Fragments. Gather up the fragments so that nothing is lost. These little bits of bread filling twelve baskets represent several different things, don’t they.
At the most basic level they are food; food that can be used or reused to feed the hungry. Jesus’ world was a time and a place where the prayer “give us this day our daily bread” really mattered to the masses. It was not at all certain to many that there would be food to eat on any given day.
At another level caring about these leftovers is a tangible critic of wastefulness. More and more our society is embracing the values behind recycling and sustainability. We cannot continue to live well on this planet if we continue needlessly to dispose of our resources at an alarming pace. Can you hear in Jesus’ direction a new command not to let a single resource be squandered?
Beyond this, the scrapes filling these baskets are miracles – tangible signs of God’s abundant grace. They are holy relics and reminders that God takes care of us; a sacramental lesson in why it is right, good, and a joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks. They point past the quantitative change that allowed many to be feed by little to a qualitative change that nourished the deepest hunger in each person’s soul.
Given the rich, complex nature of this event, it is easy to see why the framers of the lectionary will have us pondering passages from John’s Gospel for the next four weeks in order to deepen our understanding of the One who said, “I am the Bread of Life.”
This morning we learn that the One who is the Bread of Life is determined not to lose a single fragment. And while all four Gospels tell of this event and describe collecting what remains after all have eaten, only John records Jesus’ command to his disciples to do the gathering. Twelve baskets, twelve disciples, lots of picking up to do. Perhaps they saw it as a mundane task, but Jesus would teach them otherwise: “Everything that the Father gives to me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away… this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me” (John 6:37, 39).
For Jesus, the fragments represent more than food, more than recycling, and more than a miracle. They represent you and me. They represent the people who are staying home today and the people on vacation. They represent the people who have left our church and the people yet to come. They represented our new-born babies and all those we love but see no longer. They represent the people who will serve in our food pantry tomorrow and the clients who will come to receive food. They represent the people driving past our church this morning on the way to another church and the people driving past who have never been to a church. The deep desire of Jesus is to lose nothing that has been given to him – not one single person.
If you want an image of the value of each fragment you need look no further than the Cathedral in Winchester, England, which has one of the most beautiful stained glass windows in the world. It tells no Biblical story, but rather radiates a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors.
The Winchester window was not always as it is now. One day in the 17th century, soldiers of Cromwell’s army, bearing sticks and iron bars, destroyed the cathedral’s ancient windows along with all the medieval statuary. On that dark day, the outside lawn was strewn with tiny fragments of glass, irrevocably shattered. When the soldiers left, the people came out to look at the ruins. One man stepped forward and began to collect the smashed debris. Soon the whole community joined him until many bushels were gathered and hidden away until a time when the state stopped desecrating the great centers of faith.
When that day came, it was evident that a reconstruction of the original work would be impossible. Still, an artisan asked to have the fragments and promised to do the best he could with what had been recovered. Step by step, inch by inch, high on a scaffold above the cathedral nave, the craftsman arranged the little pieces into an intricate abstraction. Nothing like it had ever been seen before in Europe and some of the laity and clergy shook their heads and grumbled at the novelty of it all.
When the great window was finally completed, all the fragmented little pieces had been fit together in an array of jewels. Those who enter the cathedral today stand in a light that radiates through that broken glass. Worshipers are bathed in a message more powerful than any sermon: Every fragment, just like every person, is loved by God who sent Jesus to fashion each and every one of us into a beautiful, wondrous people of faith.
At least one church has figured this out. Listen to this message that appears in each and every Sunday bulletin at Our Lady of Lourdes Church:
We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail, or could afford to lose a few pounds.
We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up, or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps, or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.
If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced, or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid, or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!
It is our calling here at St. Paul’s to be a church of fragments that is not fragmented; to be a church where each individual person is welcomed and has a place in the grand mosaic through which the light of Christ’s love shines for all to see. You and I, we are a part of something special here because Jesus himself draws us together and makes us special through his presence.