A quick glance in the mirror tells me it is notbread that I need today. Bread ! One of the oldest known foods on the face of the planet. There are hundreds of varieties from every tribe and culture. Flat breads and fluffy dinner rolls. Tortillas and Teacakes. Pita bread and pancakes, and, of course, pizza dough…. [Check Wikipedia for a seemingly endless list.] Bread also has a long symbolic history, especially in the Bible.
Offerings of bread and wine, “first fruits”, were a common part of religious rituals and sacrifices in many ancient cultures, even in pagan ones.Breaking bread together had very significant meanings in many early societies. Sharing a meal (breaking bread together) could signify an attempt to mend fences by two people who had a quarrel with each other. It might mean leaders of two nations are attempting to resolve their differences. It might just be a celebration of some historical event that the guests shared in common.
Probably the most recognizable Old Testament reference to bread would be the unleavened bread associated with Passover. Passover is the oldest known continuously celebrated religious ceremony on earth. Though scholars disagree on a specific year, 1446 BC seems to be the general consensus for the date of the Exodus. That means the Jewish people have been celebrating their deliverance from bondage in Egypt for more than three thousand and four hundred years.
The parallels between the original Jewish Passover and contemporary communion celebrations are many. The ancient Israelites were to select a first-born, male, unblemished lamb for sacrifice. Jesus is the first-born, male, sinless, Lamb of God who offered Himself for sacrifice. The blood of the lamb was to be painted on the wooden doorpost of their tents. Jesus' blood flowed down on a wooden cross. The Passover celebrated freedom from slavery in Egypt. Eucharistic (communion) celebrations are about freedom from the slavery to sin. The Old Testament tells the Jewish people – “This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate.” [Ex 12:14] “Keep then this custom of the unleavened bread… you must celebrate this day throughout your generations as a perpetual institution.” [Ex 12:17] At the Last Supper, as the disciples are celebrating Passover, Jesus tells His followers, “Do this (share the bread and wine) in memory of me”. [ Lk 22:19] Our Jewish heritage is alive and well when we share communion. We are the “next generation”, still celebrating Passover.
After leaving Egypt, the Israelites wandered through the desert for many years. At one point, they were running out of food, and they complained to Moses - “Would that we! had died at the Lord's hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat at our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” … “Then the Lord said to Moses, 'I will now rain down bread from heaven for you'” The next morning, the ground was covered with manna (bread).
Three times in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life”. “Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat'. So Jesus said to them, 'Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world'. So they said to him, 'Sir, give us this bread always'. Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst'” [Jn 6:22]
Just as we need physical bread to sustain our physical lives, we need spiritual bread (Jesus) to sustain spiritual lives as Christians. We can acquire such spiritual food through prayer, by reading Scripture and spiritual writers like Thomas Merton or St. Augustine, or by reading about the lives of other saints. It has been a long time since I went to bed hungry. I have been know to go to bed with that bloated “Why did I eat that second piece of pie?” feeling. Most days I get more than my fair share of bread. So my day does not start with worries about food. Or do my children have warm enough coats. Or can I afford a new party dress. Or where can I take shelter from the storm that has been forecast. That does not mean I do not have needs and worries as I start my morning prayers.
I know today I will need patience because I am going to have to deal with so-and-so, and I am not particularly fond of so-and-so. And another day I am going to need to “keep the faith” because my doctor has scheduled a test for…. And tomorrow I have a parent-teacher conference because my child is in trouble at school. And tomorrow I have to give a speech to a large group of people. And tomorrow my in-laws arrive for a week's visit. And tomorrow I will need to forgive someone who has hurt my feelings. And tomorrow I will need to be forgiven. And tomorrow…. And so, as often as possible, I need to receive communion, to share that Bread of Life with my church family.
Peace be with you.