56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This 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.” 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Every lockdown the social media witnesses an explosion of home baking. The last time New Zealand was in alert level 4, baking became nothing short of a national obsession. So much so that one opinion piece on stuff.co.nz questioned if baking a loaf of sourdough from scratch will soon become a test on our citizenship applications.
One wonders though, why? What is it about lockdowns that made so many of us instinctively want to bake and consume bread?
Maybe because there is something homily about bread. At the heart of it is domesticity, safety, security, comfort, belonging and homeliness. With bread we are at home, and we embrace being home. The very character of bread oozes this homely quality. The ingredients (flour, yeast, salt, water) are humble but lasting. It makes sense that when lockdown was announced consumers dashed to supermarket to buy supplies, with flour quickly disappearing from the shelves. These ingredients are simple yet lasting. While other foods may expire quickly, the ingredients for making bread last longer
I remember reading an article in the newspaper some time ago just after the war in Syria started. A reporter that was involved in supplying food to the Syrian people wrote the story. It was short but touching story. In the story he talked about how surprised he was that while the aid workers had a large variety of provisions, the thing that the people were asking for mostly was flour. The photo that supplemented the story showed someone standing on the back of a truck. There were women on the ground with stretched arms desperately reaching—begging—for food, and bags of flour. They wanted to make bread.
Loaf of bread has been ingrained into our daily lives. Both as a food and a theological metaphor it continues to be a prominent presence in our culture. It was and still is the food of, kings and peasants, rich and poor, slave and free. Some foods draw differences. Expensive food reveals our economic status. Exotic food our cosmopolitanism. Complex food our sophistication. But not bread. Bread reminds us of our common universal humanity. The author of John’s Gospel is acutely aware of this when presenting Jesus as the bread of life.
Jesus and bread are deeply intertwined. It begins with his birth in Bethlehem, “the House of Bread”. Then we have Mary’s prayer that her son bring food to the hungry. Jesus’ own prayer: "Give Us this Day Our Daily Bread". Then the bread with which he feeds the multitude in the desert, through to the bread which he broke saying, “Take and eat, this is my body which is for you.”
In John’s Gospel Jesus’ life and ministry embodies the manna in the wilderness and the Word of God that kindles life. He refuses any attempts to earthly power, and in his death, he breaks and redeems the destructive succession of imperial religion. In aligning our lives with his life, we partake, chew and cherish that we may abide in his presence and enter more deeply into sharing a humble yet abundant life.
Thanks be to God.