Sermon preached by Archdeacon Trevor Harrison at the Midnight Mass of the Nativity 25 December 2019 It’s a marvellous, wonderful,... read more
Fresh Bread: what does the phrase conjure up? The aroma , the taste? Perhaps homemade bread: the smell of yeast, the whirl of flour being sifted to make dough, then kneading – the rhythm of fold and roll, fold and roll, watching the dough rise, and then kneading it again. The final rising and then popping the loaf into the oven to bake, the smell from the oven filling the house as the bread bakes. Perhaps that whiff as you enter a supermarket in the early morning, of bread baking – creating a fresh hunger. It’s so much easier to eat when it’s really fresh bread isn’t it.
When I was quite a small child, my mother sent my younger brother and me down to the little grocery shop a few hundred yards from where we lived to get our bread order. In those days, a loaf of white bread came unsliced with a sort of join in the middle so that a loaf could be broken in half if you just wanted half a loaf. When you bought a whole loaf, that join was covered by a wide slip of white paper, secured with a piece of sellotape. And then the loaf would popped in a brown paper bag. We knew that if we were asked to get the bread that our parents didn’t have the money to pay for it just then. Yet the sight of two small blondies, with curls and big hungry eyes asking for the bread order late in the afternoon, was enough for even the grumpy grocer to let us have the bread and to pay later. After all what market would there be for a loaf of bread that was a day old if we did not take it then, as he was shutting up for the day. Then being typical children we fought on the way home as to who should carry the bread. For to carry the loaf of bread meant to bury your head in the paper bag and savour the delicious smell of freshly baked bread. And neither of us were going to forgo that pleasure, so we were scarcely out of the grocer’s shop before we were tugging at the loaf, fighting over it.
And then it happened – the bread broke at that middle join. You would think we would have stopped in our tracks at that point – the bread broken, the white paper lying discarded on the pavement. The brown paper bag ripped.
Not us, for while the fighting had stopped and we had become silent, our eyes were fixed on the bread. From the freshly broken ends of bread, thin gossamer like wisps of fresh white bread seemed to be floating before us, barely attached now to the loaf. Our eyes met, daring each other to be the first to pull the wisps of bread off and eat them. It didn’t take us long – after the first the wisps of bread, we prised more and more strands of bread out of each half loaf savouring the smell, exhilarated by the thought of the next mouthful, marvelling at it softness – fresh bread was even more delicious that it had ever smelt. There was laughter and sparkle to our eyes as chunk after chunk was pulled and eaten until our chubby little fingers couldn’t reach down any further into the half loaves.
Then slowly, the reality of our actions began to dawn. We tried to make the halves stick back together and to get the white strip of paper to hold them in the middle and to wrap the remnants of the brown paper bag around the loaf – but we couldn’t. It was a very slow trip back along the road and up the steep track to our little house.
We always bought our bread on a Monday. My Mum could slice a loaf into thin even slices and she knew how to make a loaf last a week. Now there was barely anything at the bottom of each half of the loaf. Just the outside crusts.
Just how my mother dealt with her despair at our behaviour and the now hopeless situation of trying to feed her little family for the week, I do not remember. But I do remember waiting for my Dad to come home that night and telling him what we had done. The consequence for us, was to understand what our fascination with the fresh bread, meant for the family that week. Now we would both watch my Father run for the train each day without his toast, and know the ragged brown paper bag held just piece of fruit from my Granny’s tree and no sandwiches for his lunch. You see, my Father chose to let us have the remains of the bread for our sandwiches – the outside crusts and the bit at the end of the loaf where our fingers couldn’t reach it that Monday afternoon. He knew we would learn as we ate. And no amount of pleading for him to eat our share would change his resolve. You see our much loved father had chosen to sacrifice satisfying his own hunger for our needs as growing children.
My father taught us a deep lesson. He spoke about how our actions of having a child-like longing for the fresh wisps of bread when the loaf broke became greed as we ate more and more, when the bread was to have been for everyone to enjoy. That bread was to feed many people, not just two little children. It wasn’t our enjoying the small wisps of the loaf that he minded, but the cost to our family when there wasn’t enough left for everyone to have bread that week. He reminded us that food was always to be shared so that everyone had enough.
