As World War II was drawing to a close, the Allied armies gathered up many hungry orphans. They were placed in camps where they were well-fed. Despite excellent care, they slept poorly. They seemed nervous and afraid, unable to settle down. Finally, a psychologist solved the problem. Each child was given a piece of bread, to hold after he was put to bed. This particular piece of bread was just to be held—not eaten. The piece of bread produced wonderful results. The children went to be bed knowing they would have food to eat the next day. That knowledge gave the children a restful sleep.
Bread. You can get it anywhere. Our options here in the 21st century are endless. On our most grocery shopping trip we discovered that the row of bread in our local store is six shelves high and forty-five feet long, this forty-five-foot row of bread is divided as follows: at the far right are all the very sweet cakes such as Ding Dongs, Twinkies, Zingers, and brownies. The next set of breads are the bagels that come in many different flavors and tastes. The next set of breads are the buns, numerous hamburger and hotdog buns. Then there are rolls: hard rolls, French rolls, sourdough rolls and a host of other rolls that often appear at our dinner table when we are serving a more formal dinner. Then, after thirty feet of these breads, come the actual loaves of bread. There are the 12 grain breads, nine grain breads, eight grain breads, until we got down to the ryes and pumpernickels, French, corn, tortilla bread, pita bread, gluten free until finally we hit wonder bread and all its cousins which must have next to no grain at all in them.
Bread has been a staple food in many countries for of years. Tragically bread has even become a weapon in parts of the world where forces that control grain warehouses prohibit access in order to keep enemies at bay and manipulate civilians to comply – to the point of starvation --caught in between combatants while the grain goes bad.
Bread played a significant role in Jesus’ life. He was born in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread”. At the very beginning of his ministry Jesus was tempted by the devil to turn rocks into bread to appease his hunger. Jesus taught his followers a standard prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, to include this basic material request: “Give us this day, our daily bread.” Jesus states it is God’s will to give us what we need every day to sustain our bodies. Jesus doesn’t say, give us bread for the rest of our lives. We are not hungry for bread we will need in a week’s time. We are hungry for bread now. So, it’s give us our daily bread, so that we can learn to depend on God, trust God, believe in God’s promises, as we face them in the present, day by day. And God cares about the food we need to physically survive, this day, now in the present, not in some abstract future.
It is not surprising that only one miracle is told in all four gospels (actually recorded 5 times) – the multiplication of the loaves and fishes to feed the crowd of 5000.
Of course, then there is the most significant account of all to do with bread – the last Supper. It is not surprising that Jesus gives us the Lord’s Supper. Of all the amazing miracles he did, of all the teachings he uttered, of all the work he did, Jesus forged a new way. Jesus chose the bread of the Passover. Jesus blessed bread and broke it. As he prepared to die he wanted to give people something to remember him by. Something that would bring them together. Something nourishing. Something simple. A basic meal. Bread. The Cup. Somethings we could receive over and over, month after month, even weekly. Jesus chose to identify with the broken bread.
Jesus identified with the hunger of people. He commanded his disciples to do this act of blessing and sharing bread in memory of him. In the taking, in the eating, something deep could awaken. We are loved. Our needs are met. And what was one of Jesus’ first acts upon being risen from the grave? Breaking bread in Emmaus with disciples. So, at communion millions, not just a few thousands are drawn into God’s embrace, we remember we are precious children of God and we too become bread for the world.
So, bread is close to Jesus’ heart. Bread speaks the language of the crowds. It is a potent image to help them understand Jesus, Bread of Life. Jesus wanted to be completely accessible to ordinary people, like us. There is nothing more ordinary than a piece of peasant’s bread, a loaf of bread we can get from an ordinary food store. For the last two week’s we’ve heard different gospel versions of the feeding of the five thousand. Now we hear how Jesus wants us to make that leap of understanding. Jesus boldly proclaims to the crowd that he is, in fact, the bread of life. The crowds don’t understand. They want more of that delicious barley bread Jesus gave away the day before. They want signs, like their ancestors had with the manna from heaven, the food that God feed the people of Israel every day as they traveled through the wilderness to the promised land.
But Jesus wants to talk about the hunger that is buried deeper in our hearts, underneath the hardship, the fears, the pain of our lives. That hunger for love, the hunger for acceptance. That hunger we have for a meaning, a purpose to our lives. That Hunger for connection. That hunger for friendship. That hunger that only God can fill.
Ghandi reminds us, “there are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” Jesus bread of Life teaches us to pray for our daily bread and to not turn away from the hungry in the world.
There is another story of an orphaned boy at the end of world war II. It could be any war, any conflict, any natural famine really where food is scarce or used as a weapon. So, this young boy scrounged around the ruined city as best as he could to find food, clothes and shelter. But everyone was living in desperate times and he found that people either ignored him or could find nothing to give him.
He had heard the priest in the church, long before the war had broken out, talk about God and Jesus and living the Christian life. But with he hell on earth that the war had brought he had lost hope of any sense of heaven.
One cold morning, he was wandering down the street, starting into the windows of shops and cafes. He stepped outside the window o a small bakery. The smell of the fresh bread made his stomach ache with pain. He was so held by the smell and sights of the bakery he didn’t notice a soldier had stopped in the street and was watching him with interest. The boy hardly noticed the soldier walk past him into the store. He did however notice the soldier’s bag the baker was filling with rolls, breads pastries and other foods. The boy could hardly breathe when the soldier exited the shop knelt own and handed him the bag,
The boy looked at the soldier with astonishment. As he began to c, hew on a fresh warm roll, he looks at the soldier, tears running down his face, a question running through his head: “Mister, are you Jesus?” To the hungry Jesus is bread. To those hungry for love, Jesus is bread. To those hungry for hope, Jesus is bread.
Dorothy Day, the Catholic Social Activist reminds us that St. Teresa says that Jesus is disguised as bread so that we will not fear to approach him, so that we can go to him in confidence, daily needing him daily as we need physical bread. Christ has taken the form of bread that we may readily approach him, without fear, in all confidence as a child trusts their mother or father. In bread Christ becomes so simple, that even a child can understand and eat the sacred food with love and gratitude.
The word Companion literally means “with bread.” Let us be Jesus’ companions, and be that bread bring nourishment in body and soul to a hungry world. So, we pray, Bread of Life, Give us this day, our daily bread, and may it fill our hearts and bodies, for our companion is the one who gives life to the world. Amen.