Ordinary Bread

There is an old story about a tyrant in a far away land who controlled his kingdom with an ironclad grip. There was only one area he could not control: his people’s belief in God. He called together his wisest advisors and asked them where God could be hidden so that the people could not find God. One proposed, “Let us bury God beneath the ocean floor.” The king deliberated but came to the conclusion that one day scientific advances would make it possible for people to explore the ocean’s floor. Another suggested that God be hidden on the dark side of the moon. Again the king thought scientific advancements would bring explorers to the moon. Finally his wisest advisor said, “Let us hide God in the ordinary events of the day: in the sunrise and sunset, in a babies smile, in the voice of a loved one. No one would ever think of looking there. They’ll never find God.” So it was done. And it is said that they are still looking for God even today.

The Gospel story beginning at John 6: 24 opens with a crowd of folks who are trying to find Jesus. He had, basically, snuck away after the feeding of the five thousand where Jesus had showed them the extraordinary in the ordinary. Our passage today starts with “So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.” (John 6:24) But when they find him, he knows that even though he feed them all from five loaves and two fish that they still did get what he was about. He says to them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” (John 6:26). Even after having witness such a great miracle, the bigger meaning that it pointed to has remained hidden in plain sight. Jesus finally spells out the great truth concealed in the ordinary bread they had eaten. He says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

In today’s world we have become very aware, even suspicious, or sometimes fearful of things hidden or concealed, like hidden costs, hidden chemicals in our food, hidden agendas, or computer viruses. We have become more apt to read the small print or learn what questions to ask or to always investigate further. In our consumer culture and our information age, we are becoming better and better at looking for the hidden and the concealed. Yet, somehow our growing awareness and investigative skills have not benefited our ability to see God more clearly in the ordinary around us, instead we end up with The Da Vinci Code. The wisdom of the third advisor in my opening illustration, to hide God in the ordinary, seems to continue to hold true still today. Yet, Jesus picks something most basic, ordinary, and absolutely necessary, the food we eat. Our bodies need nourishment constantly and no one on this earth can survive with out eating. Eating becomes so much a part of everyday for us that most of us, in our abundant life, give it little though.

Growing up, my family almost always said a grace when my parents, brother, and I sat together for a meal. We used the same grace every time.

We thank you Lord, for this our food, for life and health and every good. May Manna to our souls be given, the bread of life sent down from heaven. AMEN.

As children, we were encouraged to learned the grace and say it along with everyone. The funny thing is that for the longest time I thought that “May Manna” was one word. I never admitted it to anyone that I never knew what “may-manna” was except that I knew that it was “to my soul be given.” It wasn’t until I was in my early teens that these words, which had become so common and ordinary through repetition, that my father finally straightened it out for me. He explained to me about the “bread from heaven” that God send down to Moses and the Children of Israel starving in the wilderness. For almost ten years, the truth of those words had been hidden and concealed from me, simply because they had become as ordinary as our family’s need to eat.

The truth that is revealed in that simple Grace, said before a meal, is the same truth revealed in today’s Gospel passage. The Truth is Jesus Christ. As he says to those who were searching for him in our passage from John, so he says to us this day, when he points to the truth communicated so innocently and perfectly in a simple piece of bread, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

The Rev’d Rob Park