Prayers of Approach
O God, giver of manna from heaven, you provided for Moses’ followers in the desert. O Christ, bread of life, you fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. O Holy Spirit of the living God, here with us as we come together today, we ask you to feed us with all that we need, and that, thus fed, we might be satisfied.
Lord God, giver of life, you bless us with all we need – and with so much more. Keep us from being so focused on physical needs that we neglect our spiritual food. Feed us with your word, satisfy us with your presence, and strengthen us by your Spirit – that we may share your eternal life.
Merciful God, we thank you that you are to be trusted, that you are faithful and provide for all our needs. When we feel alone in the desert, that is where we meet you. In the wilderness of our lives, we can turn to you and know that you will sustain us. We worship you, and we thank you that in you there is always hope. Amen.
Hymn 345 Guide me O thou great redeemer
Readings: Exodus 16:2-4, 11-15
Following the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus moves out of the immediate scene, prompting some of the crowd to search for him. They find Jesus on the other side of the lake and are clearly keen for another encounter with the man who provided a miraculous picnic. They were not perhaps prepared for the way Jesus responds to them. Suggesting that they had only looked for him because he gave them food, he opens an intriguing discussion about bread, comparing this everyday necessity to himself as the source of all life and that their work is to believe in him who sustains all things.
Hymn 199 Jesus the Lord says, ‘I am the bread’
Today’s readings remind us of a world where bread is the staple food, and if the bread supply dries up, people go hungry. God is concerned about our need for bread to eat but there is another need too – our need for the bread of life, a relationship of belief and trust in Christ that satisfies us to the full.
The link between today’s Old Testament reading and the Gospel is the call to trust God for the future, rather than constantly harking back to ‘how it used to be’. The Israelites in the desert are tempted even to choose slavery over the precarious life between oases. It is a temptation to which we are all prone at times, to look back to the ‘good old days’: ‘Do you remember how it used to be when…’
There is nothing new about God’s people complaining, or blaming Moses either – arguing that slavery with bed and board is better than being free but starving in the desert! But God listens to the complaints of the freed Israelites and always responds with grace, producing water from the rocks or on this occasion, quail in the evening, manna in the morning; all the proteins and carbs a people needs for their journey, and all from the hand of God. For the first time in the biblical story the wilderness becomes a place of plenty. The wilderness experience is seared into the consciousness of Israel. It is at the heart of their worship, for it is at the root of their identity as a people: God rescued and supplied them on their journey to freedom and in Psalm 72 they sing that all they needed came from his hand.
In our Gospel reading, after finding that Jesus is no longer around, the crowds follow him across the lake to Capernaum. John suggests they have come only because they want more bread, yet Jesus pushes them to think bigger, beyond merely
physical needs. He opens a debate on eating in the wilderness and the issue of what the bread of life is and where it is found. What Jesus did on the other side of the lake (feeding the five thousand) filled only their bellies. What they should be seeking is rather more spiritual sustenance that will give them a taste of the kingdom.
Jesus tells them to work, ‘not for food that perishes, but for food that endures for eternal life’ (v.27). When they ask what they must do to get this food he simply tells them that they should believe in ‘him whom God has sent’. Incredibly the crowd asks, ‘what sign are you going to give us then?’ This is the same crowd that has eaten their fill from a single packed lunch and had plenty left over, and they are still asking for a sign! They have seen Jesus perform wondrous deeds yet they are still asking what work he will do. They even have the cheek to bring up the story of the Israelites being fed ‘manna’ in the wilderness, implying that this is nothing new, it’s all been done before.
Jesus reminds them that it wasn’t Moses but God who gave them the bread from heaven and that he is doing it again, here and now, just as he did after the exodus. The crowd clamour for this bread and Jesus answers them with the first of the ‘I am…’ sayings, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ Naturally such a statement is going to raise a lot more questions, as it does for us today as well. We need to ask ourselves: How can we do the work that God wants? Are we convinced that believing in Jesus is sufficient, or do we too ask for signs?
Hymn 512 Seek ye first the kingdom of God
Prayers of Intercession
We thank you, Lord, that we can trust you in all things. Even when we don’t understand, or feel lost and alone, we can trust you. We thank you that you provide all we need, that which is ‘on earth’ and that which is eternal.
And so we come to pray for all who are in especial need of your provision at this time.
Heavenly Father, giver of all good gifts, we pray for all people who willingly use their time and gifts in the service of others. We pray for all who set up and work in charitable organisations: bless them as they so freely give of their time and talents. We pray for people who work together to bring healing, for all who work in hospitals, homes, the community: bless them as they bring blessing to others. We pray for those who dedicate their lives to serving God in religious orders and communities: bless them in their gifts of prayer, hospitality and service. We pray for people with the gift of words, for teachers, writers and communicators: bless the seeds that they sow. We pray for those who don’t feel as if they have a gift, or feel as if it goes unnoticed: bless them with the knowledge that they matter to you. We pray for our church as a welcoming community, constantly being built up by our love for you. Bless us, Lord. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn 373 Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us
As we seek to do what you want, Lord, may we bring bread to the hungry – food for bodies and food for souls, strength for the journey, and hope for the future. And as we go may your blessing, the blessing of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, go with us, and remain with us, always. Amen.
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Used by permission.