Where power and mercy are combined, there is God manifest; where we see righteousness or love, we see the character of God; where we see these triumphing, there we see God in action; where we see them achieve their purpose despite all calculable possibilities, there we acknowledge God signally self-revealed.—William Temple, Nature, Man, and God
Today is the day we remember the life of Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, who died in 1944 after a brief two years as the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was Archbishop of Canterbury during the depths of World War II, but although he did not live to see the end of that conflict, he had already begun advocating for a post-war society in which the Church advocated that power and mercy work to create a society in which the welfare of the people was paramount. Archbishop Temple’s leadership was inspirational at a time in which unimaginable evil had attempted to take the world by the throat, when power had been wedded instead to a culture of death and oppression. In the midst of this, William Temple spoke hope and possibility to a people engaged in one of the greatest struggles of the 20th century. He dared to believe in miracles and the power of God’s love even in a desolate place filled with cries of mourning.
I thought of Archbishop Temple’s life and work when reading the gospel for this morning in the daily office. The gospel for today’s daily office readings is Matthew’s account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Our gospel story is also set in desolation and mourning. Jesus demonstrates power and mercy nearly from the outset. He had withdrawn to a desert place after learning of the death of John the Baptist, to be by himself for a while, to grieve. Yet the crowds followed him anyway. Rather than turn the crowds away, Jesus “had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Jesus, moved by mercy, used his power for healing among those who were so desperate that they were willing to go far off into a desert place on the chance that they could be healed. Power and mercy combined, and God was revealed indeed, especially to those whose life was restored to them. In a place of desolation, Jesus’s compassion makes people whole.
But Jesus was not finished. Recognizing the hunger of the crowd, Jesus has them sit down, and feeds a crowd of five thousand men and their families from five loaves and two fish. “Bring them to me,” Jesus says, and then he once again gives the crowd more than enough to satisfy their hunger. The echoes of this miracle resound every time we gather around the altar, God’s table, to give thanks through the Eucharist, just as Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven and multiplied those loaves. Each time we gather around the altar, especially, the miraculous love of God is revealed to us just as it was to that crowd on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, power and mercy combine to show us and recall to us the greatest force in the world: love.
Jesus continues to feed us, to recognize our needs and respond to us in love just he did to that crowd. We are fed so that we can go into our lives after we depart from that altar, and carry the power and mercy of Christ into a world that is just as famished—and even more besides, perhaps—than that crowd was. In Fellowship with God, Archbishop Temple reminded us, “We know that our great need in our everyday discipleship— in office, or factory, or shop, or school, or in our own homes— is spirit and life; and we know that we have received these in the sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Son of Man.“
Let us sit down before Christ, and be fed by Him, and then, transformed by the power and mercy, the spirit and the life, that draws us together before God, serve God this day, as William Temple and all the saints we sang about just last Sunday continue to try to do.
Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She attends Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, MO. She is seminarian-intern at Church of the Good Shepherd , Town and Country, Missouri, in the Diocese of Missouri, and tweets daily prayers and news of note @Scoopexplainsit. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.
Image: Portrait of Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, from the collection at Lambeth Palace