Supper at Emmaus, Cosway, undated,Yale Center for British Art, Yale University, New Haven Ct. USA
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” John 6:35.
Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials
Growing up in London, even in the years after the war, it did not take much saving up to cobble together a trip to France, especially if you were a student or had friends there. I did, and I stayed with Françoise and her husband in the 1970s. It was the perfect arrangement: breakfast together; they went off to work, I did the tourist thing, and we got together at the end of the day. Well, I mention this because it was my introduction to French bread, specifically the baguette, that classic long, thin loaf with crackles when you break is and tastes like, well, heaven, arriving fresh each morning. But there were drawbacks, as I quickly found. Too much of it and you get indigestion (guilty). Impossible to save, as it is hard as a rock the next day. So it was, as it were, a temporal taste of heaven, not the real thing. One (irrelevant) point more. Baguette, pronounced bagett with a hard g, carries several meanings in French. There is the bread of course, but when I heard an introduction to a concert on French radio and “à la baguette…” was announced with the conductor’s name, my imagination took hold. The French version of Harry Potter’s world is full of baguettes magiques, and so on. I encourage you to take a look here if you are intrigued. So here we have a loaf of bread which is wildly flexible. And the Lord today is saying he is the Bread of Life… Could one quietly say here we have the Baguette of Life, eternally crusty, delicious, nourishing and healthy…
So bread is what you might see as an essential element in Scripture and life, across the centuries and places, not to mention its importance in daily living from ages immemorial. It is at the foundation of just about every western and middle eastern society. Bread even appears in the Magna Carta inasmuch as the measure of grain, its raw material, was fixed throughout England to allow fair measure. For Jesus to say that he is the Bread of Life, then, was to place himself squarely at the root of normal life, indeed, its life source. Today’s first reading supports this. The Hebrews’ 40 years of wandering in the wilderness was only possible with the daily supply of manna from the Hand of God, a bread substitute if you like, even though it is thought to have been sweet, but, without which, disaster.
One final thought. Jesus was very strong on this identification of himself and food. His shocking language in John’s gospel about having to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life is pretty clear. To declare himself the Bread of Life is another instance, even if the language is more muted. But his utterances, it seems to me, are pretty clear: Take and eat my body; take and drink my blood; I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will never hunger. It seems they all point to a literal, fundamental interpretation, that that is what we have to believe, accept and do, just as he has told us, all pointing to the Eucharist. It is that moment when Catholics and Orthodox become the fundamentalists, and accept these words at literal face value, and many fundamentalist Protestants do not, claiming they are “symbolic” rather than real. Oh strange topsy turvy world.
The Holy Eucharist, Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Manchester, NH USA.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
Please send this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.