This past week, I was invited to attend a preaching circle. Preaching circles are something new to the diocese designed to bring clergy together to share homilies and discuss elements of preaching to a post-modern, un-churched world. It was also a chance for the clergy to spend a little time gripping about the current lectionary cycle that has Jesus telling the world he is the Bread of Life three weeks in a row.
Needless to say, I heard some wonderful preaching. There were homilies from the past couple of weeks that just over flowed with vivid imagery of bread that led us to dine on the concept of the bread of life in ways, I never would have thought of. And, by the end of the day, I found myself asking if bread was really the best way to symbolize the abundance of life that Christ offers us.
Two thousand years ago, bread was the backbone of the Mediterranean diet. Most likely anyone on a sojourn or working in the fields would carry a lunch sack of bread and maybe cheese to dine on at mid-day. Other dishes and fresh vegetables were most likely reserved for celebrations or in the evening when a day of preparation could be done. So it is most likely, when someone in Jesus day found themselves hungering for a midday meal or snack, bread was what they pulled out to satiate their hunger.
Today, bread does not hold such a central place in our lives. No longer do many of us associate the scent of bread baking in the over with home and family. And let’s face it, over the last couple of decades, bread has become one of the many villains of health guru’s as we have been warned against the dangers of “bad carbs”.
With this in mind, I had to ask. If Jesus were preaching this morning at St. Luke’s, what food of life would he be? Would he be the Latte of Life, after all most us can’t live without our daily dose of coffee in the morning. Plus, science tells us, coffee has anti-oxidants and therefore, along with dark chocolate, is a new health food. . . .Oh, probably not. I just can’t picture the Company of Heaven praising God while dealing with coffee jitters. Then Jesus could consider being the fruits and vegetables of life. After all, fruits and vegetables are the healthy alternative. But the apple already has a negative connotation, and I don’t know many people who hunger for fresh broccoli.
Personally, if I were able to pick out the food of life, it would probably be ice cream. For generations ice cream has been the comfort food for the Swan family. If one of the girls experiences a break up, a trip to Carole’s is in order. If either Maureen or I are frustrated at work, a trip to Friendly’s is in the offing. If it is a time to celebrate, then there is always a reason for ice cream cake. Unlike fresh baked bread, homemade ice cream conjures up fond memories of neighborhood cookouts in Texas, where all the children banded together to literally crank out the evening’s dessert fair of home made vanilla ice cream.
This seems to be the whole point of the bread analogy, food is as much about comfort and connection as it is about nutrition.
Three years ago, when I worked with as a facilitator for Weight Watchers, one of the issues members struggled with was feeling satisfied living on the daily food portions. The need or urge to cheat for many was constantly overwhelming. So one of the topics we often discussed in meetings was why we eat, because eating, especially in American society, is rarely about physical hunger but a deeper hunger. In order to help members work through daily cravings members were basically encouraged to ask themselves why they wanted to eat if they were not physically hungry and to seek new ways to deal with emotional hunger.
According to John’s Gospel, Jesus understood that those who followed him had a hunger that went far deeper than the need for food. When the people first gathered around him on the hillside, he had compassion for them and began teaching them because they were “like sheep without a shepherd.” And, as the writer has told us these past weeks, the people who gathered around Jesus hungered for many things. First they hungered physically, and so with two fish and five loaves of bread, Jesus literally fed them as he demonstrated the abundance that comes when we choose to partake in the heavenly banquet. Then they hungered for justice, justice from the oppression of Roman rule as they asked Jesus to be their earthly king. To this Jesus offered them the ultimate place of justice, access to the Kingdom or Reign of God.
And yet, as today’s Gospel tells us, they still were not satisfied, they wanted more and questioned if Jesus could really provide it all. It is almost like those late evening forays into the kitchen, when you have a hankering for something to eat but you don’t know quite what it is, so you try a little bit of this and little bit of that and still deep down you are not satisfied. Or it is like when I head for Carole’s after supper looking for an ice cream fix. I know I want ice cream, but I am not sure exactly how. So, I drive the youth at the counter crazy asking for samples of the various flavors of hard ice cream until finally, as I always do, decide on a serving of one of the several varieties of chocolate.
The same is true with Jesus. Deep down we all hunger for connection, for a sense of fulfillment, for something greater. To satiate this hunger we find ourselves wondering through life. We try to satiate this hunger through work, food, or even retail therapy. All of these things help for awhile. . .until the hunger returns and we find ourselves foraging for something new to satiate our need as we question whether or not God can really fill the void. And God, like Jesus did in this morning’s Gospel, will wait patiently, constantly reminding us that it is the almighty, the creator of all things in heaven and earth, the source of life and healing, that we seek. And God will keep waiting for us, until we are ready to come and to eat from the source of life, and hunger no more.