If you have never caroled a large group of young children, I can tell you it’s not an easy task. When I taught Pre-K before I went to seminary, I would often need to get the attention of three dozen 4-5 year olds and the best way I knew was to get suddenly excited and engage them by asking if they knew the story of my three friends from California. I would slowly let the story unfold and though the main parts of the story remained the same I would change just enough details about the Three Little Pigs, like them being my friends and living in California, to keep their attention. I wove a tapestry of familiar and unfamiliar, while they sat quietly enraptured by the story, all that mattered is that I had the important parts of the story in my retelling.
Our lesson today from the Gospel according to Mark doesn’t really do that, even though it’s the same lesson that can always be read in Mark, chapter 6. If you’ll notice, though, in your bulletin the Lectionary skips over a set of verses. And these words might sound a bit familiar, but it’s the words that are left out that are the big parts of the story that you have probably known your whole life. In between Jesus inviting the disciples to come away and rest and the masses of people desperate for Christ’s healing is the story of the feeding of the 5,000. Now there are all sorts of reasons that the creators of the Lectionary cycle made the choices they made, but when it comes to today’s text, I have to wonder if they meant to leave out the important part. The feeding of the 5,000 is undoubtedly one of Christ’s greatest miracles, and in typical fashion, it wasn’t just miraculous, it was also comforting and empowering for the disciples and for the crowds of people for whom he had compassion.
One of the commentaries that I listened to this week even insisted that to preach this gospel, you must expand it to include the feeding of the 5,000. Why would we hear about Christ’s invitation to rest and the abundance of God’s healing rather than one of the greatest miracles recorded. It’s also particularly interesting to me, in a sort of Bible nerd kind of way that in the gospel account that moves the quickest, Mark is known to cover whole swaths of time with the simple words “Then immediately…” It is striking to me, then that our gospel lesson today is not the flashy, perfect story, and it doesn’t even move that quickly.
But maybe this is the point. Maybe the point isn’t the big, ‘important’ parts of the story. Maybe the invitation of today’s gospel is not to have a faith that believes in giant, powerful miracles, but is instead a holy and simple invitation to rest and to heal. Imagine a world where God’s invitation to rest and to heal is just as powerful and compelling as a miraculous feeding. I don’t think it’s too hard because if most of us let ourselves sit with the words of Christ, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while” then I think many of us might be moved to tears. In our society, rest is rarely praised and is often viewed as a failure, but here we have Christ not commanding it of his disciples but inviting them to it. They had just returned from being sent out to do grueling work, with nothing but the clothes on their back and their sandals on their feet, and Christ’s response isn’t to ask them to present to the group what they learned but is instead an invitation to receive God’s rest.
After this invitation, Christ sees the crowds of people and has compassion upon them, and teaches (and feed the 5,000 – if you really need to know the ‘important’ part of the story, it goes here). After this, the people are so moved by their faith, that they bring the people they love who are sick to be healed. All around Christ were those in need of healing, and to all who touched even the hem of Christ’s robe were healed. While I would agree that the story of the feeding of the 5,000 has got more star story power, I am grateful for the creators of the Lectionary in their chosing to give us the ‘unimportant’ parts of the story. I’m grateful this morning to hear God’s invitation to healing and rest.
I’m grateful because it means I’m not alone in my need for this healing and rest; I’m grateful because it means you aren’t alone in your need for healing and rest, either. Perhaps the creators of the Lectionary have offered us a great gift that couldn’t be better timed if we tried. As usual, the Lectionary often comes through when we need it. Rest might look like time away in a deserted place or closing your eyes and lifting your face to the warm summer sun or it might look like taking a few moments for stillness; I don’t know what you need, but I literally don’t know anyone who isn’t in need of rest right now. And beloveds, it is more than likely that each of us are in need of healing; whether it’s putting your hand over your heart and expressing gratitude for your body or the weight of a chronic illness with which no one can fully empathize or freedom from a life plagued by fear that can only be healed by God’s grace. Rest and healing is what is offered to us today.
My prayer for us this week is not one that challenges us to go out and be an example of Christ in the world, making the most of this short time we have on this earth, though as Christians, this is always on the table. No rather, my prayer is that we will take up God’s invitation to be like Christ as we accept deep rest and needed healing. Only you know what sort of rest and healing you or your family need, but I truly believe that it is available to us. And I don’t mean this just metaphorically or poetically, I genuinely believe that when Christ tells the disciples to come away and rest for a while, that he would delight in us doing that as well. Take a moment and just imagine Christ delighting in you taking a rest and embracing the healings offered to you. Delight, my friends; I truly believe that God would delight in the joy of us taking up this invitation.
And this is the invitation of today’s gospel lesson: God’s compassion, God’s care, and God’s healing are made ready for us; God is inviting us to them today, our only job to embrace this invitation and to rest our weary bodies and souls and trust in God’s abundant healing.
A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY on July 18, 2021 for Proper 11B on Mark 6:30-34, 53-56.