The Bread of Life

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As I continue to fast bread during Lent, I am looking for the significance of bread in Scripture.  The middle eastern understanding of bread is quite different than that of the western mindset.  We have a white doughy substance which can be rolled up between two fingers into a perfect ball.  It gets stuck on the roof of your mouth and tastes something like pasty air.

The bread from the time of Jesus would have been quite a different substance.  First of all, the grain would have been much more whole, so there would be no ball rolling with this bread.  Middle Eastern views on the blessing of food, brings along with it a respect for it.  They would never engage in food fights, or play with their food.

As the son of a Syrian family I was brought up to think of bread as possessing a mystic sacred significance.  I never would step on a piece of bread fallen in the road, but would pick it up, press it to my lips for reverence, and place it in a wall or on some other place where it would not be trodden upon.  What always seemed to me to be one of the noblest traditions of my people was their reverence to the “aish” (bread; literally “the life-giver”).  While breaking bread together we would not rise to salute an arriving guest, whatever the social rank.  Whether spoken or not, our excuse for not rising and engaging in the cordial (Near East) salutation before the meal was ended, was our reverence for the food (hir-metal-‘aish).  We could, however, and always did, invite the newcomer most urgently to partake of the repast…The ‘aish was something more than mere matter.  Inasmuch as it sustained life, it was God’s own life made tangible for his child, man, to feed upon.  The Most High Himself fed our hunger.  Does not the psalmist say, “Thou openest thine hand, and satisfieth the desire of every living thing.”? (From The Syrian Christ by Abraham Rihbany, published 1916.)

Bread means literally “the life-giver”, so when Jesus proclaimed that He was the Bread of Life, He is saying that He is the life giver.  Even aside from the respect given to the bread used as one of the elements in the Eucharist, in some parts of the world, bread is respected as a life-giver and treated with dignity as something to be truly grateful for.

Give us this day, our daily bread.  Give us today life from heaven.  Just the right portion.  Not too much, or too little.  We are to be given the right amount of life so that we are able to accomplish His will today, reminding one of the Scripture that reads, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

The children of Israel were given bread.  They were given only what they needed for that day.  When they were greedy, the bread became wormy.  The word for that bread, or manna as it was called,  is correctly translated, “What is it?”  When Jesus came, He became the true bread from Heaven.  And we still argue amongst ourselves.  What is it?  Does the bread of Holy Communion become the actual body of Christ? Or is it only a symbol?

One thing is certain.  Long before the Last Supper, bread was a symbol.  A common subject of an object lesson to the people of its time, symbolizing life, fulfillment and provision.

Jesus has given us His life in exchange for our own poor excuse of a life.  He gave us beauty for ashes, and a hope for a good future because of His supreme sacrifice.  He nourishes our soul, just as bread nourishes our bodies.  He brings the necessary nutrients and health to us, but He also satisfies our spirits.  I don’t know any food substance that satisfies hunger quite like bread.  Believe me, in not eating bread for a month now, I can’t tell you how much I miss it.  It satisfies.  Jesus satisfies the soul in a way only He can.  When we hunger and thirst for Him He fills us with food that we may never hunger again.

One reason there was once so much respect for bread is because it was recognized as provision.  It was a major staple in a well stocked home.  If you had bread, life was good.  We have the Bread of Life, and therefore Life is very good.

Creating An Experience, The Last Supper, Pt. 3

Creating An Experience

While entertaining friends or family in our homes, we all want to leave the guests with an experience they will never forget.  Jesus was no exception to this rule during His Last Supper, creating two very significant events.  The first moment Jesus created was the Eucharist.  The word, “Eucharist” means thanksgiving.  First, Jesus thanked and praised God for the bread and wine.  Then, He started speaking mysteriously of eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood.  This isn’t the first time that He had referred to Himself as being Bread, and He talked to the woman at the well about being drink that satisfies thirst forever. Be that as it may, it’s still quite a thing to say at a holiday party!  It is the first time that He handed them Bread and declared that it was His Body, and gave them a cup proclaiming that the wine was His Blood.

