Today’s gospel reading opens with Jesus wanting to be alone.
To put this in context, Jesus has been teaching about the true nature of the kingdom of heaven; he has been rejected in his home town; and he has just heard of the execution of his cousin, John the Baptist.
Surely, we can easily imagine how Jesus felt at this moment in the gospel narrative. Jesus needed to be alone with his Father in heaven, he needed to pray.
The crowds, though, saw it in a different way. It is most likely that they did not know why Jesus wanted to be alone. They just knew that Jesus was in the area, and they wanted to be with him.
It is at this moment we see Jesus’ message of self-sacrifice, love and service brought to life yet again. Despite his need to be alone, Jesus saw a great crowd. He did not just see a great crowd, we are also told that he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
Jesus was tired; Jesus was sad; Jesus wanted to be alone, but … his compassion and his understanding led him to put self aside and to serve the needs of others.
During recent months, when we have been locked away, we have been playing our part in serving the good of others.
By following the rules, we have been helping to stop the spread of a potentially deadly virus, and we have been given a chance to be alone with God.
For some this has been an unexpected time of spiritual growth; for others it has been a time during which resentment and anger have grown.
During lockdown, many who have been able, have shown a true spirit of love and service, whether they would call it ‘Christian’, or not.
During lockdown, sadly, there have also been many acts of selfish irresponsibility.
As we pause to reflect on where we have sat between those two extremes, let us consider what happens next in today’s gospel reading.
Jesus has turned from his own personal hopes to sharing the Good News of his presence with others.
Jesus had compassion for them and cured their sick.
The crowds did not go away, or reduce in number. They continued to throng around him.
As it is easy to imagine, the day seemed to pass quickly. Suddenly it was evening.
It is at this moment that we hear from the disciples; the voice of human wisdom rears its ugly head: send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.
Can you not sense the impatience in those words?
‘This was meant to be a day off.’
‘Look at what has happened because you encouraged them!’
‘We are tired, and we have had enough of this!’
‘Send them away so that we can have some time to ourselves!’
‘Send them away! Their needs are not our problem!’
How many of us have found ourselves having such un-Christian thoughts over the last few months?
How many of us have been led away from God as we been overwhelmed by negative, self-centred thoughts that have nothing to do with our Christian calling to love and to serve?
What happens next shows us the way we should be travelling, no matter how challenging the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Jesus does not send the crowds away. Instead, he tells them to sit down, to get as comfortable as they can in his presence.
Then, Jesus takes the only offering of food available and provides a feast that fills them all, and leaves an abundance of left overs.
Of course, Jesus has done this before. At the wedding in Cana, he responded to need by producing, not six bottles of cheap plonk, but 180 gallons of the finest wine. Today, we read of Jesus doing the same thing with just 5 loaves and 2 fish.
What happened in Cana, and what happened in that deserted place remains true to this day.
Even in the wilderness; even at the close of day; even in an atmosphere of grief and need, if Jesus is there, there will be fulfilment, abundance and divine extravagance: an overflowing of God’s good grace.
To participate in all that fulfilment, abundance and divine extravagance, we just have to put self to one side, accept Jesus’ outstretched hand, and walk with him.
Over the last few months we have been living in a wilderness.
We have been encouraged to become self-reliant in new and strange ways.
During that time, for some, it has felt as though Jesus had found that time of peace away from the bustling needs of humanity. But … of course … that is simply not the case.
Despite the edicts of Government and Bishops, God did not shut up shop!
Even though the churches in our Benefice have been closed to public worship for 132 days, God has not left us alone. Jesus’ outstretched hand has always been there, offering to lead us to the complete nourishment of his love.
Today we are gathering for prayer and worship for the first time in months.
2020 will live on as a ‘difficult’ year in our memories, but it should also live on as the year in which we were given time to draw closer to our loving God.
Let us rejoice. Let us pray to God in joy. Let us worship God with a freshness and vigour that spurns the old tawdry and lifeless way in which we have taught ourselves to find comfort.
Let us never forget that, even though we could not gather together to celebrate Easter this year, Jesus Christ is indeed risen for each and every one of us. Alleluia! Amen.