Jesus said, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
... This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."
All right, so we are now on, the 4th out of 5 readings in the lectionary this summer that has to deal with bread. It is a time when preachers get a little nervous, really how much can we spin and take, and reflect on bread???? This is when having enough clergy to have a preaching rotation helps.
Over the past 25 years I have worked in the food industry. First as a microbiologist, then as a regulatory and nutrition scientist, I’ve seen many different foci of eating programs come from the government. When I started my first job nutritional labeling was voluntary. Child nutrition programs which are run by the USDA had to meet certain criteria for use in a school lunch program. 25 years ago, that basically had to do with calorie content and nutrient density, for example the food had to be a good source of a single vitamin or mineral or protein to be included in a school lunch program.
There wasn’t a real concern of fat, or cholesterol, and trans fats weren’t even on the radar. This was the era of white bread. There was no whole wheat (unless it was home made), or multigrain. Rich families on our block bought their kids Wonder Bread, but most of us got the local grocery store private label white bread
Now the government puts out food pyramids, and dietary guidelines for every possible population. Elderly need this, children need that, the diabetic needs something completely different. The standards to be able to supply foods for the School lunch programs are much tighter. Foods cannot be high in fat, saturated fats, or cholesterol and lets not even start to discuss the trans fat issue.
Now we know the breads that are better for you will be 100% whole grain, and high in fiber. Way back when wheat bread if the stores carried it at all was usually something that bakeries referred to internally as “Cheater Wheat” which is white bread colored brown with caramel color, to give it a perception of being made from the whole wheat kernel.
The perception, at least in America is what most of us think of when we think of bread these days is a big fluffy loaf of Enriched bleached white bread. Think about this. Something that is really not the way it would normally be found in nature. (to be enriched is, to put back in the vitamins and minerals that are removed because the bran, has been removed from the wheat kernel). White bread using bleached white flour is not the type of bread that Jesus would have eaten.
In Ken Follett’s book “Pillars of the Earth” artisan and cathedral builder Tom Builder, and his crew were given what was called “horse bread” to eat. While the monks and the bishop ate fine milled white bread. Horse bread had various grains in its mix, it was the multigrain, whole grain bread of it’s time. White bread was a status symbol, and the more healthy horse bread was given to the laborers.
I think it kind of funny that the bread which Jesus would have available, (outside of the Passover holiday which would have centered around unleavened bread), what he would have eaten normally day to day was probably some kind of horse bread.
So when we come for communion, we take the bread, look at it. When does a starch wafer, come to mean bread for us? It doesn’t really resemble bread as we know it does it? When Todd and I had our commitment ceremony 11 years ago, the church we had the ceremony in used a loaf of bread for the communion. And my nephew, who was a young maybe 3 year old, looked up when the priest broke the loaf and said rather loudly. “Mommy that’s not communion that’s BREAD”. He was so used to communion being the round wafer used in the church he and his parents attend.
Bread as Jesus references today, is to mean the main component of the meal. Bread and water were the stuff that sustained life. Bread provided the calories for energy to do labor. Meat was a luxury for holidays and celebrations like weddings, and the normal meal may have been only a bit of fish and a hunk of bread, may be a few olives, some dates or figs. A substantial whole multi grain high fiber piece of bread, would have been their major calorie component. So when Jesus says he is bread that is what he means something that will sustain life! Not a little communion wafer.
Now being the geek I am I find this interesting, but they have done nutritional analysis on communion wafers, this is where my 9-5 job comes in. Communion wafers have 6 calories, and ½ a gram of fat per wafer. They are composed of 70% carbohydrate and 30% fat. Not a lot to sustain us in a heavy day laboring in the lord’s vineyard is it?
But that’s why communion is symbolic for us. Communion is a sacrament, An outward visible sign of an inward grace. Eating this piece of “bread” is like eating bread at the feeding of the five thousand. Everyone eats their fill.
So when you come for communion, take a look at that piece of bread, consider that it is for us the flesh of Jesus, and he says if we eat this we will never be hungry again. The bread should transform us.
Take a look at those around you who come up for communion. Look at their stance. See their faces. Some come with joy on their faces, some with pain. Some come hoping that something will happen, something life changing.
But all of us, come as beggars. With outstretched hands, in a beggar’s pose, begging to be fed. Some of us kneel. Some stand, but all have outstretched hands. Hoping for a sliver of ‘bread”, a crumb from under the table.
Jesus said that by eating this bread that we will be changed. If we eat this bread we live forever. Something in us changes.
If we come with any other desire than an expectation to be changed and transformed, then we haven’t really understood what communion means.
Communion will transform you into being a part of Christ. Where our weakness becomes strength, our disease becomes health, our doubt becomes faith, and our isolation becomes community.
That’s what it means to be in communion, we are in community, and we become transformed from individuals into something greater.
We become a part of Christ in this world. We are part of his body, a part of the bread, a bit of horse bread in this life, a coarse multigrain loaf, with a few cracked grains, some seeds, some flakes and maybe a few nuts as well.
As Mike says in the Eucharistic prayer: “Be what you see, receive who you are” AMEN