The bread of life

The next day, the crowd that had remained on the other shore knew only one boat had been there. Likewise, they knew that Jesus had not gotten on board with his disciples and that they had gone off without him. Some boats from Tiberias approached the site where Jesus had fed the large crowd after giving thanks for the bread. When this crowd noticed that Jesus and his disciples weren’t there, they boarded the boats and set sail for Capernaum to look for Jesus.

They found him when they reached the opposite shore, and said “When did you get here, Rabbi?”

Jesus answered “Truly, you went searching for me not because you saw miracles happen, but because you were filled by the loaves of bread you ate. Don’t spend your energy on food that rots. Seek the food that remains so you have eternal life instead. The Son of Man will give you this because God the Father has approved him.”

“How do we perform God’s works?” they asked.

Jesus answered “This is God’s work – believe in the One he sent.”

They questioned him further, saying “By what sign will we know that you are the one? Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness. The Scriptures say ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

Jesus replied “That bread didn’t come from Moses. My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. God’s bread is the One who is sent by God from heaven to give life to the world.”

Then they said “Sir, give us that bread forever!”

Jesus told them “I am the bread of life. Those who come to me will never be hungry again. Those who believe in me will never be thirsty again. But as I’ve said before, you have seen me and still you don’t believe. Everyone who my Father has sent to me will come to me, and I will never reject them. I have come down from heaven to do the will of the One who sent me, and not my own. This is the will of God – that I shall not lose anyone God has sent to me, and that I should raise them up to everlasting life on the last day. This is the will of my Father who sent me – that I should raise up everyone he has given me on the last day, and not lose a single one. My Father’s will is for everyone who sees and believes in the Son to have eternal life and be raised up on the last day.”

Certain Jews began to argue about him because he said “I am the bread that descended from heaven.” They were saying “Don’t we know his parents? Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph? Why is he saying ‘I have descended from heaven.’?”

Jesus answered “Stop arguing among yourselves. The only people who come to me are those who the Father calls and I will raise them up on the final day. The prophets wrote ‘Everyone will be taught by God.’ Everyone who has been taught by God and hears God’s voice comes to me. The only one who has seen the Father is the one who is sent from God. I’m telling you the truth: anyone who believes already has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they are dead now. The bread that I’m telling you about is the bread that comes from heaven, and anyone who eats it will never die. I am that living bread from heaven. My own body is the bread that I will give so that the world will live.”

Some of the Jews began to argue about this, saying “How can he give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus answered “Truly, you do not have life in you unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man. Anyone who does this will have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day, because my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood is alive in me, and I am in him. In the same way that the living Father sent me and I am alive because of the Father’s will, anyone who feeds on me will be full of life through me. The bread that came down from heaven is not like that which your ancestors ate. They have died, but this bread makes those who eat it live forever.”

Jesus said all of this while he was teaching in the Capernaum synagogue.

JN 6:22-59

Betrayal at the Passover

Jesus arrived in the evening with his 12 disciples at the place where they were going to celebrate the Passover. While they were reclining at the table to eat, Jesus’ spirit was troubled and he said, “Mark my words, one of you who is eating with me right now will betray me!”

MT 26:20-21, MK 14:17-18, LK 22:21, JN 13:21

“This doesn’t apply to all of you, I know well everyone I have chosen. But the Scripture must be fulfilled which says ‘The one who eats bread with me has raised his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now in advance so that when it does happen you will believe in me.”

JN 13:18-19

“The Son of Man will be betrayed as it has been foretold, but woe to the one who betrays him! It would have been easier for him if he had not been born!”

LK 22:22, MK 14:21, MT 26:24

The disciples were distressed and began to argue among themselves as to who it would be and saying to Jesus “Surely it isn’t me Lord?

MT 26:22, LK 22:23, JN 13:22

The disciple that Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus. Simon Peter gestured to him to ask Jesus who he meant. He leaned in close and asked him “Lord, who is it?”

JN 13:23-25

Judas, the one who was to betray him, asked “Surely it isn’t me, Teacher?” Jesus answered him “You have said it.”

MT 26:25

“The one who will betray me is the one who dipped his bread in the bowl with me.”

MT 26:23, MK 14:20

“He is the one that I give the bread to after I have dipped it.” After he had dipped the bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Satan entered Judas after he ate the piece of bread. Then Jesus told him “What you are about to do, do quickly.” Judas went out immediately after receiving the piece of bread from Jesus. It was nighttime by this point.

No one at the table knew why Jesus had said this to Judas. They thought that since Judas kept up with all of their money that Jesus was telling him to go buy what they required for the festival or to give money to the poor.