It is easy in this country of plenty to eat more than we need, to let surplus in our gardens waste, to buy more food than we will eat for the week so that in the end, good food is wasted. Over Lent this year, we may have give up some food luxury or perhaps gone without a meal each week so that we could give the money we would have spent to an agency that would feed the hungry.
The question is, how will we live now as resurrection people? As Easter people? Our food basket in this Interim Cathedral each Sunday has very little in it – sometimes only one or two items. Is the challenge as Easter people, to buy an additional can or a packet of food each week as we do our grocery shopping and place it in the basket for the hungry in this city? Is the challenge to look in our own vegetable gardens and contact the foodbank so we can deliver some of the surplus on a day when they are open, that the hungry in this city might also enjoy fresh vegetables? Is it to reduce our grocery spending by a dollar or two each week - perhaps buy simply choosing a cheaper brand or forgoing a luxury item and then to give that money monthly to a relief agency so that a hungry person in this world might have a simple meal? Or that a family might have the means to grow their own vegetables? As we honour the Creator this harvest festival, as we come bringing an offering in thanksgiving this day, what will be the offering tomorrow, and on Tuesday, and Wednesday and throughout this week, this month, and this year?
What part are we being invited to play in the answering of the prayer cry of the hungry, “Give us this day, our daily bread”?
Our gospel reading today, follows on from the story of the 5000 men as well as women and children being feed with five small barley loaves and a couple of small fish offered by a small boy. That was another occasion where bread was to be broken and shared by all and everyone had enough. An occasion when a young boy did not hesitate to share what he had. Oddly enough for a small boy, who probably always had a hungry tummy, he was prepared to give up what he had, so that somehow others would not go hungry. And they didn’t.
Then in our reading, it is the day after, and the crowd went looking for Jesus. He had already disappeared to the other side of the lake with his disciples. Eagerly they seek him out, crossing the lake in the boats and looking until they find him. When they met Jesus, they are challenged by his words, “You have come because you had a good feed the other day, think about what you are really hungering for”.
It is a good question. What are we hungering for? Today, what is the hunger deep within us?
“Do the work,” Jesus urges, “not for perishable food but for the food that endures to eternal life”. Bewildered the crowd asks again, and Jesus tells them – “do the work that leads to eternal life: that is simply believe. Believe in me, the one God sent.”
Then even though only the day before they had all been miraculously fed, the crowd ask Jesus to perform a miracle so they can believe. “Do something so we can believe you” they beg. And they remind Jesus that the Hebrew people, their ancestors ate fresh manna, bread from heaven as they journeyed through the wilderness. “What”, the crowd asks, “will you do for us so that we can believe?”
Listen again to Jesus’s response: “It wasn’t Moses who gave your ancestors manna, the bread from heaven” he tells then, but the Creator who is God. And it is this same Creator God who gives you the true bread from heaven. This true bread gives life to the world.”
As they think about it, the crowd realises that Jesus is talking about the type of bread that they hunger for. Not the bread they had eaten on the hills across the lake, nor the manna that fell daily from heaven for their ancestors to eat. But this is bread would satisfy an inner hunger that the miracle with the bread and the fish had not satisfied. “Sir,” they cry out – “Give us this bread always”.
Jesus responds “This bread of God gives life. And I am the Bread of life. The bread which has come to you. Whoever comes to me, will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Simply all they had to do was to come and eat, to come and believe.
And that is what we can do here today. We will share very soon in the Great Thanksgiving. Jesus, the one who came to be among us, shares his life with us. We are invited afresh this morning, to bring our inner hunger to Jesus, to the one who is the Bread of life. To come and share in the Eucharistic meal, the bread - his body given for us. To come as an expression of our believing, no matter how tentative that belief might seem. To come and share in the bread. There will bread enough for each one of us. None of us needs to go hungry. So let us come and be nourished. Be fed. We need not to hold back, for this bread is broken and given for us. It is the bread of life.