The Abundant Life of Bread
Note: This is the fourth post in a 10-part series, drawn from Connecting the Mind, Body and Spirit: Reflections on Health, produced by the Clergy Health Initiative and distributed at the 2010 United Methodist Annual Conferences in North Carolina. Each reflection is tied to the lectionary; we will publish each reflection a week in advance of the Sunday to which it is tied.
July 25, 2010
Luke 11:1-13 • Give us each day our daily bread.
We worship a God who loves bread. This should not be surprising to us, particularly if we recognize that in the sharing of bread we become companions to one another. A companion is someone who comes with (com) bread (panis). Companions share and nurture life, giving daily routines a flavor that lasts long after they have physically departed from us. When people gather around freshly baked slices they share stories, express hopes, find help, and confess their worries.
We need companions to make it through life. We need bread daily to keep us alive. This is why we ask, “Give us each day our daily bread.” But what happens when we forget to ask, or think it silly to ask? After all, why ask for bread when we can just as well go into a store and purchase a loaf from among the multiple varieties on the shelf? Who has time to bake bread, let alone sit around and eat it slowly with others?
The Lord’s Prayer is a daily prayer because we need a constant reminder that God is interested in companionship as much as he is in the feeding of our physical bodies. God wants us to know life in its fullness and abundance. God wants us to taste and experience the inexhaustible, triune communion life that welcomes, nurtures, and celebrates the world. That nurture begins with the feeding of our physical bodies, but it extends into the feeding of our social bodies and souls. It extends, even, to God’s daily feeding of the entire creation, so that altogether we can be healthy, whole, and at peace.
In my house, there is no greater excitement than the aroma of bread baking in the oven. We all become fairly giddy with anticipation, jostling for position as we each seek the first slice. When we calm down, pass the butter and jam, and stop smacking our lips, we then rest in each other’s company and in the love of our bread baker. We slow down. We talk about the day. We step out of our own obsessions and preoccupations so that we can attend to each other. We don’t spend hours doing this. But we do enough to know that what makes our living possible and a joy is the simplicity of bread and the
fellowship it makes possible.
In a world where fragmentation, loneliness, and speed rule, and where bread is little more than a product, we need the fellowship of companions more than ever before. The fullness of life is diminished when we mostly eat alone or on the run. Though our bellies may be full, even overfull, we are left craving for the fulfillment that comes from being in reconciled relationships with God and our neighbors. Sometimes the craving for companionship is so powerful that we might, like the midnight seeker in Luke, go pounding on the door of a friend to ask for bread. The need is so great that we will not take “No” for an answer.
Sometimes “No” is all we get. Or we find the bread but not the fellowship. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the people we knew were like God, whose door is always welcoming and whose oven is always baking? Luke shows us that God is not only a heavenly Father – God is also a heavenly Baker. Wouldn’t it be a powerful witness if our churches were places where the ovens are always baking, extending genuine fellowship to a lonely world in need of communion?
In the Eucharist, Christ has become our food and drink so that we can become the food that nurtures others into his abundant, communion-building life. As John’s Gospel puts it, Christ is the “bread of life,” the bread “come down from heaven.” When we partake of this bread we are transformed from the inside so that we can be hospitable to each other as God has been hospitable to us from the beginning of time. When Christians gather around the Lord’s Table they gradually learn that every table is a place for fellowship, a place around which bodies are nurtured, souls are inspired, and relationships are healed and reconciled.
“Give us each day our daily bread.” I can’t think of a better place for pastors and church members to rethink their life together. What could be more wonderful than to share and enjoy the bread of fellowship that unites us to each other and to God? What could be more necessary than to receive and give again the transforming “bread of life” that sustains and heals our bodies and souls, our neighborhoods and communities, indeed the whole of creation?
Norman Wirzba is research professor of theology, ecology, and rural life at Duke Divinity School.
Questions to Consider
- The first resurrection appearance in Luke’s Gospel is at Emmaus, when Jesus breaks the bread. In that moment, the disciples recognize him as the Lord. Charles Wesley used this text as basis for his hymn, “O Thou Who This Mysterious Bread,” which affirms that we meet the Risen Christ in the Eucharist. How many United Methodist congregations understand this part of their heritage? Would a renewed understanding be health-giving to pastors and congregations?
- The words “company” and “companion” both derive from the image of shared bread. In uttering the Lord’s Prayer, a request to God to help us satisfy a physical need (bread), we also admit our hunger for companionship. How are loneliness and isolation – the loss of companionship – destructive of health, and what are ways the church may offer healing?