JN 13:26-30

The Temptation

Then Jesus returned from the Jordan, filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for 40 days. He ate nothing while he was there and was very hungry at the end of that time.

The devil approached him and said “If you are truly the Son of God, then you should tell this stone to become bread so you can eat.” But Jesus answered him “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from God.’”

Then the devil took Jesus up onto a high mountain and he showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor in a twinkling of the eye. He said “I will give all of this to you because it has been given to me and I can give it to anyone I want. It will all be yours if you will fall on your knees and worship me.” Jesus answered him “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”

So then the devil took him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the top of the Temple and said “If you are the Son of God, then throw yourself down from here, for it is written ‘He will order his angels to take care of you. They will lift you up with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
And Jesus said “It is also written: ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’”

Then the devil left him and immediately the angels came and began to serve him.

MT 4:1-11, MK 1:12-13, LK 4:1-13

The yeast of the Pharisees

The Pharisees and other Jewish leaders approached Jesus with a test, asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

He sighed deeply and said “You know how to read the signs in the sky. When the sky is red at night, you know there will be good weather the next day, and when the sky is red in the morning you know there will be storms. Yet you don’t know how to read the signs of the times! Why does this wicked generation demand to see a sign? It will see nothing except the sign of Jonah.” He walked away from them, got back on the boat, and went to the other side of the sea.

When they reached the other side, the disciples realized that they had forgotten to get more bread. They had only one loaf with them. Jesus said “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees.” They began to talk among themselves about the fact that they didn’t have any more bread.

Jesus was aware of this and he said “Why are you talking about not having any more bread? Don’t you understand yet? Do you have eyes and ears and yet are blind and deaf? Don’t you remember how five loaves of bread were able to feed 5000 people, or that seven loaves of bread fed 4000 people? Remember the number of large baskets of leftover pieces? Why do you not understand that when I said ‘Beware the yeast of the Pharisees,’ I wasn’t talking about bread?”

Then they understood that he was talking about what the Pharisees taught.

MT 16:1-12, MK 8:11-21

Lost. Talking with ghosts in the kitchen.

I talk with dead people while I make bread. It started with my Mom, and then expanded out to all my relatives. Yesterday it included my recently deceased coworker.

I wasn’t planning on talking with him. I thought that making bread was my time to spend with my female ancestors, all the ones I met and all the ones I didn’t. Making bread and cooking in general is something that women do. The kitchen is the place where you cook. Thus, to talk to them, I go where they were.

Now, they never spent time in my kitchen, but that doesn’t matter. It is the heart of the place, the rituals and the motions, that matter. This is why you can find God in any sacred place. It isn’t the building that matters – it is what goes on inside the building.

Making bread has become my special time to talk with my relatives, but I’d been thinking a lot about Jeff. He died suddenly and unexpectedly, and that is the problem. He had sort of quit living. For over a month he pined for his wife who had died. He kept talking about how it wasn’t fair that they had just found each other and now they were separated. He wanted to be with her again.

Death isn’t preferable to life. In death, you can’t experience the world like you can with a body. In death, you are free of the limitations of the body. You no longer experience the pains that the body has, or the cravings. But you also can’t experience the good things either.

I was talking to him while I was mixing the ingredients for the bread, while I was thinking about how we need rituals and practices to “shape” our feelings. We need order so we know how to feel. We need a graduation ceremony to let us know that we are no longer in high school. We need a funeral ceremony to know that our friend or relative is no longer with us. We use ceremony and ritual to mark our days and our lives. They are like gateways, or doors. They mark a change from “here” and “there”.

I was talking with him, telling him how much he is going to miss since he has died. He can’t eat the bread that I make anymore. He can’t drink a Yoo-Hoo (it is a whey-based chocolate drink, and very tasty). He can’t touch, smell, or taste. Spirits can see, but they can’t interact with the world. He chose to withdraw from the world. By yearning for his wife who had passed over to the other side, he left this side.

Sort of.

Because he died peacefully in his sleep, because he died young, he doesn’t know he has died. He thinks he is still stuck in his dreams and is having a hard time waking up.

I told him to seek Amy, (his wife) to go to her. She is what he wants. But she can’t be with him if his spirit is still mostly here. He has no body for his spirit to reside in, so he’s stuck.

I had a dream with him in it last night. He was joking with another coworker like they always do. I was sitting at my desk and the coworker was at his. Jeff was sitting right next to him, huddled up close. I couldn’t see either of them at first because the computer monitor was in the way. Then I heard Jeff joking like always after lunch. I scooted my chair over and saw him.

