The Fifth Loaf

I helped to design and lead today’s Eucharist service in Marquand Chapel.  Together with some awesome collaborators and a willing congregation, we explored different meals in the gospels at which Jesus broke bread and gave thanks, offering brief homiletic moments about each of them.  This one’s mine:

On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, tilapia—
there called St. Peter’s fish—
swim in steely grey waters
that lap against round water-worn stones.
At the spot I’m thinking of,
it is possible
to find a quiet place to stand and listen for God.


From that spot where I stood last January,
the landscape swoops up into a steep hill
growing with tall grass
and streaked with flying swallows.
Our guide told us with the certitude born,
if not of fact, then at least of conviction,
that it was on this exact hill that two thousand years ago,
Jesus broke bread and gave thanks
and fed five thousand men,
and also women,
and also children
with five loaves and two fishes.

Within my view stood the Church of the Multiplication.
Inside, there is a 5th century mosaic,
A miracle in tiny stones:
Two fishes flank a basket of bread.
But there’s a twist:
there are only four loaves in the basket.

Photo by Berthold Werner. Public Domain.

This is no mistake, I was told:
the mosaic is right by the altar of the church,
and the four loaves in the basket
were meant to draw the eye to the fifth loaf:
the bread on the altar,
broken and shared among an entire congregation,
re-membering the miracle at every Eucharist.

But I almost always remember the explanation differently.
When I see this mosaic and look for the fifth loaf in my mind’s eye,
It is not on the altar
but around the altar.
In my memory,
the fifth loaf is the Body of Christ that gathers to eat the Body of Christ—
you, me.
The Church.

Two thousand years ago, on that hill,
Last Sunday, around the world,
Today, in this place,
A brown-bag lunch becomes a banquet feast.
A scattered people become one Body.
One Body becomes bread for the world.


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