Excerpts from a sermon preached on Aug. 12
St. James the Fisherman, Wellfleet, MA
The great chef and food critique James Beard once wrote, “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter is the greatest of feasts.”
For different people, in different settings, bread takes on different meanings. To the chemist, it’s a formula; to the shopkeeper, a commodity. To the wine taster, bread is a cleanser of the pallet; to the farmer, a finished product. To the dieter, bread is something to control with too many calories; to a starving person, it’s the staff of life.
However you cut it, bread is the gift of God’s creation and the work of human hands. Throughout the ages, it’s come to mean life, love, nourishment, sustenance, and survival. As commonplace as it seems, bread remains one of the most powerful symbols of our humanity.
Jesus, a faithful, first-century Jew, understood the importance of bread. It was at the center of his vocation. In the Fourth Gospel, immediately following that miracle, Jesus made a bold claim: “I am the bread of life.”
Jesus took the staple of the human diet, the most basic form of human nourishment, and claimed it for himself. Not only did he claim the metaphor of bread, but he said that he was the kind of bread that would not spoil but would endure to eternal life. In doing so, Jesus, in essence, said: “I am that which can satisfy and nourish you forever.”
When I approach the Eucharistic table, I imagine Jesus saying: Eat this bread so that you may have life, and whenever you eat it, remember the life that I have given for you and the life that I have given to you. And not only that, but remember the love I have shared with you and the love that I expect you to share with others.
Though not her intention, the food writer M.F.K. Fisher once described the Eucharist pretty darn well: “Given honest flour, pure water, and a good fire, there is really only one more thing needed to make the best bread in the world, fit for the greatest gourmet ever born: and that is honest love.”
No one knows for certain what happens when the Divine presence of the Eucharist settles alongside our breakfast and morning coffee. But somehow, through a simple tasting of bread and sip of wine, God takes us into her love, and we become one with Christ and one another. And in our oneness, we are given the ability to reach out to our neighbors in love. And that can make more difference than we can imagine.