“I love bread”
Have you seen that commercial for Weight Watchers – now known as WW (Which I’ve always considered an unfortunate change because it sounds like ‘Double You. Double You.’ Which is not exactly a good image for a weight loss program.)?
Anyway, the commercial features Oprah Winfrey enthusiastically and practically salivating as she proclaims, “I love bread!” The purpose of which is to say that you CAN eat bread on the WW plan and still lose weight.
Well, if you love bread, you’re going to love the next three weeks of gospel lessons as they are all from the Gospel of John and are “all bread all the time”.
Yes, for four Sundays in a row, we hear Jesus say he is “the bread of life,” and “the bread come down from heaven,” and claim in two successive readings that “who ever eats this bread will live forever,” before we return to Mark’s gospel and hear the Pharisees complain that Jesus and his disciples had really bad table manners, eating with “defiled hands.”
So, I guess we need to pace ourselves through this metaphor of bread, right?
I want to start this week by joining my voice with Oprah’s and proclaim, “I love bread.”
When I was a kid, my grandmother made great loaves of the stuff every Thursday for the rest of the week. As she got older, she found that it was too much work for her aching, arthritic hands and arms and only made a small batch – just a few loaves a week. After my grandfather died, she stopped making bread all together. I’m not sure why but that’s what happened.
But, there was a ‘bread man’ who came to our neighborhood once a week. He had a large truck, the back of which was covered with a large, canvas tarp and filled with baskets of hot Portuguese bread – hard and crusty on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside.
One of my favorite memories of my childhood was the day The Bread Man came. He always came on Tuesday and Friday, but my favorite day was Friday.
He would arrive shortly after we got home from school for lunch – back in the days when schools would close down for an hour and everyone went home to eat lunch – and we would race down the stairs, our hands sweaty and tightly closed around the two quarters Daddy had given us to buy two loaves of bread.
The Bread Man would lift a warm loaf out of the basket, holding it with a white dishtowel and place it into the dishtowel we had brought. We would then race back up the stairs and put the loaves on the table, waiting for Daddy to break it open for us, clapping our hands together as we applauded the steam that rose from the white, soft inside.
My youngest sister, Diane, always squealed with delight when that happened because she thought that was the Holy Ghost rising out from the center of the bread.
Daddy would then slather
butter on the hunk of bread and usually place a piece of fried fish or half a
cod fish cake or, sometimes, a fried egg into the center of the pool of melted
butter in the bread and pass it down for each of the four of us kids to eat.
It being Friday, and being practicing Catholics at the time, we did not eat meat on Friday. Which was just fine. Who needed meat when you had warm bread and butter? Actually, we didn’t even really need fish or eggs. Just fresh, warm bread and butter, please. That’s all we really needed to fill our bellies and warm our souls before going back to the afternoon session of school.
I think that’s the point Jesus is trying to make with this metaphor of himself as bread. You really don’t need anything else when you have Him.
In this morning’s gospel, Jesus had just fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. That night, the disciples see him walking on water. The next day, those same thousands gather again to be fed. Jesus then offers them salvation – eternal nourishment – rather than just temporary sustenance.
I think I understood this spiritual concept of the church as a child because of my experiences at the kitchen table of my youth. In my experience, even little ones in church get this. They know. They understand more than we give them credit for.
In one church I served, there was a ministry of baking communion bread. Folks would sign up on rotation to make fresh bread. It was different every week. Some made a beautiful round loaf – which I can tell you, from personal experience, is NOT the best kind of bread for communion.
Yes, it tends to be very crummy, but there is another complication. I remember holding up the loaf to break and discovering that the crusty outer layer made it almost impossible to break open with arms extended.
So, I brought the loaf closer to my chest, but
even then I struggled.
It took a few seconds but it seemed like long minutes of struggle until I finally tore open the bread. Looking up at the congregation and seeing some looks of shock on some of the faces, I realized that I was a bit winded and had actually broken a sweat as I lifted the torn bread and proclaimed, “The Body of Christ!”
Wrestling with the Body of Christ, I discovered, does not make good spiritual optics.
There were a few times when, for whatever reason, the person responsible for the bread that Sunday was unable to bake bread and had rushed out to the store to purchase some. Typically, it was pita bread. Which was fine. Until the Sunday I noticed a lovely fragrance to the bread and realized someone had hurriedly chosen the garlic and rosemary pita.
There were some very interesting expressions at the communion rail that morning.
My favorite was when someone brought in the Hawaiian King Bread. There were lovely smiles on the faces of the communicants that Sunday as they placed the sweet bread into their mouths.
I’ve often thought, since then, that we should make that our official communion bread.
But, no matter the size, shape or flavor of bread, the kids always knew that this was the Body of Christ. It was their responsibility, after the service, to come to me to get any left over consecrated bread and bring it outside to scatter it on the protected, raised flowerbed in front of the church to feed the birds.
Without any instruction from me, they always formed a very solemn procession line, taking turns as to which one of them was to actually carry the bread out in a white linen purificator.
Rain or shine, shoes, sneakers, snow boots or flip-flops, they processed quietly and reverently, fully aware of the honor they had to carry the Body of Christ to feed some of God’s Holy Creatures.
I’m told that a few of them even repeated, “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” as they scattered the bread.
They knew. They understood the metaphor – and the reality.
I sometimes wondered if their parents understood as much and as deeply as they did what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the bread of life.”
So, yes, I join with Oprah when she says, “I love bread.” I do. It remains my favorite food.
I still love a childhood favorite, especially this time of year: sliced peaches on bread slathered with butter.
But, the bread I love the most is the bread that will never leave me hungry or wanting, the one that is manna from heaven and gives life to us that we may feed each other as well as the rest of God’s creation.
My favorite image of the church is this: The church is at its best when it is one beggar telling another where he found bread.
With all due respect to the chief gurus of the church, that, for me, is the very definition of church vitality.
That, my friends, is how the church grows.
The church grows and is vital when you understand yourself to be a beggar who has found bread and is willing to find other beggars and tell them where you found bread.
In the words of one of the blessings we often say in our home as grace before a meal: “God, bless this food we are about to receive! Give bread to those who hunger and give hunger for charity and justice to those who have bread.”
Or, you can simply shorten it and say what we call The Oprah Blessing, “I love bread.”