n the past several weeks, John’s gospel has been filled with images of physical and spiritual bread. The physical one that feeds empty bellies, and the spiritual one that feeds our need for God and God’s love for us. Today I would like to talk about those two types of bread and how people in Jesus’s time and in 21st century America continue to be hungry for both.
When I attended seminary some years ago, I met and became friends with Aimee, a woman who was as interested as I was in prison ministry. Following graduation from seminary, Aimee went home to Utah where she opened a non-profit business to employ men and women leaving prison. Aimee gathered together people she had known in the baking business. They opened a training program and eatery for ex-inmates, giving them a small stipend and training them on baking and actually running a bakery. The program is called, Flourish and it has been highly successful at preventing recidivism in that area.
When I met up with Aimee at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 2015, we caught up again and she talked about Flourish and what it has meant for former inmates who are learning a skill and finding work.
Aimee told me how much pain people are in due to addiction issues and their former incarceration. The physical activity of beating and kneading flour, water and yeast is as intimate as it gets. And the transformation into a real loaf of bread can be a kind of healing for people—a feeling of hope. Aimee told me that when she was growing up, her mother would say, “If you’re mad, bake some bread.” Aimee told me that the men and women in the program can begin to work through some of their issues by making bread.
We have seen in the past several weeks that the crowds that follow Jesus are looking for something—they are hungry for something. And we see that it is even more than the actual bread that Jesus fed the 5,000 with because even larger crowds look for Jesus after the feeding of the loaves and fish.
When Jesus speaks to the people he does something that provides spiritual nourishment. He looks out to the crowd and with his words and miracles he connects them to the incarnation—to God—to the Kingdom. His speeches bring the Good News over and over again each time the crowds gather. Those who are poor, those who are on the very margins of their society. People who are thought of as ‘less than.’ Jesus gives them good news, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted,” two of the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. Those words spoken by the Incarnate God fed people, nurtured people, gave hope to those who had none. That is exactly why the crowds grew and wouldn’t leave Jesus alone. They had a taste of the divine life and they wanted more and more of the kind of ‘living bread Jesus was talking about.
In the early chapters of Genesis one can imagine the rich earth that produced fruit and grains. And from their harvests, came cooking and gatherings of family and festivals. People talking together about their hopes and dreams. The same smells and sights of food are with us today with our own preparation of food, cooking and gatherings of family and friends. I am pretty new to Connecticut but I am amazed at all of the different food festivals that this part of CT provides. It is a wonderful example of the cities and small towns wanting to come together as a community. Rich in traditions, cultures, languages and of course food. It means connecting with one another, sharing with one another and being one in a sense.
We hunger for community; breaking bread together. Whether gathering at the Eucharist or a neighborhood potluck, we are satisfied with what we have been fed with because in both cases we come back for more. That happens everywhere and is more vital to people in places where actual and spiritual food are a rarity due to political conflicts.
Oscar Romero was a catholic priest living out his call to the poor in El Salvador in the 1960s and 70s, eventually becoming Archbishop of that country. Romero had grown up in El Salvador and knew first hand the devastation of poverty and political oppression. By the 1970’s his weekly sermons about social injustice were broadcast on radio and his following grew at a rapid pace. But then a civil war broke out that pitted rebels against a right-wing government called the Junta, and Romero’s life like other priests was in danger. The violence in his country ramped up and was non stop; the Junta was killing up to 3,000 people a month!
In 1980 while Romero was preparing the table to celebrate the Eucharist he was shot and killed instantly. El Salvador lost their champion of the poor who stood up to unjust powers. Romero believed strongly that the actual and spiritual breads were meant to be shared by all people of his country, not just the elites, not just the strong oppressive army. It was meant for the poor, oppressed and tortured people of El Salvador. His call for justice attracted a huge following, his sermons that inspired the poor and marginalized echoed the words that Jesus spoke two thousand years ago. Romero’s words gave the same kind of hope and inspiration that Jesus’s did.
Today, there are so many places in our own country where people are hungry for spiritual and actual food—we can look no further than families in East Haddam and nearby communities. Some of them have shelves that are empty on an on-going basis. Just ask Bill Barney, who works hard to see that enough food has been collected to feed those in need in our community. When Bill stands up in the church to talk about what the need is at that moment, it is a call for justice. And when we listen and hear that prophetic call and provide food for the pantry then we become ‘feeding people,’ part of the community of the ‘Bread of life.”
When we take seriously the reality of God’s own presence in our meal then maybe we can spend less time on the things that separate us, that exclude others, and that allow us to question God’s image in others.
Over the next week, can we use the food in our lives to meditate on how we can transform ourselves. Can we feed people hungry for actual and spiritual food. Can we minister to those in need of relationship and community, and share the Good News of Jesus Christ?