Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 4th July 2021.
When we were very small, we were, literally, spoon-fed. As we grew up at home, we continued to be ‘spoon-fed’, in the sense that food appeared on the tables at meal times, and we did not necessarily think about how it had been prepared or where the ingredients came from.
It was perhaps only when we left home that we came to appreciate how much our mothers and fathers did for us. We learned that clothes didn’t wash and iron themselves, that baths and toilets didn’t clean themselves, and that if we wanted to eat, we had to go out and buy food and learn how to cook it. I can remember when I was at university in 1960s buying my first recipe book, and my mother giving me a copy of one of her favorite recipe books, the Be-Ro book. (Perhaps some of you can remember that one!)
When we get towards the end of our lives, I think we worry less about the food we eat and more about the question of what life is all about. To the Christian, bread can have several connotations, from the bread on our tables at home, to the Lord’s Prayer (‘Give us this day our daily bread …’), to the bread consecrated at a Communion service, and to spiritual bread. Jesus said: ‘I am the bread of life. In other words, Jesus was saying: ‘I am what you need to be nourished spiritually.’
So not only do we need in life to learn skills in order to feed and look after ourselves in a physical sense, but we need to develop skills to feed ourselves in a spiritual sense. Jesus is the source of that spiritual food. In that sense he is the ‘bread of heaven’ that sustains us.
Without that spiritual bread, we may feel that there is something important missing from our lives. Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian writer, who wrote War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and many other novels, was a rich man. He had a large house and a family of thirteen children. But in an autobiography he said that he almost came to the point of suicide. He asked himself, “Is there anything in my life which will not be annihilated by the inevitability of death which awaits me?” He found the answer among Russia’s peasants, in their faith in Jesus Christ, the ‘living bread’.
Jesus is the spiritual bread that can feed us, that can make such a difference to our lives. If we refuse his invitation to accept him as such, we miss out in this life. Whereas, if we accept him, we can find real life, not just in this world, but in the life he promises in the world to come.
So how do we define this ‘bread of life’ of which Jesus speaks? A Scottish priest, William Barclay, who wrote a commentary on John’s Gospel, summed it up like this:
“ … what did Jesus mean when he said: ‘I am the bread of life? It is not enough to regard this as simply a beautiful and poetical phrase. Let us analyse it step by step. (1) Bread sustains life. It is that without which life cannot go on. (2) But what is life? Clearly by life is meant something far more than mere physical existence. What is this new spiritual meaning of life? (3) Real life is the new relationship with God, that relationship of trust and obedience and love of which we have already thought. (4) That relationship is made possible only by Jesus Christ. Apart from him, no one can enter into it. (5) That is to say, without Jesus there may be existence, but not life. (6) Therefore, if Jesus is the essential of life, he may be described as the bread of life. The hunger of the human situation is ended when we know Christ and through him know God. The restless soul is at rest; the hungry heart is satisfied.”
The consequences of accepting this bread of life are twofold.
Firstly, by accepting the bread of life and acknowledging Jesus in our lives, the human heart finds what it is searching for; and life ceases to be mere physical existence and becomes a source of inner peace.
Secondly, we realise that even beyond this life we are safe. We know that there is something beyond this earthly life, which can help us cope with the prospect of death and again give us that inner peace.
When we take the bread at Communion, we should not just look on it as physical bread, but as spiritual bread, something that brings us nearer to the person it represents. Napoleon was once asked by one of his generals, which was the happiest day of his life. The general was probably expecting Napoleon to mention one of his great battle victories. But the Emperor replied thoughtfully, “Ah – the happiest day of my life? That was the day of my first Communion. I was near to God then.”
So when we attend Holy Communion, let us remember how near to God we are, and not simply accept the physical bread, but in our hearts confirm our commitment to the one whom it represents, the one who is our spiritual bread, the ‘bread of heaven’ and the ‘bread of life’. Amen.