Sermon - 12 Pentecost
In the Name...
A recent headline in the Cincinnati Enquirer, reported on MSN, read, "Smell of baked bread poses environmental risk." The article went on to describe that the organic components in the aroma of baking bread have the potential to break down the ozone layer.
I was shocked. But, it led me to start doing some research and here are a few of the amazing facts I've discovered. More than 98 per cent of convicted felons ate bread in the 24 hours before committing their crimes. Half of all children who grow up in bread-eating households score below average on standardized tests. Natives in Papua New Guinea, who don't eat much bread, exhibit lower rates of lung cancer, Alzheimer's, and osteoporosis than Americans. And, lastly, you can use statistics to prove just about anything.
But, seriously, glancing at the shelves of any grocery store in our area, one may feel overwhelmed at the sheer variety of what goes under the name of “bread”: Banana nut, Five-grain, Ten-grain, Cheddar and jalapeno, Zucchini, traditional French, Rosemary olive oil, Sourdough, and the list could extend ad infinitum.
Even in the absence of a market survey, though, it’s reasonable to imagine, again from the shelves, that the most popular and most eaten bread in America is the sliced white packaged variety - kind of squishy, consistent, predictable, and with a flavour so bland it's hard to describe.
And yet, we love it. It's the stuff of morning toast. It’s the perfect platform for peanut butter, or ham and cheese, or just about anything else. And one of the reasons we like it is precisely because it contributes so little to our experience of food. Tasteless, it doesn’t compete with other flavours. Of little texture, we don’t have to work hard to eat it. Mass produced, it's the best price we can get.
Is that the kind of bread we think of when we hear Jesus say, “I am the bread of life.” What do you think Jesus meant? Perhaps, we might think of matzo - the stiff cracker used at the Passover - or perhaps Middle-Eastern pita bread. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but, can we understand what Jesus was saying about himself unless we look more closely at bread?
Well, what's there to say? Bread is bread. It's for eating. The bread does not choose; the bread has no power to say by whom it will be eaten or who will benefit from it. And so it is with Jesus. He does not impose himself upon us. He does not refuse any who come to him. He is just there for the taking.
Bread is also a basic staple. I have no idea if caviar was known in the Holy Land in those days, but, I find it significant that Jesus doesn't describe himself as the "caviar of life", as something special and rare. Bread is an essential food for all, not merely a tasty morsel for the privileged. Bread is not a luxury item.
And, where does bread come from? Bread is usually made from wheat, though other grains can be used, but, all go through a similar process. All begin with the sowing of seeds in the soil, seeds which experience a "death" and "resurrection." The kernels of the grain are then broken and crushed. And, again, so it is with Jesus. He was broken and crushed. He died and was resurrected. And that's the only way bread is made.
And, bread is absorbent. We may not have considered this aspect in relation to Jesus, but ever since the first loaf was baked in Neolithic times people have used bread to soak things up, to clean things. So too, Jesus, as the bread of life, has sopped up, if you will, the sins of the world, the sins of you and me. He has cleaned those off the plate. He has taken them upon himself.
These, then, are all ways in which we may consider Jesus as possessing the properties of bread. So, when Jesus made that statement, he was revealing deep insights not only into his own person, mission, and character, but, ours, as well.
I once made the remark that Jesus did not leave us a book of rules to follow, he left us a life to imitate; he left us a relationship with God and each other into which he wants us to grow. And yes, that involves a certain amount of prayer and hard work. But, there's also something very easy we can do which builds and strengthens our relationship with Christ and each other and it’s the reason we’re here today in church. We can simply eat the Bread of Life.
When we eat something ordinary, there's a chemical process by which it becomes part of our bodies and when we eat the Blessed Sacrament, there is a mystical process by which it becomes part of our souls. We become what we have eaten; we become more like him whom we have eaten. Yes. There's a lot of truth in the old adage, "You are what you eat."
When we take the Eucharist, we may rejoice that Jesus never turns away anyone who comes to him. When we take the Eucharist, we realize that it's not an optional delicacy, but, an essential staple to our spiritual existence. When we take the Eucharist, we are prepared to be broken and crushed and experience death and resurrection. And when we take the Eucharist, we understand that he who is the bread of life absorbs all the pain and hurt we feel and gives us healing.
What kind of bread is Jesus? Plain, bland, and cheap? Or something more interesting, more complex? Jesus was many-textured, multifaceted, and rich in flavour. He raised the dead to life, yet wept over the passing of a friend. He stood to teach and rebuke and knelt to wash feet and touch the leper. He dined with Pharisees and tax collectors, alike. He healed the Jew and the Gentile. And his prayer for his disciples was to become one with him and with each other.
Not for us, then, to be plain and bland. Not for us to be squishy and cheap in the way we show our love of God and neighbour. As we live our lives and live our faith, let us be rich in texture, bold in flavour, and mouth-watering in aroma. Let us become the bread we eat - the Bread of Life itself. And, then, let us, with him, give life to the world.
In the Name...