I said “You’re alive?!” and he smiled sheepishly. “Why would you do this to me?” Why would they make me think he had died? He had no answer. I reached for his hand, to hold it, to prove to me that he was real. I held his hand across the desk for a while and we talked. Then he said it was a patient of his who had died, that there was a misunderstanding. It wasn’t him.

I said he doesn’t have patients. He isn’t a doctor. Then he looked confused, and the dream ended.

Zucchini bread

zucchini bread

1 & 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 & 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon)
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1 cup turbinado sugar
1 & 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 & 1/2 cups grated zucchini

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)

2. Sift together flour, salt, soda, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg. Add and mix well the sugar, vanilla, and oil. Add zucchini to this mixture.

4. Add dry ingredients, mixing well. Pour into a loaf pan (grease it first with butter)

5. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 1 hour.

6. Let it cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least ten minutes, then remove from pan.

(Modified from the “Allrecipies” website recipe called “Mom’s zucchini bread”)

Fill in the blanks.

I woke up thinking about my parents-in-law. Things aren’t going well with them, and I’ve been very distant because of that.

I’m angry with them. I’m angry about how they treated my husband, their son, as he was growing up. I’m angry about how they abused him. Their own history of being mistreated isn’t enough to excuse it. They should have known better.

I’m angry about how they haven’t listened to my advice on where to live, so they keep needing to ask for help. I was the one to suggest they move up here, closer to their sons, but that is all they have listened to. Five hours away was too far to help them, so they came closer, but they are still too far. Thirty minutes one way isn’t ten.

They should have bought a condo, or gotten an apartment. Basically they shouldn’t have gotten a yard and a place that has to be maintained. At their age, they personally need to be maintained more than their homes. I told them this, and they ignored me. I told them that my husband, their son, barely has time to take care of our house.

Now they need help. Often. Just like I foresaw. There is no need for these emergencies.

They continue to ask for my advice and input, but they continue to ignore it. They waste my time and that of my husband.

They are very needy.

They are too old to be this childish.

And then I stopped and remembered. Ask Jesus into it.

Jesus Jesus Jesus, I said. I visualized all of these problems as big blocks. I saw the light of Jesus entering them. It was like a glue, filling in all the cracks, making them stronger.

And I came to understand that the brokenness is part of the plan. The brokenness is necessary.

The poet Rumi reminds us that bread can’t become bread unless the grain is ground up. Then it is mixed with other ingredients and heated in an oven.

Clay isn’t useful unless it is shaped and heated too.

These broken bits, these hard times, these trials that we all have – these are what make us who we are.

They aren’t the bits to run away from. They are the whole story. They are it, everything.

They are what make us human. They are what make us who we are.

God isn’t the “bad guy” for letting bad things happen to us. These “bad things” are just the hard things that push us out of what we are and into who we are supposed to be.

They are what get the baby bird to get out of that shell. They are what get that same bird to jump out of the nest and fly for the first time too.

We are those birds.

Stuck in our shells, we would die.

Stuck in the nest, we would never live.

Adversity isn’t.

It is opportunity.

Jesus is the glue that holds us together, is the hand that pulls us out of the hole, is the thing that rescues is from being stuck.

Jesus is “out there” but is also “in here”. Jesus is instantly available -all you have to do is call on him. Ask and you shall receive, after all. But Jesus is also inside every person who has let him into their lives. Jesus builds houses for poor people through Habitat for Humanity. Jesus feeds people at the rescue mission. Jesus holds people’s hands when they die in hospice care. Jesus teaches children how to read.

Jesus wears a lot of faces and goes by a lot of names, and he’s here.

But he had to be broken and blessed for that to happen.

He wasn’t crucified for our sins. He was blessed and broken on that cross, just like how he blessed and broke the bread and the fish to feed thousands.

He became more, so we could become more.

Thanks be to God.

Communion as freedom

The Last Supper was a Passover meal, and like the Passover, is meant to be done as a remembrance. The Passover meal is observed once a year with the goal of reminding the Jewish people that God freed them from slavery from Egypt. Today’s Communion service is also done as a reminder of freedom from slavery, but it is the slavery of sin.

Just because people are freed from slavery doesn’t mean they are free.

Life didn’t easier after the Jews were freed from being slaves. They wandered for forty years in the desert trying to reach the Promised Land. There was hardship and pain. There were tests and perils. Not everybody made it. A lot died. Moses, the great leader, the one who intervened with God on behalf of the Jewish people, was one of them. Even Moses, handpicked by God, one of the few people to get to talk with God face to face, even Moses failed and wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land.

The same is true for following Jesus. It isn’t an express ticket. It isn’t a “get out of jail free” card. It is a transition. It is an end to your old life yet a beginning to a whole new life of work and hardship. It isn’t easy following Jesus.

