JUST BREAD John 6:25-35 August 4, 2019
Westminster by the Sea Presbyterian Church Radford Rader, D.Min.
Bread. It’s still a staple, except for the first two weeks of the South Beach Diet. It still stands for food and life. It’s basic. We may live on steak and potatoes, soup and salad, or ice cream and cake but the hungry say, “Bread, please”. A disheveled, toxic smelling man appeared at the church one morning early in my ministry. He claimed to be hungry. You never know; sometimes they are and sometimes it’s a con. I had some money in my pocket that day and we had a baker in that church. I offered to take the man and get him something to eat. He got in the car with me and we drove to the bakery. At the counter, I said, “Whatever you want for a couple of bucks.” He looked around at all the donuts and fine pastries and still warm loaves of bread. Then, he asked for a bag of day-old donuts that cost one dollar. I couldn’t believe it. I added a bottle of milk on my own and paid the proprietor. The stranger sat down and devoured a dozen semi-stale donuts as if hadn’t eaten in days. I remembered asking, “Mom, I’m hungry.” She said, “Go get yourself a slice of dry bread.” “Just bread…plain bread,” I complained. “You’ll eat it if you are hungry,” she said.
I thought about that while watching the man eat. I thought about bread from heaven – like manna in the desert to wandering Israelites…or bread napkins from the rich man’s table in the dreams of poor Lazarus…or sacks of flour handed down from relief trucks in drought and disaster devastated parts of the world. If you have steak and potatoes, soup and salad, ice cream and cake, bread isn’t much. Take it or leave it. If you are really hungry, bread is life.
Just bread…plain bread…everyday bread…bread you could toast with jam or spread peanut butter and jelly on or put on either side of ham and cheese. Yet, it graces this table and becomes communion bread, the bread of heaven to those who hunger and thirst in this life. It might not satisfy your stomach, but it can fill your soul. It is more than bread. This bread is symbol and not only points but also embodies that to which it points: Bread of life – the Word of God – the Son of God – because we cannot live by bread alone but need also God’s presence in our lives.
I can’t imagine living without Jesus in my life. Life for me is full only because Jesus tells me I am loved by the only one who really counts. Jesus shows me that love and give me hope for today and tomorrow…a hope that carries over the troubles of this time and plants heavenly plans in my head and heart. I’m like the elderly, nearly blind woman in the nursing home. She was wheeled into the circle for the Sunday afternoon service. They began to sing hymns, but she became very agitated. “Where’s the bread!” she demanded. “Where’s the bread!” She wouldn’t be quieted; she wouldn’t stop. Then the minister went to the loaf and broke off a piece. He took it and put it in her hand. She held it between her thumb and finger, quiet and content. She needed this bread. Communion bread is symbol for Jesus, the man of broken body and the life Christ gives…life freed from the burden and shackles of sin…life that has joyous satisfaction even in the darkest shadows…life that has eternity mixed already in its batter. This is more than bread.
The hard part for us sometimes is getting beyond the bread like it was for the seeking crowd and disbelieving Jews did in today’s scripture. They were stuck on the miracle and couldn’t see the sign. They couldn’t see and believe in Jesus as the bread of life. We can be stuck in the physical — just bread — and be unable to embrace the mystery.
A rabbi told this story: Jacob and Esmerelda were Spanish seraphic Jews who immigrated to Palestine. They went to Sabbath services. They listened for familiar words, not knowing modern Hebrew. “Lehem elohim.” (Bread of God). Jacob recognized those words. He went home thinking: “God loves bread.” That week Jacob made 12 loaves of bread and put them in the ark, glad to please God. Shamat, the caretaker of the synagogue had a huge family with many children and almost no money. He came that day needing bread to feed his family. He prayed for a miracle. Then he entered the worship space and smelled the aroma of the fresh bread. He took it as a gift from God.
This went on for 30 years even as the bread became lump, because arthritic fingers could no longer kneed the bread to a fine consistency. One day Jacob caught Shamat taking the bread for himself and became very angry. The two were arguing to the point of violence when the rabbi came in and intervened. They each complained as they told their side of the story. Jacob said how foolish he was for believing that God had taken the bread. Shamat said he should have known it was no miracle. “Foolish men, maybe,” the rabbi concluded, “but now comes the hard part. Jacob, you must continue to bring your bread for Shamat and believe you are giving it to God. Shamat, you must continue to take the bread, and believe it comes from God.”
Friends, now comes the hard part. We are to partake of this bread, made by human hands, blessed by human clergy and offered by human leaders, even from sinners next to us with whom we may be angry today. We must believe it comes from Jesus himself, who blessed and broke and gave bread to those who followed him. We are to take a piece of bread and believe we are given both unmerited love and forgiveness in our participation in this sacrament. Somehow the incarnation, cross and resurrection are to become efficacious for us in just plain old bread. We are to take what is ordinary and believe in the sacred. We are to do it again, what we have done maybe a thousand times, as if it was our first, eye opening and heart-warming communion experience. We are to take this bread, hungry and thirsty for what Christ alone can give. We are to believe in a miracle of love and forgiveness and heaven and Christ with us, Christ in us, Christ through us all in this bread.
It happens, maybe not every time, maybe not this time, but it happens that the bread we eat and the cup we share become the way in which Christ makes himself know to us and fills us with life anew. Some days it clicks…maybe today is on of those days for you and you will know a satisfaction that doesn’t wear off in three hours but rather real satisfaction, the very presence of the Lord.
Take. Eat. Give thanks. Expect. The Lord is with us!
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