Text: Mark 6:30-44
Date: Pentecost IX Proper 11b St. Mary Magdalene + 7/22/18
Jesus said to the apostles, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” He might as well have said it to the entire crowd because they went around the lake and got there ahead of them. In fact He did say that as when He saw the great crowd He didn’t utter exasperation or complaint but rather “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” He had led them away by themselves to a desolate place to rest a while. That’s what He does this morning and every time He invites us to gather with and around Him in Word and Sacrament and prayer. But as the apostles, the crowd and we look around at this otherwise desolate place we see or are to see something more. After a busy and sometimes contentious beginning Jesus gives us a rest, that is, He gives us a glimpse, a vision of our destination, namely, paradise and heaven where we are to see and to know that the eternal life awaiting us in the day of resurrection is both the restoration of life the way God originally intended it to be, but more, even better!
Look around and see. “This is a desolate place,” He says. But then follows the miracle of the feeding of more than 5,000 men all from five loaves and two fish. But look around and see. And we are to recognize Him as the saving God who provides life, feeding His people as He had so often in the past. The prophet Isaiah gave us the Word, saying, “Thus says the Lord: ‘In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners, “Come out,” to those who are in darkness, “Appear.” They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them’” (Is 49:8-10). Over and over again the Lord said He would come to be the Shepherd of His sheep to personally seek out his sheep and feed them in rich pasture (Ezek 34:13-14).
When the Lord speaks in this way, who cannot think of our Psalm for this Day, Psalm 23? “The Lord is my shepherd.” By His provision He satisfies the desire of every living thing (Ps 145:16). Though this be a desolate place, look at it! Suddenly green grass all over the place. “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” A vision of heaven. It is said that the word “paradise” is an ancient Persian word meaning, literally, an enclosed park with lots of green grass.
Jesus prepared for the meal telling them all to “sit down in groups on the green grass.” Our text goes out of the way to describe the “green grass.” That this was going to be no mere snack or emergency provision (I love this phrase in the Greek), it says, “He commanded them all to sit down in groups,” in Greek, in “symposia symposia.” A “symposia” is a joyful meal complete with the finest wine, a real happy occasion. Again a vision of heaven especially compared to the desolation around them.
Talk about a glimpse of heaven, a banquet only better. Let Herod have his grisly birthday banquet, we have a better one, a heavenly banquet of the redeemed. Yes, kind of like this, only better. Even at this banquet in this desolate place “all ate and were satisfied.” But of the heavenly banquet the Lord says, “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more…. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:15-17). And where is that Lamb in our midst? Right there handing out food, feeding His people. And not just ordinary food, but the food of angels, a heavenly food, even His own body and blood given and shed for us to satisfy our longing and need for forgiveness, for deliverance, for life and true joy.
Where is that Lamb in our midst? Right here where we see Him preparing a table before us. It is the Lord’s table! Our cup overflows with the forgiveness purchased by His blood, His goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life.
In the midst of troubles and wilderness our Lord says, “Stop. Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” And every time we come for that rest in the forgiveness of all our sins we sing the better song, the heavenly song of Isaiah:
“Therefore are they before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night within his temple;
and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more….
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water;
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” Is 25:6-9).
Come away to a desolate place and rest a while. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.