Anne Currie
12th August 2018
Bread of Life

Although the Revised Common Lectionary doesn’t recognise it… we are in Lammastide.

One of the old Celtic festivals at this time of year was later to become part of the church calendar known as the Lammas festival…. held on the first day of August, it was a celebration of the grain harvest. When the first flour from the first milling of the first harvested grain was baked into bread… they called it loaf mass or Lammas.

There have been thanksgivings for harvest going on for as long as humans have been farming… and that’s a few thousand years!

And they’ve always been particularly heartfelt here in the northern hemisphere where we are… bad summers could often ruin a harvest… and a whole run of bad harvests could lead to widespread starvation and outbreaks of illness.

Gradually with the onset of industrialisation the Lammas festival began to die out except in very rural communities.

In fact Harvest Festivals are now more often celebrated in September/October time when all crops have been gathered, not just the grain.

A few years ago I went to an Evening Prayer celebration of Lammas… we sat in a tiny chapel, the door was open and as we worshipped we heard and saw the Combine Harvester going up and down and making it’s turn within yards of where we sat… bringing the world of work and worship so close together.

Flour, Water, Salt and Yeast… put them together and you get this… Bread!

This little loaf represents something so important… Bread is one of the oldest prepared foods we know of. Archaeologists have found evidence in Europe of grains being pounded into flour more than 30,000 years ago. And recently in Jordan they’ve actually found some 14,000 year old bread fragments. And the recipe hasn’t changed in all that time. The domestication and growing of grain was one of the beginnings of settled community life many thousands of years ago.

Bread making really is a sort of miracle in its own right. You take a bunch of things that mostly you would never eat on their own, mix them together, treat it extremely roughly, put it in the oven and then…. well we all love the smell and taste of newly baked bread.

Let’s think about those ingredients for a moment…

FLOUR – For the longest time humans have been using grains in one way or another as food.

The grain harvest is central in many of Jesus’ stories… parable of the sower, , the parable of the rich farmer, and not forgetting in the Old Testament Ruth and Boaz, the story of Joseph, and of course, the provision of Manna to the Israelites in the wilderness that Jesus mentions in our text this morning. I’m sure you can all think of many more.

WATER – Water is something we can’t live without… but we can’t live just on water. We can survive for quite a while on just water, but eventually our bodies will starve from lack of nutrients.

Jesus says I am the living water, come to me and you will never be thirsty.

YEAST – It’s a living thing, yeast. Even this dried stuff… it’s actually live yeast encapsulated by a shell of dried yeast.

Jesus used yeast to describe how the kingdom of heaven would be! That something small like these little beads of yeast, could transform a huge amount of flour into something wonderful!

SALT – When you think about it salt has a most unique taste and action. It’s something we all need for life, can’t exist without it… but a little goes a long way. It adds flavour, makes food seem so much more alive somehow, it has a sharpness about it. Bit like God really, can’t live without him, he adds flavour and excitement to our lives. But too much and it’s overwhelming… Remember the transfiguration when Peter, James and John found the sight of Jesus shining with all the glory of God, a bit too much to bear..

When Jesus said “I am the bread of life” he was reminding them of Moses and the manna from heaven. He was telling them that this was food given by God, but it was physical food, to fill their stomachs, to sustain them in their journeying, to fuel their bodies. But they would still die at the end of their lives. The only way to everlasting life in God would be through him. Jesus is offering his life to all those who will come to him. “I am the living bread. ” Jesus tries to explain it to them.

He wanted them to realise that the fullness of life he is speaking of was not dependant on how full their bellies were. But to be full in a Spiritual sense; not of food or other material things. He offers them a superior sustenance as opposed to the manna of Moses.

John’s Gospel is written for a community living after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70AD. Faith life is changing, and there is a struggle between Jews who follow Jesus and Jews who don’t.

John through his gospel is giving his community some solid foundations for following Christ. He sees Jesus as a provider and a liberator, a product but also a surpasser of the biblical patriarchs and Moses. For to follow Christ would set you free to step over the boundaries of the complexities of the biblical law as it stood at that time.

I wonder though if we often starve ourselves Spiritually but don’t realise we do it. Think of the last time you felt full in the way you think Jesus was talking about, does church on a Sunday morning always do it for you? There is a God shaped hole inside each of us; Jesus is the answer to fill it. We need to be hungry for Christ.

St Paul – and I’ll say it is Paul, although there are a large number of scholars think that Ephesians was not authored by him – is addressing the churches in Ephesus from his prison cell. It gives practical advice in how to live a holy, pure, and Christ inspired lifestyle, and this part in particular deals with unity.

A Church community is one body in Christ, bit like a loaf of bread. Different ingredients but brought together and transformed into something else something new.

And, like bread, there is a fine balance that needs to be held in tension between individuals and the group as a whole, the church. If you have too much salt, flour, yeast or water or not enough… then you don’t get a perfectly turned out loaf. Individuals need to be free to use the gifts god has given them, and also bringing their unique experiences in life, but also need to be working in unity, with others both inside and outside the group, keeping the peace.

Not as easy as it sounds and Paul doesn’t say it will be. But the roots of the solution lie in forgiveness, forgiveness of each other and the desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

To sum up this portion of Paul’s letter. We all need forgiveness, we all need to forgive. We are all imperfect. Once we recognise this we can start to embrace each other’s gifts. We can begin to even up the balance.

The very last words of the Gospel reading are… “and the bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” They remind us of the words that we will hear shortly during the Eucharist prayer. “This is my body which is given for you”. The theme of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians is Unity in Christ… we hear that echoed in the words “though we are many we are one body… because we all share in the one bread”.

In Christ’s footsteps we come together as one body, to share the bread of life, the bread that comes down from heaven… to the people of Galilee, to the people of Ephesus and to the people of St. Matthew’s church, today and always.

Ephesians 4.25-5.2
John 6.35, 41-51