Bread for Tomorrow

Detail of Christ_Goodhue Window

Detail from the Resurrection Window, All Souls Church

A sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, August 2, 2015.  The lectionary readings are Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15, Psalm 78:23-29, Ephesians 4:1-16, and John 6:24-35.

To listen to the sermon click HERE.

For the past few years, there has been a public lecture series at Harvard on Science and Cooking. A friend of mine sent me a link to the topics, and it made me wish I could have attended a few. The lectures included such titles as “The Science of Sugar,” “Al Dente: When Plastic Meets Elastic,” and “gASTROnomy” (featuring a NASA scientist). My favorite (and the one that just begs for audience participation) is the one entitled “Heat Transfer and Chocolate.”

There’s a part of me that thinks that if I were to go to lectures, take a few classes on chemistry, or read the right book, I would never make mistakes in the kitchen. Nothing would ever be burned. Nothing underdone and no strange reactions. I would know exactly what to do if the room were especially humid, or dry, if the oven cooked fast or slow, if the quality of the ingredients varied, and other such things. I like to imagine that, armed with information and knowhow; I could control the outcome and ensure the results.

I would not do very well in a world with manna: that food we hear about in the reading from Exodus, that mystery referred to in the Psalm.

Manna was that strange flakey stuff that God gave in the wilderness. It was good one day at a time. There were no assurances that it might come again. But you couldn’t save it. It was daily manna and like chicken salad at a summer picnic, if it weren’t eaten right away, it would spoil. Left unnoticed, manna became wormy. Put it in the sun, manna would melt. This “manna” was food, but it was also more than food, because manna was meant to be consumed with a side of faith. And more than a side of faith, really—it took ALL one’s faith to know be receptive to God’s care. It took faith to rely upon the Lord to lead through the wilderness. It took faith to go to sleep each night trusting that there would be manna for the morrow. Perhaps it’s from that old, ancient story that the prayer began to be formed that would pray for daily manna, or daily bread.

When we pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread,” this is part of what we’re praying for. It’s a reaffirmation that no science class, no proficiency in the kitchen, no steady source of food or income can sustain–ultimately. We need bread not just for right now, but for tomorrow, too.

Biblical scholars like to point out that the grammar of the Lord’s Prayer actually conveys this sense of praying for tomorrow, praying for bread of the future. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, reflects on this as he connects manna with the bread of Holy Communion:

“…Some people in the early church understood [this phrase from the Lord’s Prayer] to mean the bread we want for tomorrow or even the bread of tomorrow; “give us today tomorrow’s bread”.

And they’ve thought that might mean give us now a taste of the bread we shall eat in the Kingdom of God. Give us a foretaste of that great banquet and celebration where the universe is drawn together by Christ in the presence of God the Father.

And so … Holy Communion is, at one level, bread for today, it’s very much our daily bread, it’s the food we need to keep going; but it’s also a foretaste of the bread of heaven, a foretaste of enjoying the presence of Jesus in heaven, at his table, at his banquet…
Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer

Today’s Gospel picks up just after Jesus’ miracle with the loaves and fishes, his feeding of the five thousand (that we talked about last Sunday). But this week, people are still hungry. It’s not so much that they want to eat more, but they want to see more—more magic, more signs, more proof that Jesus is God, come to meet them. Jesus lays their hunger bare when he tells them, “don’t look to me to feed you. At least not the way you’re expecting it. You’re looking, but not seeing. Look deeper, for the food that endures for eternal life.”

But the people persist. They remind Jesus that God gave the people of Israel that sign of the manna in the wilderness, so can’t Jesus give them something miraculous like that, something really convincing?

But Jesus says, “Look to God for the true bread from heaven. Look to God for the bread that comes down and gives life to the world.” And then Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

If we stay in relationship with Christ, we are fed, spiritually and in every other way. But often, the spiritual equivalent of junk food is easier. We grab a spiritual nutrition bar and run. Stepping away from the table of the Lord, we drift away. And every relationship changes a little with distance. It’s often like with an old friend, we forget to return the call, to send the note, to respond to the email. And so time passes, and we get disconnected. We’re surprised when big news happens to our friend and we haven’t been a part of it, until we stop to realize that we’ve drifted, we’ve lost touch.

I recently heard a long distance runner interviewed on television. They asked the runner how much water she would drink and whether it mattered when she drank it along the way. She explained that she had to be careful to drink water before she actually felt thirsty. Otherwise, if she waited until she was thirsty, it would be too late, and her body would already be somewhat dehydrated and she would be operating as less than capacity.

Isn’t the spiritual life a little like a marathon, in that way? If we wait until we notice the absence of Christ, if we wait until we feel God’s distance, then it takes a lot more to feel the strength, the consolation, the encouragement, the faith, we may need. And so, the Church invites us to eat and drink regularly, at this table, in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

By taking into ourselves the Body of Christ, we become one with Jesus and the Father through the Holy Spirit. Communion happens to us. Communion overtakes us. Communion is God moving toward us and inviting us closer. Communion is our reaching out toward one another and even reaching beyond the church into the world.

Christ in us gives us the strength we need to fulfill all those ministries Paul writes about in today’s Epistle. It’s Christ’s feeding us that allows us to be those who teach the faith, those who follow in practical ways, those who tell others about faith, those to teach, those who offer care, prayer, and healing, and those who in any way “build up the body of Christ.” “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine…” But we eat and drink, of the Body and Blood, so that we might grow up into Christ.

Bread for today is a gift. Bread for tomorrow is our prayer. We are called to live with hope and with faith for whatever is ahead. We have challenges in our personal lives and we may have worries. God invites us to have faith that when tomorrow comes, God will give us the resources we need. We have problems that seem unsolvable, but with tomorrow’s bread, perhaps God will also give us new answers, creative solutions, and deeper insight.

Late summer is a good time for us to think about what it means to live by faith. There is still time for vacation, but plans are already being made for a new year at school, a new program year at church, a new season for business or work of any kind. In what ways, might God invite us to look for “bread for tomorrow?” In what ways are we invited to clear out the cupboards, the hiding places, the storage areas that build up our confidence, and rely on God for strength, for nourishment, for sustenance? Might God be calling us to a new place of faith? Might God be calling us to live a little more closely in touch with him, listening more closely for the new word, looking for intently for that which will feed and sustain and grow the Body of Christ into the future?

Jesus reminds us of the Communion that matters more than any other—the union with him, through his Body and Blood. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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