John 6.35, 41-51
When we have our parish lunch together, as we did last Sunday, I have enjoyed just how many different cultures we represent here at St Mary Mag. And how that means we have quite a rich variety of foods that we can share when we come together.
I expect that what you may have brought, or cooked, was or is a food that you have often enjoyed at home. It might even have been a staple food when you were growing up, something that your mother or another family member cooked for you. She may have learned it from her mother, and so on, back through the generations. Of course we shouldn’t think that it is only women who cook. Maybe the men got involved in your family too. In Australian families they cook meat on the barbie.
Family recipes, no matter how simple, are part of our life heritage. When they are being prepared, their smells and taste bring back warm memories of childhood and the people we shared with around our family dinner table. Or around a family barbecue at home. For some, there may be similar associations with a particular take-away that was enjoyed on special occasions in the family together.
Sometimes as adults we start a new tradition for a new generation. We took up bread-making in my generation in my family. I can’t recall now the exact reason, maybe because home-made bread was cheaper. We also made the decision because home-cooked bread is healthier. The smell of baking bread is just so special in the house. It reminded me of the breads my mother made, and the smells in my grandmother’s kitchen when we went visit to my grandparents’ farm and she had made bread.
I have continued the tradition. There is something very satisfying about creating a batch of dough and working it with your hands. It becomes a living thing in your hands. And then there is the treat of seeing the amazing transformation in the oven as the bread rises. It brings back memories of the monasteries where I have stayed, where prayerful monks I have known made their own bread.
Bread is such a simple and basic food. Maybe it is something to do with the purity it represents, since it is made from only four very common ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast. Nothing exotic, just the basics.
We are spending a lot of time with bread in our gospel readings this month. They remind us of the fact that bread-making, in one form or another, is common to many different cultures. For more than 6,000 years, people the world over have been baking bread. Jesus comes to us with the offer of bread, to help us to better understand the things of God and God’s relationship to us.
If bread is very ordinary, because of its simplicity and common ingredients, so the same thing was thought about Jesus. Our bible text says that the Jews debated who he was. Actually the Greek word translated as ‘Jews’ really means ‘Judeans’, people from Judea. They were part of the elite, the upper class, from the south of Israel, from in and around the city of Jerusalem. They were lawyers and teachers. Jesus was from the north, from rural Galilee, where peasant folk lived, people who struggled with putting food on their table.
The city people were asking, who is this uneducated country person who dares to go around teaching the things he does. He doesn’t have any formal education. His background is very common.
They knew his parents. His father was a carpenter. How could he possible say he was bread come down from heaven? No doubt they also wondered, how is it he can make such extraordinary claims about something so ordinary: claiming to be the bread which will satisfy hunger and quench thirst for all of time.
It is how God always seems to work, of course. There are plenty of extraordinary things which happened in the presence of Jesus, but in the end, God uses fairly ordinary means to reach us. We experience this over and over again in many of Jesus' teachings.
Consider, for instance, his parables, where he speaks of things like seeds, and weeds, and crops, and vineyards, and lost coins, and travellers on a journey, and weddings, and families: all things so very familiar to the people who first listened to what he had to say. And today, of course, he brings to mind the nearly universal image and experience of bread. He didn’t choose fruit or veg, he chose plain, basic bread.
God employs ordinary means to help us understand, to help us to welcome and rejoice in God's love for us, and his gracious intent for us all: including the ordinariness of Jesus himself, whose childhood, no doubt, was just like those of his neighbours. Because of course, it is the ordinary that we understand best. And by God's wonderful gift, the holiness of God somehow flows through the ordinary and makes it new - in always extraordinary ways.
Whenever I bake bread I have so much to remember. There is remembering the recipe of course. And then a grandmother who was both loving and to a degree awesome to me as a little person. She had raised five children on their farm, and made sure they were well fed. She had experience in cooking, and kept her kitchen as the centre of life on the farm.
Then there was my own mother, who taught me how to cook, so I could make a contribution when I shared a house with four mates who, it turned out, didn’t know how to cook. I helped to create a house that was alive with the aromas of cooking. All of these people in my life: simply ordinary people finding life in a tradition which helped sustain life at their tables.
And we are all so very privileged to think of Jesus, too, who compared himself to ordinary bread. And in doing so he gave his listeners something to chew on. So that now all of our bread can speak to us of the promise of so much more than just as something to feed us today, but also to satisfy our hunger for eternity.