“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”
From St Matthew 14: 13-21, NIV
This passage from St Matthew is the Gospel reading for today, part of what eventually leads to the feeding of the five thousand. The actual number would have been even greater as Matthew tells his readers that this was the amount of men present, with the women and children not being counted. St John’s Gospel says that the five small barley loaves and two small fish that were used came from a boy who presumably gave up his meal for this to happen, a reminder of the human generosity and co-operation that is needed if God’s purposes and blessings are to break into our daily life.
However, all this begins with Jesus wanting to be alone after hearing of the terrible death of John the Baptist, one of his own relatives as well as the one who had baptised him as his ministry began. Understandably, Jesus wants to withdraw for a while – he is no automaton but a man with feelings, affected by what’s happened. That may comfort us at times when we are saddened by grief or troubled by recent events – but the crowd won’t allow this to happen. Jesus is followed by hordes of people who have worked out where his boat is going and are waiting for him when he lands. Rather than being irritated by the sight of them, which means he can’t have the solitude he wants, Jesus has compassion and heals those who are sick – then challenging the disciples to feed them. The disciples find the loaves and fish but they are not enough – until they are brought to Jesus and the miracle happens, as God’s abundant blessing mingles with humanity’s offering. All are fed with twelve basketsful to spare – and having attended to the needs of the crowd, fed them and then sent them away, Jesus then honours his own need by going alone up the hillside to pray.
Generosity, blessing and abundance were factors with Melangell and Brochwel too, in that the Prince’s generosity in giving her that part of the valley meant that Melangell and her helpers could then offer healing, sanctuary and hospitality to those who came to the valley searching for it. From that has developed the tradition still honoured here today and through which so many have been fed spiritually as well as actually – as one visitor this week remarked, “I so miss Anne’s delicious lemon cake!” Perhaps it won’t be too long before refreshments can be offered once more but, for now, the pandemic restrictions prevail although they are easing a little.
Today, St Melangell’s is able to reopen for Sunday worship at 3pm for the first time, thanks to those who have volunteered to form a rota to ensure that this can be done safely. This will be done according to the guidelines issued by the Welsh Government and the Church in Wales and there will be no singing, refreshments or socialising afterwards. However, every cloud has a silver lining: as services must be kept short, there will not be a long sermon from the Guardian!
At the service the Paschal candle, which would have been lit as Easter dawned, will be a focus for thanksgiving at this time of new beginnings. This is still a time of darkness as well as light, of fear as well as hope and of illness as well as healing and the symbolism of lighting it on the first occasion we can gather together will contrast with dawn on Easter Day itself. Then, candles and flowers were nevertheless still placed on the altar as a sign of hope in a church where worshippers could not gather together to proclaim the resurrection, as the photo taken at 6.55 am that day shows. And if, now, hope is daunted and the future still seems uncertain, remember those disciples who played so crucial a role at the feeding of the five thousand when Jesus told them, “You give them something to eat.” They obeyed him trustingly and brought meagre resources of just five small barley loaves and two little fish – but it was enough for Jesus to use and for God’s blessing to provide abundantly. A huge task lies ahead as we consider the scale of what we now face but if we can also respond to what Jesus tells us to provide, even in a small way, we may also find that far more can be achieved and shared than ever we thought possible and that God’s purposes and blessing will burst into the everyday now as then. Despite the pandemic, we are still an Easter people of hope and trust and alleluia is our song – even if we can’t sing it in church yet!
With my prayers,