For the past two decades, I have worn a simple silver crucifix on a chain around my neck. Most of you have probably never seen it as it is usually hidden underneath my shirt. This silver crucifix carries great meaning for me above and beyond it being a symbol of my faith. It is, in fact, the only physical remembrance I have of my maternal grandparents. According to one of my aunts, it was something my grandfather carried in his pocket most of his adult life. As I look at it, I suspect at one time this crucifix hung at the end of a string of rosary beads, and it was probably given to him by one of the religious who raised him in an orphanage in southern Italy.
I can remember vividly the day I found this crucifix. My aunt had come to visit my mother and brought with her a couple of boxes of my Grandmother’s things several years after her death. As we sorted through the bric-a-brac of my grandmother’s sewing items, I spotted the crucifix among her remaining assortment of buttons.
As I held the crucifix in my palm, and learned of its origin, vivid memories of my grandfather, who died when I was four, came to mind. Memories of helping Grandpa plant seeds in his garden. I could see us walking down each row as he poked his stick into the ground and then I would drop two seeds in each hole. I could once again see us on his front porch as my grandfather rested during the afternoon on his chaise lounge while I sat next to him. According to my mother, my grandfather and I had a very deep bond. From the moment I learned to walk, I was his constant shadow. And I am even told that one night when I spiked a fever while visiting, it was my grandfather who stayed up with me and tried to keep me comfortable through the night.
Since the day I first found this crucifix, in some mysterious way, I have felt my grandfather’s presence with it. Now I know my grandfather is not physically or even spiritually within the silver of this crucifix, but somehow, this simple piece of jewelry speaks to the deep bond that was and is between my grandfather and me that neither death nor time can break. I don’t know why it is, and I cannot explain it, it just is.
Now I know this is probably not very enlightened on my part. After all, as a product of a modern education, the majority of my training has been to learn to ask how things happen. . . .to live in the world of the rational and not the irrational. As one raised, like all of us, within the context of the scientific world-view, our first instinct is to deconstruct all that we experience in order to fully understand what we see, hear and even believe to be true.
As a seminarian during the 80’s, one of my complaints with my divinity studies was its over emphasis on dissecting all aspects of God and faith. My professors were the product of twentieth century academic study and strived to de-mystify the Bible. In theology, we studied the Doctrine of the Trinity, the Doctrine of the Person of Christ. All of this in an effort to understand the various explanations of our understanding of God and Christ.
Along side my professors, Biblical archeologists were spending their careers trying to find archeological proof of our most ancient stories. How many of us remember the movie, In Search of Noah’s Ark. While archeologists were looking for physical evidence of biblical history, New Testament scholars, under the name of the Jesus Seminar, spent time trying to decide what the actual words of Jesus are. Ultimately, none of these explorations fully explained or proved anything and continue to lead us to the conclusion that we cannot fully understand or comprehend the divine. These studies moved us to accept that at some point we have to find satisfaction and peace in the fact that holy mysteries are simply holy mysteries we will never be able to fully explain, but somehow help us understand who God is.
While all of this academic work is wonderful and in some ways may help us better understand the context from which our theological heritage evolved, this work also does us a great disservice. This line of academic study typically robs us of the mystery and the awe that the ancient writers tried to convey in these wonderful discussions of the divine. In fact, science as a whole can blind us to the wonders and mysteries of creation. Second, this line of research can steer our focus away from asking the right questions of most texts. Instead of asking how, or proving what actually did happen, the real question we are called to ask is. . .what. What does this story or passage tell us about humanity’s relationship with God. Or, as is often the case with the Gospels, what does this story tell us about the Reign of God.
In order to find the answers to these questions, we have to approach scripture as an invitation to suspend our own world view, and at times, even our understanding of what is rational and possible in the same way we would approach a novel or movie. By suspending our own world view we are better able to accept the Bible’s invitation to enter into the world of the divine, a world that is filled with the mystery that is God itself and to trust that what we read, just is. as we suspend the need to ask how or if something really happened. And instead, ask ourselves what these accounts tell us about God.
It is with this mindset that we approach today’s Gospel passage. The two miracles we heard about today are quite familiar. All four Gospels tell the story of the feeding of the thousands, and how many of us as children have tried to walk on water in the same way Jesus did. For centuries scholars have tried to explain the “secret” behind these miracles, and at times the answers seem more unrealistic than the accounts themselves.
In today’s account of the feeding of the thousands, the message is simple, all who come to God do not go away hungry. For with God, there is always an abundance, so much so, that five loaves of bread and two fish can feed a multitude with baskets to spare.
In the account of Christ walking on water, the reader is again reminded that Christ is the incarnation of the divine, that the divine did walk among us. And, how God, the creator of heaven and earth, still has dominion over all creation. That God continues to hold dominion over the chaos of this world and continues to bring order out of the chaos of our lives.
So this morning, I invite you to approach scripture in a new way . . . by accepting scripture’s invitation to suspend our scientific world view. . .by entering into the world of the holy . . . to allow ourselves to participate in the heavenly banquet where five loaves and two fish can feed thousands, where the divine walks among us on the waters of Galilee and where a man can make simple bread and wine the sacrifice of his own body and blood. I invite you to enter into the world of holy mystery on faith, freeing yourselves from the need to explain or to prove the experience by simply accepting that a holy mystery is simply that . . . a holy mystery, in the same way this middle aged man accepts a simple silver crucifix as the embodiment of the bond he shared with his grandfather nearly a half century ago.