17 August 2009

Bread of Life

Proper 19 B - The Bread of Life

1 Kings 2:10-12, 3: 3-14

John 6: 35, 41-51

St. Luke’s, Burlington

16 August, 2009

by Stuart Pike


            It is good to back in the parish after a month-long vacation. A couple of weeks ago my family and I went to a Greater Parish of Gaspé service at the Pioneer Days Festival at Fort Haldimand Camp.  The service was outdoors and was officiated by the new Bishop of Quebec. At the Communion, we had real home-baked bread. We knew that going to this service would be the best way to see many of our previous parishioners and we certainly were not disappointed. We met many of them there including a dear, gentle widow named Edna who makes the best bread in the world. It was she who baked the bread for the communion. I’m sure that most of us have had the heavenly experience of smelling real home-made bread baking in the oven. It is an experience which bypasses the cerebral cortex and makes a direct connection with the soul. For many it is the smell of home.

            I remember the first time that I ever set foot in Edna’s kitchen many years ago. Like in many of the country homes in Gaspé, it was a large kitchen - it is the place where the life of the family was really lived, after all! It had a big old electric stove on the eastern wall and an even larger and much older wood stove on the western wall. It was in the wood stove that Edna baked her bread. There was no thermostat in that stove: after building the fire on one side of the stove she would know it was ready by just opening the door of the stove and placing her hand in the oven for a moment.

            Real, old-fashioned bread-making is about as basic as it gets. Simple ingredients, the miracle of yeast, mixing and kneading the dough, giving it time to rise, hands-on - punching down and kneading again: it’s a creative act which gives life. It’s elemental - like the first principle of fire which bakes Edna’s bread and makes the aroma in her kitchen unlike any other I have ever experienced. It is home and health and life and family: it is bread. And it is always shared.

            In Jesus’ time bread really was a staple: it was a whole meal. Bread sustained you. And it is the image which Jesus uses to describe himself and his purpose. He says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ And in last week’s Gospel he says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

            Of course, the hunger here is so much more that just physical hunger. Jesus knows that hunger is something which gnaws at every person at different times in their life. Sometimes we are more conscious of it than at others. But we feel a lack. There has got to be more.

Different life events sometimes cause us to feel our hunger more. The loss of a job, the failure of a relationship, the loss of a spouse. Transition times – like finishing High School or University can be hungering times. Also, for most people there comes a time in life, usually somewhere in the middle or later life, even when everything is going smoothly, that we are brought up short and are left with a deep hunger. There’s got to be more. Deep inside, we know that it is a hunger which doesn’t have a physical solution. The trouble is, we’re often not looking deep inside.

Solomon, having just been made King after the death of his father, David, feels inadequate to the task. He knows that his responsibility is immense and he feels that he is too young and inexperienced. Solomon feels a lack. He is missing something.

Solomon knows God’s presence in a dream. So often it is that God approaches people in dreams. And in this dream, God tells him to ask whatever he wants.

There are all kinds of things which he could have asked for: wealth or fame or power. Being young is a testing time - a hungry time – who knows what he might have longed for. What things did we long for when we were young? In what ways do you now feel a lack in your life? What are you missing? 

Somehow, Solomon was faithful enough to know that his purpose was to serve God and his people. In this way, Solomon, even at his young age was filled with faith in God. And he knew that God could provide what he lacked. 

Saint Augustine writes that we were created for God and that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. Blaise Pascal, commenting on St. Augustine’s writing, says that in each of us is a God-shaped hole, a yearning deep inside. We might try to fill up that hole inside with all kinds of things: physical things, experiences, all kinds of stuff, but that the only thing which can fill this God-shaped hole, is God. This reality is the basis for our hunger and for each of our spiritual journeys and it will drive us onward in our quest. 

Jesus, himself, provides us the divine experience that we are seeking. Knowing God-made-human in the person of Jesus fills the God-shaped hole. As Jesus says, his is bread for our hunger, and this bread will bring us to everlasting life, which I think means, not only life after we have left our mortal bodies, but also fullness of life in this world. Jesus is the answer to the hunger which gnaws at us, and the restlessness in our hearts.    

            We in the western world, with all of our wealth, are still hungering for more. We have even come to believe the heartless commercial message of our culture: that we are simply consumers and not really people at all - with souls and creativity, with a purpose whose lives are supposed to be filled with meaning.

            We have forgotten about the basics of life. We have forgotten to be thankful for what we have. We have forgotten Jesus’ message that only spiritual things will fill our deepest hunger and that the best things in life aren’t things - but relationships. We have forgotten that life is about bread and about sharing. How can we remember all these simple truths which we have forgotten? How can we follow Jesus’ example and be bread for this sorry and hungry world?

            And where are you now, in your spiritual journey? Are you feeling the hunger for more? More meaning? More depth? Come to the holy table and eat holy bread and enter into relationship with Jesus, the bread of life.

            “Edna”, I asked her, “Are you still making bread in that wood stove of yours?” And she smiled her gentle smile and said, “Oh yes.” And I think she might just have wondered why I would have asked her this question which had such an obvious answer. Amen.

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