‘Gather up what is left, that nothing may be lost’

Published October 10, 2013

(This article first appeared in the October issue of the Anglican Journal.)

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”-John 6:35

At the heart of John’s story of the feeding of the multitude is Jesus’ thanksgiving over the loaves. Then, after the crowd has been fed, John adds a word not found in the other gospels: Jesus says to the disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost” (John 6:12). The fragments are precious. Broken life is precious. Jesus declares this a little further on in the chapter: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39). We give thanks that the broken life in us is cared for and mended, redeemed by the one who is bread of life for us.

Jesus’ birth took place in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.” And he was laid in a manger, a feeding place. Right from the beginning, Jesus came as bread. God knew how hungry the world was, and is. In the dark and hostile place (where there was no room), a loving God offered the bread of life. It is a great wonder that we are offered such bread. When we seek to follow him, we discover that our following takes us into every broken place where people are hungry for bread, for peace, for freedom, for spirit. Our giving of thanks is lived out when, with those early disciples, we gather up the fragments of life and offer the living bread that is in us.

The poetry of Wendell Berry, an American farmer-poet, shows a beautiful understanding that this offering stands at the heart of faithful living. In a three-line poem entitled February 2, 1968, he wrote this:

In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter,
war spreading, families dying, the world in danger,
I walk the rocky hillside, sowing clover.

I think only a profoundly grateful person can face the darkness this way. What hope is there of life rising in such conditions? Many would say, “Wait for more suitable weather, wait for a favourable season, wait…” But one who trusts God to make whole what is broken approaches all life in gratitude, and offers back an open heart and open hands. Thanksgiving is an act of graceful resistance that allows us to admit to the fragility of life, but also realizes that every fragment is of infinite worth. Jesus speaks to us again: “Gather up what is left, that nothing may be lost.”

This Thanksgiving, remember that in Christ you are living bread. Remember, too, the fragments. Love finds a way on the rocky hillsides of our lives, gathers us in and holds us forever in God’s hands. As a favourite hymn puts it: “For the wonders that astound us, for the truths that still confound us, most of all, that love has found us, thanks be to God” (Common Praise, 259).

THE RT. REV. GORDON LIGHT, retired bishop for Parishes of the Central Interior, lives in Meaford, Ont.


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