During this week the mass lectionary has led us through Chapter 6 of John’s gospel, the so-called “Bread of Life Chapter.” After recounting the miracle of the loaves and fishes, John continues with such familiar passages as:
There’s a little book entitled Sleeping with Bread by Dennis Linn et. al. The title comes from at story told at the beginning of the book: “During the bombing raids of WWII, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, 'Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.'”
As I listened to the readings from the “Bread of Life Chapter” this week I kept seeing the image of those little war orphans sleeping peacefully in their beds, each holding on to a piece of bread. For those suffering children the bread meant much more than calories and carbohydrates. It was a promise, an encouragement. In the midst of a chaotic war-torn world, the bread was a reassuring, palpable presence, the gift of hope for tomorrow. When Christ says, “I am the bread of life,” isn’t he giving himself to us as a promise, an encouragement, a reassuring palpable presence, the gift of hope for tomorrow?
But there’s more to this “bread of life” business than Jesus’ giving himself to us in the Holy Eucharist. For one thing, remember that where the other three gospels have Jesus instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper, the Gospel of John does not. Instead it tells how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples (Jn 13:3 ff.). The episode ends with Jesus commanding the apostles: "14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn Ch. 13).
|Jesus Washing Feet|
The readings at this time of the liturgical year are full of such commands, commissions and sendings. The angelic messengers at the tomb tell the women, “Go, tell the disciples…,” the disciples are commanded "Go into Galilee,"and the risen Lord appears to the disciples and gives them the commission to “Go forth into the whole world…” The first reading today (Friday) was the story of Saul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus; once again someone’s life is interrupted by a peremptory command from the Lord: "Stop what you’re doing and go do this for me."
Combining the themes of the Bread of Life and of these various “sendings”, it's easy for us to imagine Jesus saying to us, his followers, “I am the bread of life, and now you have to go forth and be bread as well. In the midst of a chaotic materialistic world, be bread for one another, be a reassuring, palpable presence, be the gift of hope for tomorrow for your brothers and sisters. I want you to be bread for one another."
I preached on this theme in the homily at today’s community mass. On the way to the sacristy after mass I passed a basket on a table in the gathering area in the back of church. A hand-lettered a sign on the basket is labeled simply “Food Pantry.” The basket was overflowing with canned goods and a big box of Special K. I smiled as I thought to myself, "Well, it’s not exactly bread, but some of our parishioners sure know a great way to be bread for the poor families in our neighborhood.”
As I continued toward the sacristy I started wondering who I'm supposed to be bread for in the next day or two. Hmm... Maybe it's you?