Because it was so common for Jesus to teach using bread, it may have been easy for the Disciples to miss the significance of what Jesus was saying until later, but shortly after this first Holy Communion,  Jesus does something for His Disciples that caused a stir in the dinner guests immediately.  He washed their feet.

4He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.

5After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.

6Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?

7Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.

8Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.

9Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.

10Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.

11For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.

12So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?

13Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.

14If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.

15For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.

Jesus did this as an example.  He created a picture in the minds of His followers that would burn in their hearts forever.  Jesus, the Son of God, humbled Himself to the point of washing their dirty, well-traveled feet.  I have often heard it said how dirty the roads were back then.  The streets were full of the manure from camels and donkeys…and perhaps even human waste.  Regardless of who you were or how clean the rest of your body may be, the reality was that if you traveled anywhere, your feet would be encrusted with the wastes of the world.  He had come to wash them clean from the soil that so easily attaches itself to us as we travel this journey of life.

Jesus wanted to leave His closest followers with rituals that could be used in years to come in order to remember Who He was, and Who He was about to be.  He knows our weaknesses.   He knows that when we reduce something down to our words, they become empty and dead without some type of action.  By requesting that we remember Him in Communion, He ensured that He would leave behind an experience by which we could more readily meditate on He being in us, and we being in Him.  By setting the example of washing their feet, He gave them an experience of servanthood.  Next time you are taking Communion, remember that He wanted you to experience Him on a regular basis, and this is one way He provides this experience.  Allow Him to become real on a new level to you.  And the washing of the feet?  Experience Christ by becoming a servant to all.

A Time For Exclusivity, The Last Supper, Pt. 2

There are many types of events that we hold as Christians.  There are evangelistic events, healing events, church services…etc. Right now, there is a trend towards being “seeker friendly.” Seeker friendly services tend to be all-inclusive, and full of marketing ploys.  Which is great when you are trying to capture the attention of a attention depleted world.  I’m all for “seeker friendly” services, but one thing we may want to consider doing, is having an occasional exclusive event.  An event that is “follower friendly.”    The Last Supper was such an event.The things that were going to be shared were only for those who were true followers.

We do have leadership meetings for those who hold positions in our church, but it seems as if those meetings are so saturated with business, that they don’t fall into the category of The Last Supper.  They are not times in which an experience with Christ have been created.

I’ve done some study on the Methodist Episcopal Church.  There was a time, when this group of believers, would celebrate what they called a “Love Feast”.  At these functions, a little bread and water would be served, but the emphasis was on the community of the people and their gratitude for what God has done for them.  In order to attend this service, one must receive a ticket from their pastor.  It was not a service which was open to the public.  We need to reach out, but only after reaching in.  Jesus did not stretch out His arms for the world until He had strengthened His Disciples for that which is to come.

Next:  Experiencing Christ

The Divine Dinner Party, Pt.1

As part of my study of all things symbolic, I have been partaking in Communion daily.  I use the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer for the Eucharist.   So I’ve had three months to be meditating on the Lord’s Supper, but lately, I’ve been wanting to go deeper.  So here I plunge.

Preparation and Anticipation

Jesus knew that He was about to leave his Disciples, and He was looking forward to an evening alone with them (as well as His betrayer).  In fact in Luke 22:15, He said,

15And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:

Simply put, he was looking forward to sharing a meal with them.  Everything He had left to say to them had to be said that night.  Everything He wanted to reiterate had to be gone over before the end of this dinner.  It had to be a night to remember.  Jesus actually went to a lot of trouble for this dinner party.  He gave the Disciples very exact instructions.  (Luke 22:8-13) And He planned some very extraordinary activities for the evening.

Next:  The Last Supper – A Night To Remember