Jesus instituted this ritual meal the night before he was captured. He knew what was about to happen, but his disciples didn’t. He knew that they would need a reminder of the life of Jesus and the prophecies that he fulfilled. He knew that they would need a reminder of the promises that he embodies.

Both ritual meals celebrate freedom, but Passover is only done once a year. Communion can be done every time that Jesus’ followers get together. In some churches this is once a week (Episcopal). In some it is every day, several times a day (Catholic). In some it is quarterly (Baptist). In some it is yearly (Jehovah’s Witness). In some it is almost never.

Every time I get together with friends to study the Scriptures, I celebrate Communion. It is a reminder of who we are there for. It is a reminder of who is at the center of our circle. It is a reminder that this isn’t just a social gathering.

I love ritual, and I really love the ritual of Communion. While anybody can celebrate Communion, I realize that not everybody is comfortable performing a ritual. So I provide this part of our gathering.

I try to make it interesting every time. I try to share the meaning and history of the ceremony. I don’t go from a script. There is no order of service as such. There isn’t much liturgy yet either. But I’m working on that. I think that it is important to have everybody participate in the ceremony, rather than just being part of the audience. Communion isn’t a passive thing.

It is a remembering in the truest sense. It is where Jesus joins us, not only joins with us, but joins us together. Jesus enters into our selves, our very beings, in a literal and spiritual way. Also, we are knit together with all other members of the Body of Christ, past, present, and future. We become one.

In the same way that separate grains of wheat become one loaf of bread, we become one in the Body of Christ when we celebrate Communion. Somehow, we stop being free, and yet we become free at the same time. We stop being individuals and we become part of something bigger. We give up our petty needs and join together for something greater. Together, we are stronger.

Poem – Be bread.

How is bread made?

How much are we like bread?

We have yeast in us.

We are made from elements from the earth.

All that our mothers ate,
all that we eat, makes up our bodies.

Yet there is more.

Bread has to rise. Once all the ingredients are there it has to wait.
It has to sit still and grow.

Then it gets punched down, kneaded,

And then it rests again.

And punched down, kneaded.

And then it gets baked,
put into the furnace, the cauldron,
to transform it
into its true nature, it’s purpose.

Be bread.

Bread that doesn’t sit and wait,
isn’t pushed down, isn’t challenged,

isn’t heated up in the stove of conflict

Isn’t bread,
isn’t of any use to anybody.

Especially itself.

Be bread.

The bread of God.

“Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3b)

There is a Jewish blessing that is said at every meal that has bread. It is called the HaMatzi Blessing. In English it is:

“Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the Earth.”

Now, bread does not come from the Earth. Bread comes from wheat, which comes from the Earth. And it doesn’t just spring forth. It has to be planted by humans. It has to be tended by us. Then it has to be harvested, threshed, and milled. Only then it can be used to make bread.

Yes, we have to be thankful to God that the Earth produces food. We have to be thankful of the amazing process that makes a seed grow into a plant which grows into food. We should never take that for granted. But we also are part of the process. We have to do work too.

The blessing refers to the time when the Jews were wandering in the desert and had nothing to eat. It isn’t really about bread. It is about reminding us that God always provides for our needs. That we should take nothing for granted. That we owe our very existence to God.

We say there are no miracles anymore. We forget that every moment is a miracle. We forget that every beat of our heart is God saying that we are loved and we are needed.

The verse above is what we are familiar with, but it is only part of the verse. Here’s the full verse:

“He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (HCSB)

There is a Christian twist on this blessing that changes it to “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe who brings forth the living bread from Heaven.”

This is a reference to Jesus’ words in John 6:35-40:

35 “I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again. 36 But as I told you, you’ve seen Me, and yet you do not believe. 37 Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of Him who sent Me: that I should lose none of those He has given Me but should raise them up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of My Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Jesus said this after feeding 5,000 people with five barley loaves and two fish, which were a donation. There were twelve baskets of food left over after everyone had been fed. In the Gospel according to Mark, book 8 we learn that Jesus also fed 4,000 people with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. There were seven large baskets of leftover pieces.

That miracle is the same miracle as the manna. God always provides for us. It rarely is in a way that we expect. Even Jesus’ disciples didn’t expect this. He did this miracle twice, and they still didn’t get it. They still didn’t understand that it isn’t about the bread at all.

God is bigger than we can imagine. God is always providing for us. Blessed be God, who provides bread – that the conditions are right for wheat to grow, and that we have the knowledge and skill to create it into something that will nourish us. Blessed be God, who feeds us in surprising ways.