Sharing Bread is Sharing Community
The Rev. Laurel Hart, Deacon
Scripture: John 6:35, 41-51
Bread, bread, bread – we are at the fourth of the five Sunday’s during which we hear most of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. These are what I call the “bread” Sundays. Every 3rd year – during year B (our lectionary is in a three-year cycle known as years A, B and C) we learn from John perspective about Jesus’ continuing journey through the countryside and his teaching, preach and healing of the people. These gospel stories share a common theme about bread, the bread of life, the bread which comes down from heaven, the living bread. The verses of Chapter 6 include the story of the feeding of 5000 with bread (and fishes) and now we have these words from today’s gospel which opens with one of Jesus’ “I am” statements. “I am the bread of life”.
What are some ways the term bread is used? We hear it used as a term for food or to earn one’s income, to earn a livelihood. Bread is an old slang term for money. A person might “cast their bread upon the waters” to explore new possibilities for their life. Or a saying which suggest the desire to hurt another person is expressed in the saying of “taking the bread out of someone’s mouth.” We used it to describe eating a meal together as in to “break bread together” and we call it “the staff of life”. Sharing bread is all about sharing community in whatever setting one might find oneself.
I recently watched a three-part show called “The Big Bread Experiment”. It was broadcast on the Acorn network from the UK. Anyone see it? This was a unique social experiment which held the goal of bringing a town together through bread. Their newish Curate Cath Vickers, a real-life Vicar of Dibley, formed a bread-baking group in the Yorkshire Dales with the goal of establishing a community bakery. She saw a real lack of community in this village and wanted to bring people together through the activity of baking bread all together. Most of this group was totally inexperienced in this endeavor and over the three episodes I saw them learn about baking bread guided by artisan bakers. The women came together laughing and growing as people as they learn the requirements of the local health department for selling to the public. After some serious education about the not only bread making but about running a small business they open a small non-profit bakery to offer good quality baked bread to their community. Not only did the women form community among themselves but they connected with the people of the village showing them what it meant to have access to fresh nourish bread.
So, is Jesus taking about bread made from flour, water yeast? It seems like this passage is saying that we're not connected to something floating above but someone who come down on our level on earth and to each other when we join at the Eucharist. To follow Jesus is to become part of a community, and we know that this is no easy task. Last week we were able to experience something we’ve haven’t done in a long time. We came together not just to drink some coffee and eat some sweet treats but to say good-bye to some people who have been deeply imbedded in our community. This became an unusually long coffee hours as people didn’t want to leave. Even though we are going to miss Dennis, Mona, and Gisela, we are sending them off with the best gift we can give. That is love and sincere best wishes for the new life’s they have planned. Communities are messy, difficult, sometimes dysfunctional and at times desperately in need of forgiveness. But if we’re going to have the “life” Jesus is talking about, we need to be nourished with his flesh, which is the community. We must learn to eat this flesh and drink this blood. This is indeed a hard teaching, and it is the reason that many turn away because being in community is challenging work. We need to open with each other about our fears, our hurts, our frustrations, and our needs. We need to forgive each other repeatedly. We need to put aside our own interests for the better of the community. And this may need to happen more than once.
Finally, we might also hear in Jesus’ teaching to “eat [his] flesh” a call to be a nourishing, nurturing community, not junk food. Jesus needs us to cooperate with his grace so that we, his body, can be life for those who feed on him. We can become as a community the true food and drink for each other and the world.
Today we are reminded of the manna from heaven – the gift from God which kept the Israelites alive in the wilderness. Bread does fill our stomachs, but it doesn’t fill our hearts– only Jesus can do that – connect us to the love and presence of God. Henri Nouwen was quoted as saying “When we break bread and give it to each other, fear vanishes, and God becomes very close." Amen.