Luke 17:5-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14
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 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 recent 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 breads 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 were the buns. These are numerous hot dog buns and hamburger buns. Next came the rolls. There were hard rolls, French rolls, sour dough 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. I discovered that there were twelve grain breads, nine grain breads, eight grain breads, and the numbers of grains slowly declined until we got to rye, pumpernickel, tortilla bread, pita bread, gluten-free, until we got to the Wonder Bread which must have had next to no grains in it at all.
Bread has been a staple food in many countries for tens of thousands of years. Not surprising, it has even become a weapon. Oppressive forces gain control grain warehouses so people will lose access to bread – the staple of their diet.
Bread plays even 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 in the wilderness to turn bread into stone to appease his hunger. Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matt. 4:4). Jesus taught his followers a standard prayer to say, the Lord's Prayer, in which he included one important material request: "Give us this day our daily bread." God, give us the basics we need to sustain life. Only one miracle is told in all four gospels (actually 5 times) – the multiplication of the loaves and fishes to feed the crowd of 5,000. And course there is the most significant account of all – the Last Supper that Jesus spent when he blessed bread and broke it, gave it to his disciples mandating that the do this, and remember him. And when Jesus was reason, what was one of his first acts? He breaks bread in Emmaus with disciples.
Bread seems close to Jesus’ heart. Jesus strove for the common touch, to be accessible to ordinary people, and there is nothing more ordinary than a loaf of peasant’s bread, an abundant treasure to those with such a limited diet. But throughout his ministry, Jesus wanted us to make a leap of understanding. Jesus boldly proclaims to the crowds that followed him that he is, in fact, the bread of life. Jesus talks to us about the hunger that is often buried in our hearts, underneath hardship, disappointment and fear. Hunger for love. Hunger for acceptance. Hunger for a meaning, a purpose to our lives. Hunger for connection. Hunger for friendship. Hunger that only God can fill.
It is not surprising that Jesus gives us the Lord’s Supper as an act of love. Of all the amazing miracles he did, of all the teachings he uttered, of all the work he did, Jesus forged a new way. As he prepared to die, he wanted to leave behind something powerful that people would remember him by. Something that would bring them together. Something nourishing. Something simple. So, he took a simple meal. The Bread. The Cup. Something we would receive over and over, month after month, for some, day after day, just like our regular meals. In the taking, in the remembering, something deep down would awaken. We are loved. Jesus claims us as his own. Jesus nourishes our souls so we might be whole.
So, Christ feeds us spiritually in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. In this meal, we are all members of the body of Christ. All the breads on this World Communion Sunday table represent breads from all parts of the world. Although different in texture, ingredients, size, and color, the purpose is the same. To nourish our bodies, so we might in turn nourish our world. As the body of Christ, the bread of life, we are members of one another. We celebrate World Communion Sunday because it reminds us of our unity in diversity –to increase our faith through a diversity of believers that only Christ can hold together, because he is the head, to which the whole body is knit together.
There was a young boy living in Paris at the end of the World War II. He had been orphaned by the atrocities committed within his city by the occupying German forces. He 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 and or could find nothing to give him. Even the soldiers who had freed Paris from the German army seemed to not care about his situation.
He had heard the Priest in the church, long before war had broken out, talk about God and Jesus and living the Christian life. But with the hell on earth that the war had brought he had since lost hope of any sense of Heaven.
One cold morning, he was wandering down the street, staring into the windows of shops and cafés. He stopped outside the window of a small bakery. The smell of the fresh bread made his stomachache with pain. He was so held by the smell and sights of the bakery; he didn’t notice the American soldier who had stopped in the street and had begun watching him with interest. The boy hardly noticed the soldier as walked past him and into the store. He did however notice the soldier’s large bag the baker was filling with rolls, breads, pastries and other foods. And the boy could hardly breathe when the soldier exited the shop, knelt down and handed him the bag.
The boy looked at the soldier with astonishment. Finally, he looked at the soldier and asked him the question that was running through his mind: “Mister, are you Jesus?” To the hungry, Jesus appears as bread.
St. Teresa said that Christ 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 our physical bread … So, Christ has taken the form of ordinary bread that we may more readily approach Him, and feeding daily, assimilating Christ so that it is not we--but Christ working in us … In bread, Christ has become so simple -- that a child… can understand and eat the sacred food with love and gratitude.
The word “companion” means “with bread.” We are Jesus’ companions. You are bread. We are bread. As we are nourished by this table today, filled with so many breads, let our faith increase by this good treasure entrusted to us so we in turn may nourish our hungry world. Amen.