Mothers Union Carol Service 2014
Readings Isaiah 25: 6-10a, Matthew 15:29-37
Very occasionally, usually on a Friday, Vivienne will also take the day off work and we will go out for the day together.
As many of you will appreciate when you have children and when you both work, especially if you work the odd hours and days of a vicar, it is sometimes difficult to have much time together as a couple. However, when we do go out for the day, it does bring into stark contrast one of the main differences between men and women. And I hope we can agree for the moment that acknowledging differences between men and women is not the same as saying that they are unequal.
We are told by those who study such things that in most early societies men and women existed in very different ways. The women tended to stay nearer to the home, nursing the children, perhaps growing some crops, socialising with other women and generally spend time browsing and chatting. The men, on the other hand, would usually leave the village to go hunting for meat. They may talk to each other about the best place to find meat, the way to get there and the best way to kill it but they were pretty focused on their task of going out and bringing home the bacon.
All of which is a slightly long winded way of saying that when Vivienne and I go out for the day we tend to have different priorities – Vivienne likes to walk slowly from shop to shop and from sight to sight, depending on where we are, whereas I tend to me more focused on where we are going to have lunch.
I don’t mind telling you, as we are amidst friends, that when I start to get hungry everything else fades into the background and I am not happy until I have spotted the place where meat is to be found and captured. I apologise if there are any vegetarians present. No, really, I do.
Of course this behaviour exasperates Vivienne no end and she says that I am ruled by my stomach and my focus on keeping it filled and I don’t deny it. In fact biologists are now telling us that our stomachs do contain a significant number of neurones – so I may well be thinking with my stomach, quite literally.
As a human being, and perhaps even more so as a man, I need food, I like food and when I am hungry I can think about little else than getting food.
And here is the good news – God created me, and you, and everyone not as disembodied spirits but as physical beings. Yes, we are animated by the breath of God but we are formed of the physical and our physical bodies need food and drink and rest. Of course there is a long tradition of fasting in order to overcome the physical and to draw closer to God but, I have to say, that is rarely the calling of the majority of people the majority of the time.
And guess what – God knows that and understands that because that is how he created us.
The readings we have had today from both Isaiah and Matthew remind us forcefully that God cares for our physical needs and wants to feed us, indeed wants us to feast together. Jesus didn’t just want to teach the people a few spiritual rules and then send them home, he wanted the people to sit down and eat together. Not only did that help sustain their bodies but sitting and eating together helps to build and sustain a community of people from otherwise disparate backgrounds. Breaking bread with people forms bonds more surely than simply agreeing with some religious propositions.
But there is even more good news – the feeding of the four thousand was only a shadow of the great feast to which we are all called. In every eucharistic prayer we recall the great feast in heaven, and don’t forget this is not about disembodied spirits but about resurrected persons, and in the imagery from Isaiah we are reminded that when God throws a feast he knows how to do it properly – a banquet of the finest wine and the best meat – which puts me in mind not only of Jesus’ first miracle which was to turn water into the finest wine at the wedding in Cana but also of one of my favourite lines from a Christmas carol – “Bring me Flesh and Bring me wine”! I always love bellowing that one out!
But God doesn’t feed us in order to make us drunkards and gluttons – he does it to comfort his people – there is another line from Isaiah – “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces” which echoes strongly in Revelation 21 when the new Jerusalem descends and we are told that “God will wipe away every tear”.
As we continue this journey through Advent and prepare ourselves to welcome our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ at the Nativity bear in mind that the Lord whom we follow does not wish on us suffering and hardship and austerity – he wants to feed us, and comfort us and wipe away every tear and for us to join him at a great and eternal feast in heaven.
At least that is what I shall be saying to Vivienne next time I want to stop for lunch.