Photo from the Montgomery, Alabama Convention & Visitor Bureau.
My very first church was a mid-sized parish in Montgomery, Alabama. Some of them, in fact, may end up watching this here broadcast.
I loved them for many reasons, and one of my favorite days of any month was when the Young at Heart group, a group of folks who referred to themselves as the more “chronologically gifted” members of the congregation, would go out to eat for lunch together. I would always join them, and I loved every minute of it. They tolerated me and even enjoyed my company — me in my mid-twenties, fresh out of seminary, as green as they come, and they in their seventies and eighties.
There was a liturgy to it. I would be in my office at the church, plugging away at a sermon or getting up the courage to call someone or doing some other pastor thing when one of them would stick their heads inside the open door and say four simple words.
“Okay, Preacher, lesseat.”
Back in those days, I did not, I freely admit, feed myself like I should. Now an enthusiastic breakfast eater, in those days, I usually didn’t eat until lunch. Whenever I’d hear those words — lesseat — my mouth would begin to water and I’d begin to get my head around just how hungry I was.
I would obediently get up and follow them out to their car, and we’d eat indeed — usually something delicious and Southern like fried chicken or Gulf shrimp — and Jesus was always there, I’m sure of it. God’s grace lives lots of places, and I imagine good fried chicken to be one of them.
You know I always like to say that Jesus loved meals so much he became one.
Today’s Gospel text ends with food, but it starts on a curious note: “When Jesus had heard this.”
Heard what, exactly?
He’d just heard about the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod and the government. John was, of course, both Jesus’ cousin and the one who baptized him. When Jesus hears about this, Matthew tells us, Jesus withdrew.
Even the Son of God, we learn, needs to grieve.
He gets into a boat and goes off by himself, as many of us sometimes do when we just need a moment to ourselves after a great loss.
The crowds hear where he’s gone, and they come to the shore to see him. When he sees the crowd, he doesn’t preach a great sermon. He doesn’t tell them anything — he heals their sick.
When evening came, the disciples were feeling practical, they instruct the Son of God to send them away so that they can get some food.
Jesus says, in a tone I imagine as almost grumpy: “You give them something to eat.”
To make a point, perhaps, the disciples talk about how little they have: famously five loaves, and two fish.
You know the rest of the story. Jesus takes what little they have and turns it into a meal so big that the entire crowd of more than 5,000 people gets fed, and there are leftovers to take home.
Where Jesus is, there is always enough.
It’s worth noting that I didn’t choose this text for this day. Promise.
My pastor friends are jealous.
We’re trying out communion today, the first time we’ve taken communion since March 8.
That means that it’s been about 146 days since many of us have taken communion, but who’s counting?
This time without communion has taught me a lot, and I bet it’s taught you a lot too. It’s made me think of our ancestors in faith who, for various reasons, have been left without communion: either because there was no church, or because there was a church but no pastor on most Sundays, back in the days when one pastor might serve five or ten churches and rotate around them.
We are not the first to go without, as you know well by now, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard.
But we haven’t gone hungry.
Where Jesus is, there is always enough.
Just like Jesus was in the fried chicken during the Young at Heart lunches, Jesus has also been with us this whole time. We worship our God, not our rituals, and our God shows up in our rituals and well outside of them. We’ve met God in the woods on a hike or two, in the faces of our families even if it was over FaceTime, in the bravery of essential workers, in the courage to have a dialogue over race and policing.
We do not bring Jesus here by having communion; Jesus has been here this whole time. Where Jesus is, there is always enough; that much is clear. In the absence of communion, God has found new and creative ways to feed us.
And now we return to this table that before we might’ve taken for granted and we’ll meet God here, too. May we never take it for granted again, for it is our family table. It is where we meet God and it is where our ancestors in faith met God.
I did not choose this text, but God did. With Jesus, the time is always right and the amount is always enough.
Just as Christ fed the 5,000 plus the ladies and the kids in the midst of his own grief, Christ is here to feed us in the midst of pandemic anxiety. And there will be enough.
Whether you commune with us today or whether you don’t, whether you’re watching at home or just waiting until you feel safer, know that Christ is with you, too, and will find new and wonderful ways to keep you fed until you join us at our table.
And with that, I don’t think there’s anything left to say, except: “Lesseat.” Amen.