In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
During Divine Liturgy, as the curtain is closed and the choir sings Der Voghormya (Lord Have Mercy) in preparation for Holy Communion, the priest silently prays for himself and for his faithful. In the beautiful words he says, “And now I beseech you, let this [Holy Communion] be to me not for condemnation but for the remission and forgiveness of sins, for health of soul and body and for the performance of all deeds of virtue;” (translated by Bishop Daniel Findikyan “Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church.”) Each Sunday as we gather in Church (or perhaps in recent times follow along at home), the Holy Badarak remembers the Holy Sacrifice of Christ Jesus. We remember through the breaking of bread and drinking of wine, the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus. This was confirmed to us, during the Last Supper by Jesus Christ himself, when he told the disciples to do the same in remembrance of him. However, we know that the last supper was neither the first time nor the last time, that Jesus used the sharing of bread as a sign to teach us of who he is.
In today’s Gospel we read of Christ feeding the 5,000, as he preached and taught them. Our Church Father’s, “see in the miracle of feeding the five thousand an image of Holy Communion, an idea made especially clear in John’s Gospel (6:1-71)”. Sharing a meal, sharing food in ancient times and for Jesus was not about the physical eating. The communal breaking of bread meant far more than merely sitting down and eating together.
In Armenian the word for friend, as I have mentioned before, is unt-ger. This literally translates to unt = with, ger =eat meaning the one we eat with. Therefore, there was something sacred about the ones whom we shared a meal with. Additionally, in ancient times and ancient people such as Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Italians and many others, eating was and is 1) never done in solitude and 2) it was never a quiet occasion. When we eat, we talk, we sing. When we eat, ideas and laughter is spread, guidance is shared and love is created among those whom you eat with. Food is a celebration. Even in troubling times and when sorrow is felt, sharing of a meal showed love and care. Interestingly, something I have repeatedly heard from people over this pandemic is how much they miss coming together and sharing a meal because breaking bread is not about the food but about the communion.
That is why, in today’s Gospel, we read of how Jesus tells the disciples “you feed them.” Jesus did not necessarily mean you feed them with bread, fish, wine or anything physical, but rather feed their souls: create Communion. And So when we gather on Sunday’s and come to participate in Badarak, the words of the prayer of the priest are asking for us to be spiritually fed and to be in communion with each other and ultimately with God.
The tiny piece of wine soaked bread obviously is not meant to fill our physical hunger, but rather by communing through it with God, our spiritual hunger is being fed. Our sins to be forgiven, our body and soul to become healthy and for us to act virtuously and righteously. Thus the tiny bread and small cup of wine is meant to feed not the dozen people in Church, nor the 5,000 gathered to listen to Jesus. Rather, “Christ shares his own Body and Blood to all the baptized members of his family, the Church.” My dears, the tiny bread and small cup will feed the hunger of all humanity.
Yet, some may say, Der Hayr because we are in a pandemic we are not able to physically gather and receive communion from that cup, therefore, how do we feed our hunger? My dears, as Christ says, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4) teaches us that our communion is also done through hearing and reading of the words of scripture. We are fed through continual prayer and a seeking out of that which is good. We are fed through Bible Studies and teachings of Church Fathers. How many of us, in this pandemic, have regularly prayed? How many of us, in this pandemic, have deliberately everyday set time aside to open our scriptures, read, pray and ask questions about our faith?
How many of us, in this pandemic, have called our priest and said, Der Hayr help me strengthen my faith? Do we honestly want to be fed? Do we want the breaking of bread to truly be a time of celebration, love, guidance and care? Do we want the words of the Badarak to truly resound in our lives? Then we must begin by acknowledging our hunger and willingly come to Christ Jesus, who will feed us.
Remember today’s passage, the people were following Jesus and they came to him and were fed. Jesus wasn’t running after them. Regardless, of our state of faith, our age, our gender, our political ideas, our skin color, our jobs, our titles, regardless of all external expressions of our humanity – God invites us to one table, to sit and eat together, to celebrate, to love, to forgive, to tend and care for. To eat from the same bread and drink from the same cup, which feeds all those who come to Him. So that having been fed and healed, we too can begin feeding those around us and healing this world from its hunger. Because when our sins are forgiven and our body and soul become healthy, then we must act virtuously – how? By beginning to feed those who are also hungry around us.
Therefore, let us examine in our hearts and minds, do we honestly go after Jesus? Do we search for answers to our faith and take advantage of any opportunity we find to learn and grow as children of God? Are we willing to also begin feeding those who are hungry? God, our Heavenly Father loves us. He desires to be in communion with us through Christ Jesus. God our Heavenly Father invites us to this table to feed us.