Refreshment Sunday

[Ed. note - apologies for this being a week late. I was still recovering and was unable to post. I hope to make a post about our Simnel Cake from last week on the Editor's Personal Blog - http://orthodox-okie.blogspot.com ]

From Saint Petroc Monastery, Cascades, Tasmania.


This Sunday, “Mid-Lent Sunday” has, from very ancient times, also been known as “Refreshment Sunday” - possibly because of the Gospel of the day, the feeding of the five thousand and possibly reinforced in later times by the First Lesson of Evensong for the day, which ends with the refreshment of the brethren by Joseph (in many ways, himself the type of our Blessed Lord). The flavour of the variable parts of the Liturgy today is somewhat that of relief from the prevailing sombreness of Lent. The “Mi-CarĂªme” of the Church of France, the “rejoice” of our Office, the “gladness” and “peace” of the Gradual, the “trust” of the Tract, the “comfort” of the first Collect and the “praises” of the Offertory all seem at odds with the predominant theme of Lent. The “free Jerusalem” springing out of the bondage of Sinai, in the Epistle and the Gospel’s feast in the wilderness, together with the other variable parts of the Liturgy, all show the way to the miracle which gives point to this Sunday, revealing our Lord as refreshing men materially by the operation of His providence, and mystically as their spiritual Refresher.

This feeding of the five thousand has many levels at which we can look at and learn from it. In the first place it is to be seen in the context of the Passover, as a fulfilment of the prophecies made in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah and particularly in this Old Testament context, it is to be seen in relation to the feeding of the Children of Israel in the desert of Sinai with the manna. Then too, it has very strong overtones in verse 11, of the Eucharist. But let us look at it first as the refreshment of men. From the literal point of view, the miracle was stupendous and well- calculated to show that the providence of God the creator of all, is quite able to take care of those whom He loves. Incidentally, it has been calculated that the two hundred pennyworth of bread mentioned by Saint Philip as being insufficient, would, at the fairly standard Roman Empire price of the day, have meant around 2,000 ten ounce loaves (rather like the modern Pitta bread of the Middle East). Given that Saint Matthew (14:21) states that there were “about five thousand men, besides women and children”, one may extrapolate this as meaning that perhaps there were as many as eight to ten thousand people in all to be fed. Philip was therefore very accurate in saying that the amount of bread that each would get from two thousand such loaves would be insufficient for perhaps ten thou-sand who had not eaten all day. Hence the stupendousness of the feeding of these thousands of people from the five barley loaves and two small fishes. The literal, material power of God to do what He will for those whom He loves is well demonstrated at this level of viewing the miracle.

The mystical meaning of the miracle is shown by the several acts recorded in the eleventh verse and these are certainly of a distinctly Eucharistic character:

The loaves are placed in Jesus’ hands as an oblation and He in turn, offers them to God the Father. Jesus gives thanks for the loaves before handing them to the Apostles to start the distribution. This eucharistisation of the loaves endows them with capacities which they did not previously possess. He distributes them to His ministers as to persons receiving gifts from Him
for the benefit of others. By the intervention of these ministers, not by direct distribution from Jesus to the multitude, do the people receive the eucharistised bread, by which their hunger is satisfied. Jesus final instruction to gather up the leftovers that nothing may be lost tends to emphasise the eucharist-like character. This the type of the work of the Church is set in front of us in the midst of the Lenten sorrow for our failure to do that which is required of us. Our eyes are lifted momentarily to the work which we must do. Both fasting and abundance are at the command of the Lord."