Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. … I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:35, 51
I love baking bread. While there are important skills needed to bake a great-tasting loaf, there is also a lot of grace involved. I don’t have to be a perfect cook to bake bread, and yet, practice, experience, good ingredients and a good recipe add to the beauty and scent of well-baked bread. Following Jesus naming himself the Bread of Life, I think of baking bread as an apt metaphor for God’s work with who we are as the church.
The most simple bread recipes require very basic ingredients: flour (lots), water or milk, oil, yeast, sugar, and a dash of salt is all that’s needed. As with bread, we in the church need a lot of people who are like flour in the community of faith – the solid staple of who we are together. Water or milk is the ingredient which, when mixed with flour, moistens and connects the flour. Without water, the flour doesn’t become bread. People who connect and hold us together help us become a more effective church. The oil in bread is the binding ingredient. Water and flour make paste, but when a small amount of oil is mixed in, the flour and water are held together in a more dynamic interaction. Our relationships in our faith communities need people who can more effectively bind us in dynamic, faithful interactions. Yeast is the leaven, the small amount which, when mixed in, lifts and raises the dough, dramatically increasing its size and character. There are people of faith who are like leaven in our churches, who, aligned with the Spirit, share a vision for what we can be together and help us grow in our ministry and mission. Bread without salt and sugar ends up being rather bland. We need both salty and sweet to make a more flavorful loaf – and community of faith.
After combining the ingredients, before all the flour is added in, the moist dough needs to be vigorously stirred and mixed for a short time (too long and the dough becomes stiff). Bread dough needs this, to “encourage” the ingredients to interact with each other and bring out the best flavor and characteristics of each ingredient. Even though we may dislike adversity and challenges in the church (too many and we can become stiff as well), it is these situations which can also encourage and inspire us to develop and bring out the best in each other.
The next steps for bread, are to slowly add in the rest of the flour, then knead. It is the working of the dough through kneading, pushing down, turning and pushing down again and again until the dough becomes bound together, which develops the resilience necessary for the yeast to be effective. It is our work together as disciples of Christ in our churches, where we can patiently allow the “kneading” of God to work us, push and turn us, and shape us into a more cohesive, resilient community.
It takes a long time of raising to allow the yeast to lift, stretch, lighten, and increase the dough. Some bread recipes call for the first raising to be punched down and allow for a second raising to best get the dough ready for shaping into loaves. We need time in our communities of faith for the Spirit of God to work through us and lift the vision and raise us into the most flavorful possibilities of who we can become.
Now, the dough gets punched down and gently molded into the loaf shape we want to have and then allow it to raise once again. This is the time when we begin to see and smell the potential of what the bread will look like. How happy we are in the church, when we begin to see and sense God’s vision of what we can be, begin to take shape!
The loaf of bread dough is then baked in a hot oven until it is done, cooled down, and finally shared to give nourishment and sustenance. The aroma and flavor of freshly baked bread are heavenly! Sharing the bread with others in community adds to and completes the pleasure of the hours of work that was involved in making the bread. Breaking bread together, whether in a potluck or during communion, form and shape us together as a community of faith. As we enjoy and appreciate the heavenly aroma and flavor of who we are together, we are sharing in the ongoing presence of Christ, the bread of life – filled and fulfilled – and in Christ, filling and fulfilling God’s vision for us to be nourishing and sustaining witnesses to the heavenly wonder of God’s transforming grace and living presence in our world.
Bread of Life, thank you for the ways you nourish and sustain us. Help us, as your church, to share your flavorful, aromatic, live-giving love in our world through the ways we love and feed one another and through the ways we serve and give of ourselves. Thank you for your nourishing, sustaining presence in all we are and all we do. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.