Bread is Essential
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
July 30, 2021, Words By: Rev. Sarah Wiles, Image By: Blakely Dadson
At the beginning of the pandemic, it seemed like everyone in the United States started baking bread as a way to pass the time during lockdown. Of course, people around the world have been baking bread for millennia as a necessity rather than a hobby. Bread has always been essential.
A young friend of mine is dying from glioblastoma—a brain tumor. She has given her life to hunger ministries, and she is one of the best cooks I know. She is fighting mightily to come to an acceptance of her death which is approaching faster than she would have hoped. She is arranging her own funeral and has asked a dear friend to make bread for the occasion—long tables of bread for feasting. Can you picture it?
This is literal bread, but it is not only literal bread. It is bread that will feed the hearts and souls of the people gathered to celebrate life in the face of death.
I believe that Jesus was talking about something like this when he talked about the bread of life.
There is a tendency with this passage to spiritualize it, to contrast the bread that is made of wheat, yeast, salt, and water with bread that is made of love, justice, peace, and hope. All of which sounds nice but can taste like so much air to a hungry person.
There is much to be said for the spiritual directions of this text. We can spend our whole lives chasing after what doesn’t feed us. We can waste day after day worrying about money, esteem, looks, work. We can look to those things to feed us, but we know ultimately, they won’t. In the face of that, we need the bread that really nourishes: true community, hard-won peace, overwhelming joy, incarnate love. We will always be hungry until we seek that kind of bread.
But that is not the only word here. If I told my children that today for lunch instead of sandwiches, we were going to have the bread of life, they would pitch a royal fit. And rightly so. There’s no such thing as purely spiritual bread. If the bread of life is love, then it is sandwiches prepared—with the crusts cut off. If the bread of life is peace, then it is the long walk toward justice in shoes that are close to wearing out. If the bread of life is joy, then it is tables overflowing with baskets of bread at a funeral. What I’m trying to say is that Jesus is always incarnate. He is never divorced from our bodies, our physical-living-breathing-eating-walking-around lives.
Before all of this, Jesus feeds people who are hungry. 5,000 in fact. That precedes any metaphorical, metaphysical talk of the bread of life. We find this in the Old Testament too when manna nourished the Israelites in the desert. It was literally the bread of life.
We all know how important hunger ministries are. The work that is already being done to feed hungry bodies is nothing less than the providence of God in bread broken and shared. Even in our own homes and communities, sharing food is sacred. I know I tend to forget this in the last 15 minutes before dinner in the rush to get everything on the table. Maybe you do too. That pattern might not ever change for me, but this text calls me to stop when I finally get that fresh bread on the table, along with butter or maybe a little olive oil to dip it in, and breathe deeply of the fragrance of life, life abundant, life that nourishes both our spirits and our bodies.
Dwelling Among Us
This week, find a way to nourish yourself and others physically and spiritually. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal where there are unmet needs of hunger in your own life and context.