deuteronomy and the Gospel of John, we’re invited to reflect on the saving sustenance offered to us by the Living God, and on the kind of response most fitting for those who would receive it.
The Book of Deuteronomy is a series of speeches that takes place with the people of Israel on the borders of the Promised Land… in sight of the beautiful end of the road their whole community had been heading towards for 40 years… a prosperous land unlike any that they had known… a land that God had promised to their ancestors, and had miraculously now led them to.
As we know from the book of Exodus, their parent’s had all been slaves in Egypt… without a homeland or a life of their own, but the Living God had seen their sufferings, and had mercy on them, and set them free in an act of care and compassion. Doing for them, something they could never do for themselves.
God had then led and sustained them through the long years in the wilderness… a journey made much longer as their parents kept on wandering away from the LORD in their hearts, and chasing after their own destructive desires.
It had been a rough road, alright. But now by God’s grace they were finally about to enter the land… to finally find rest. Peace. Freedom. To begin a New Life together as a gift of God.
And so the Book of Deuteronomy is largely about getting ready for this New Life, and how to live faithfully with God and with one another in the Promised Land… including the kinds of practices and traditions that will keep them on track.
The ceremony described in our reading today is one of those practices, and at it’s heart it’s really a way of giving thanks to God… of offering back the first portion of the gift they had received… the first produce from the ground in the new life God had given them. They were not offering what was left over, but off the top, so to speak… as an act of trust that God would continue providing in the days to come.
And when this first-fruits offering was brough before the LORD, the giver was then to recall and retell the story of God’s faithfulness, mercy, and care for their ancestors. How God took “a wandering Aramean”, Abraham, and made from him a whole new community. How God rescued them from slavery in Egypt “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm”, and provided for them, bringing them into “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Honouring the Living God as their people’s Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, they would give back a portion of what God had first given them… which was everything. Everything. This sacred ceremony reminded the Israelites that everything they had was a gift from God. Absolutely everything.
Why would this be important? What did God, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all that is want with this little offering? These humble baskets of food from His people? Well, their offerings were a way to show with their outward lives what was going on in their hearts: a response to His gracious gift of faithful love with gratitude. Not as a token gesture, or merely a duty devoid of deeper meaning… but as a tangible way to draw near to Him, as a child draws near to a beloved parent: with sincere trust, wholehearted fellowship, and eager to share in each other’s joy. God gave Israel a way to cultivate gratitude, stirring up in them a hunger for faithful communion with Him, and with their neighbours!
We know this because of what they were to do with the gift that they brought to the LORD: they were supposed to have a party! To share a special, joy-filled meal… not only with their friends and family, and Levites, those who served in the Tabernacle… but also with “the alien”, or the foreigner in their midst… the people from other nations who had become part of their lives. Just as the Living God had mercy on their ancestors when they were aliens in foreign lands, Israel was now meant to show mercy and share what they had with strangers in their midst.
In short, God wanted His people to practice gratitude and joyful fellowship with everyone around them, sharing with them what they had first received from His hands.
And this is still God’s heart for His people today: to stir up within us a grateful and joy-filled response to His own great gift of love, so that we will draw near together and share this with all those around us too.
Drawing near to God’s Table today for Eucharist, a Greek word literally meaning ‘thanksgiving’… we have been given our own ceremony where we are invited to remember all that God has done for us… where we get to respond to the New Life that God has given to us… gathering with friends, and neighbours, and even strangers to celebrate God’s grace and faithfulness… doing for us what we could never do for ourselves… in fact, doing far more than we could have ever asked of imagined.
As our reading from John’s Gospel today reminds us, the real gift that the Living God is offering to us is so much greater than we can wrap our heads around… but it’s also what we truly need to find New and Lasting Life.
Our scene from John’s Gospel takes place the day after a miracle: Jesus had fed a crowd of thousands by giving thanks, then breaking, multiplying, and sharing a small lunch of bread and fish. Jesus had been pursued by crowds of His fellow Jews, the one branch of the Israelite family still dwelling in the Promised Land, who were hungry to experience the New Life He was bringing about. Worn down by life’s many pressures and burdens, physical, social, and spiritual… many came to hear Him speak, and to receive healing and find freedom at His hands. They followed Him far from the cities and villages where food could be found, and so moved with compassion, Jesus provided more than enough food to satisfy their stomachs… calling to mind God’s own miraculous care for their ancestors as they traveled through the wilderness /on the way to the Promised Land.
Jesus had just fed the crowd, and they wanted more. And Jesus wanted to give them more. Just not in the way they expected: not just with more bread, or fish, or food, but with more Life… with a share in the life of the Living God… offered to them once and for all as the ultimate gift… that is, His own life.
Jesus said to the crowd: “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:26–27).
The crowd saw Jesus as someone who could get them what they wanted: healing, hope… satisfied physical hunger. Christ could, and did give them all those things, but that was not all, or even the most important things He had come to bring to His people. He came to share with them God’s own eternal life.
How often do we follow the crowd’s lead and just come to Jesus to give us what we want? Expecting Him to basically be there to satisfy our hungers?
Of course, Jesus does care about our needs. He can and does provide for His people, graciously sustaining us in all sorts of surprising ways. But just like a special family dinner is not merely about filling stomachs, but about drawing near together in fellowship, sharing in much more than food, Christ came not simply to satisfy our desires, but to bring us the gift of communion with the Living God… of unending fellowship with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, which is the only gift that will fully satisfy forever.
In the light of this gift, what kind of response does God want from us? The confused crowd chasing after Jesus in John’s Gospel asked the same thing: “Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:28-29).
Believe in Jesus… trust in Him… entrust our very lives, our broken pasts, our shaky presents, and our uncertain futures, to the One the Living God has sent to save the world. Trust, not only with words, or ceremonies, but with our lives shaped and guided by that trust.
And God wants us to place our trust in Jesus, His Son, because this is the true path to New Life… to sharing in God’s own divine Triune fellowship. To look back and remember all that Christ Jesus has done for us, especially in giving His own body to be broken at the cross, and to see in Him the true bread of heaven sent to sustain, satisfy, and save once, and for all time.
As we gather today, just as we have done many times before around Christ’s Table, remembering the gift of His life, His death, and His resurrection… receiving His invitation to commune through Him with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer… as well as with all those, here present and around the world and across the ages, who also belong to Him… let us respond with thankful hearts. Let us remember that all we have is a gift, meant to draw us nearer to God, the Great Gift Giver. Let us remember that we are invited to share what we have received from Christ with those in our lives. Let us trust Him in tangible ways, inside and out, confident in His compassion and care. And let us continue to come to Him and find in Him New Life. Amen.
 Deuteronomy 26:5. All Scripture passages are from the NRSV.
 Deuteronomy 26:8.
 Deuteronomy 26:9.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School