Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Goodness, Jesus. Enough with the bread already. We get it, ok? Jesus…. Bread. Jesus, bread. Jesus-bread. Bread seems like it should be pretty easy to understand… right?
But have you ever actually made bread? Do you understand the art and the science that goes into this food that has been part of our diets for thousands of years? Have you ever thought about where bread comes from?
After church today I can hop in my car and drive down to Shop Rite, and there I can buy any kind of bread imaginable – super white bread, whole-wheat bread, honey wheat bread, 9 grain bread, pita bread, rye bread, sourdough bread, Italian bread, French bread, poppy seed bread, you name it, they probably have it. I can walk in, make my selection, go home, and enjoy it. In no other time in the history of the world has this been possible, and there are still many places around the world and in our own country that this is not the case.
If you or your child recently took first communion classes at this church, you might remember a little of how that bread was made. There was some flour sifting, some mixing, some milk and honey and yeast being added, some shaping. You saw the ingredients come together. You felt the flour on your hands as you kneaded the dough. You smelled the honey. You heard laughter as we all tried to keep the mess to a minimum. You may even have snuck a taste when the rest of us weren’t looking. And then in the oven it goes, and out pops some of the most delicious bread ever.
But I for one don’t know how bread “works.” I’ve never thought about how it is that power from a crushed plant, plus water, plus a fungus could be so delicious. Bread is amazing, if you really think about it. It is actually alive, then dies, then lives, then dies again, so that WE can live. (This TED talk is where I learned all the following about bread)
The plant we call wheat grows tall and strong, creating seeds, which over the course of thousands of years, has learned to graciously release them to us. Seeds, if you remember from your sixth grade science course, are potential life. Some of these seeds we do indeed save and plant in the next growing season. But some goes into making our bread.
The wheat was alive, and the seed is potential life, but then… we crush it. Obliterate it. Take away any possibility for sprouting and growing. A seed is not dead, but flour is.
BUT THEN we combine the flour with water and yeast… and it becomes alive again. As the yeast grows, it actually burps and sweats, making the bread rise up and taste good. Kinda gross, but oh so delicious. This bread becomes a living thing.
And then, we put in in the oven. The heat makes the dough solid, and the crust crispy, and the ingredients bond, but it also kills the yeast. So what comes out of the oven is no longer alive in any way. No seeds, no yeast. Just… bread.
But then… we eat it. We gather around a table, we laugh, we cry, and we eat bread. I mean, what Italian meal would be complete without it?
So the bread comes alive once again, in us. It was alive, then dead, then alive, then dead, then once again alive. Bread truly is a food of resurrection.
The men and women who were listening to Jesus that day could not have told you about all the reasons that bread is bread. They just knew. They knew it, deep down in their bodies. The women knew with their sweat and their aching arms and a day’s work what it means to go from crushed seed to steaming bread to feed their families. The men knew with their sweat and their aching arms what it means to eat what their women have transformed - from the seed they harvest to the bread they eat. They knew in their bodies that bread is more than just bread, and eating is more than just eating.
A woman named Sara Miles knew this too. She might be the last person that we would expect to see in church: a staunch atheist and skeptic, world traveling war correspondent, lesbian, and single mom. But one day she walked into St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco, California, and received Holy Communion for the very first time.
And it changed her life. She describes that moment when she at the bread and drank the wine, as Jesus happened to her. From that moment on, Jesus had lodged into her, like a crumb, refusing to be shaken off. She went home that day shocked and confused at what happened. But she did know one thing, knew it deep in her body: she wanted that bread again. And again. And again.
If you recall, all those weeks ago when we first started the “bread of life” part of the summer, the first part of the story Jesus feeds people. He takes five loaves and two fish and feed over five thousand people. That’s about the entire population of Hightstown. Jesus fed all these people ACTUAL BREAD before he started he even began saying “I am the bread of Life.”
We are what we eat. When we eat bread, we eat death and resurrection and our bodies continue to life. And when we eat Jesus, we are eating Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we continue to live in Jesus.
This kept Sara Miles coming back, week after week, to receive the body and blood of Jesus. She later joined St. Gregory’s, got baptized, and became an active member on the congregation, eventually helping to serve communion herself. Then she started a hugely successful food pantry, which grew to hundreds of people, which became very controversial within the congregation. But along the way, she realized something.
As she was in yet another meeting about “church growth” along with one of her priests. As they talked afterward, she said to him, “The point of church isn’t to get people to come to church… [it’s] to feed them, so they can go out and, you know, be Jesus.” (p. 267)
We are what we eat. When we eat bread, we grow healthy and strong, ready for the day. When we eat Jesus, we are also strengthened for the journey of following Jesus and actually becoming more like him. And so sometimes we are able to be Jesus for one another.
I experienced Jesus just recently, during the ELCA Youth gathering. Actually I saw him show up quite a bit, but this particular time was when the entire New Jersey Synod gathered in one big room. Our time together closed with worship, and a couple of youth from one of the Mercer county churches we went with helped to serve communion. As this particular young man placed the bread in my hand, he said “the blood of Christ shed for you.” And these words were more beautiful and meaningful to me than if he had gotten the words “correct.” They were beautiful and true because they were spoken in the name of the one who gives all of us life through his body and blood.
This life we receive keeps us coming back for more, week after week. The rest of the week can often try to defeat us and deplete us. This is not an easy road, to follow in Jesus’ footsteps when the rest of the world around us would rather follow something or someone else.
In the end, it’s not about how well we think we understand what Jesus is saying – that’s where Jesus’ critics got into trouble and missed the whole point. It takes a lifetime to wrestle with and literally CHEW ON all that Jesus is and teaches. It’s not really about the “right” words or the “right” thoughts or the “right” people. In the end, it all comes down to the promise that Jesus is the living bread and that by eating it we will be forever with him. That God is with us in a way that we can see and touch and smell and taste in Jesus. And through us, other people are able to see and hear and touch Jesus. AMEN.