March 1, 2020
Bread for the Journey
Retreat leaders Matthew, Sheila, and Dennis Linn in their book Sleeping With Bread tell the story that “During the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children, who had lost so much, could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally rest. All through the night the bread reminded them, “Today I ate, and I will eat again tomorrow.”
Most of us do not need to hold a piece of bread in our hands at night to find peace. Thankfully most of us cannot fathom what it is like to be a refugee in the time of war. According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees there are now over 70 million refugees in the world. Of those 70 million, 40 million are internally displaced and 3 million are asylum seekers. The numbers have been going up every year.
Sometimes when we read the account of manna in the wilderness, we forget that the Hebrews were refugees with no means to cultivate food for survival. They fled into the wilderness to escape the forced labor of Egypt’s pharaohs. Just like the children from WW II, and the millions of Syrian children of today, they were traumatized and fearful. God’s provision of manna, a bread-like substance, enabled these former slaves to find some peace.
Central to this account of manna from heaven is the belief that God will continue to take care of the Hebrews. God is not only the liberator of those in bondage, but God provides for the people all the way to the Promised Land. This Exodus holy story also introduces the concept of “enough” as it pertains to God’s provision of food. Each day, the manna is just enough bread for the journey, no more and no less than what the people need. Hoarding did not work. The hoarded manna went wormy and moldy.
This morning in worship, perhaps we can use our empathy and our theological imaginations to envision what life is like for refugees and what it was like for the Hebrews to be hungry and worried in the Sinai desert for forty years. We also are invited to imagine what it was like for Jesus, God’s beloved son, to fast for forty days. In terms of the biblical number of forty, I don’t usually take these numbers literally. I take them to mean a spiritually serious long time. I take them to mean kairos, God’s time, the amount of time, it takes to be changed by God. Some of us are hard nuts to crack: it might take more than forty days of Lent. Often enough that’s how long it takes us to let God in even a crack. It might take more than forty years to soften our shells. When Jesus completes his forty days of prayer and fasting, he however is equipped and filled with certainty. He knows in his heart he is ready to begin his public ministry.
Now most of us have plenty of food on our tables. Our main problem is choosing the daily menu from our pantry or what to order at the restaurant, but it could well be that we feel empty in a different way. Maybe our hearts are broken, or our lives seem a bit purposeless. Maybe faith seems to be in short supply and certain anxieties are in control of our psyches. We are not so much hungry for food, as we are hungry for bread for the journey. Might it be that a part of being human is being aware that we are not complete in and of ourselves? Might it be that to be human, is to be aware that we need God to fill our empty places, spirit spaces. Bread for the journey is the grace we need to heal and/or sustain our hearts.
Lent is that part of the church calendar, that tithe of the church year, that we set aside to examine and evaluate our faith journeys, so that when we come to Easter Sunday worship, we can sing our alleluias with a bit of integrity and joy in our voices. Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn would have us pray during Lent and all year long. They are advocates for the Prayer of Examen, where at the end of the day you take a good ten minutes to ask yourself “for what moment today am I most grateful? And for what moment today am I least grateful.” Or you could ask: “When did I give and receive the most love today? Balanced by, “When did I give and receive the least love today?” Or even as simple as, “What was today’s high point and today’s low point?”
At the end of each Session meeting at Ark and Dove, the leaders, which guide our church, ask of themselves where God seemed closest in the meeting and where God seemed furthest away. This simple spiritual act of sharing builds us up as a team. It might be that any of us taking stock of our spiritual well-being on a daily basis would be more meaningful than giving up chocolate.
Bread for the journey could quite literally mean approaching the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper with an attentive and open heart. Like any act that we perform on a regular basis, even the Lord’s Supper can become routine. What if this morning, during the choir or band anthem, we used that three minutes to open our hearts to the imploring of Jesus that we do this in remembrance of him. This Jesus who, though he was famished, did not let Evil tempt him into transforming rocks into bread. This Jesus would feed our hearts with the Passover’s unleavened bread now called in Christendom, the Eucharist.
About ten years ago, during Lent, we as a congregation read a book entitled Take This Bread by Sara Miles, who placed her trust in liberal causes and leftist movements. She ached to do the right thing and help people in need, and she labored hard, but still was coming up empty. Something was missing from her life and she was hungry. One day this hunger was so deep, she did what she never thought she would do, she wandered into a church worship service, hoping that nobody would notice her. We have all at certain times tried to go unnoticed, haven’t we? She heard the words, “Jesus invites everyone to his table,” and she went forward and before she knew it someone was putting a piece of fresh crumbly bread in her hands saying, “the body of Christ.”
She writes this, “I still can’t explain my first communion. It made no sense. I was in tears and physically unbalanced: I felt as if I had just stepped off a curb or been knocked over, painlessly, from behind. The disconnect between what I thought was happening – I was eating a piece of bread; what I heard someone else say was happening – the piece of bread was the body of Christ,[She was in an episcopal Church] a patently untrue or at best metaphorical statement; and what I knew was happening – God, named “Christ” or “Jesus” was real and in my mouth –[and this] utterly short circuited my ability to do anything but cry.” All the way home, shocked, she scrambled for explanations, trying to rationalize or understand her experience of being fed by God. “I couldn’t reconcile the experience with anything I knew or had been told. But neither could I go away: For some inexplicable reason, I wanted that bread again. I wanted it all the next day after my first communion, and the next week, and the next. It was a sensation as urgent as physical hunger, pulling me back to the table at St Gregory’s through my fear and confusion.”
Maybe the bread for your Lenten journey is joining a book group and deepening or developing some spiritual friendships. We are reading an excellent book of daily devotions written by Presbyterian Pastor Jill Duffield called Lent in Plain Sight, and we still have room in four of our five small groups. Each Devotion takes about six minutes to read and is followed by a few questions for reflection. The best part of a book group is to share with others how you are touched by or have some differences with the author. The best part of a book group is growing through prayerful discussion. Duffield admits in Friday’s reading that she strives for things that moths destroy , that she expends the bulk of her energy acquiring possessions and worrying that there is not enough stored up; she forgets that Jesus is the bread for the journey because Jesus is the bread of life. And therefore “we need not get ourselves in a tailspin of acquisition, a relentless spiral of coveting…that always leaves us hungry for more ….because the body of Christ offers life abundant. Maybe our generous support of One Great Hour of Sharing can pull us out of some unhealthy tailspins?
Maybe instead of giving things up, we could plan for more family meals or more meals with the friends we miss. Sundays in Lent are not fast days, but feast days and Presbyterian professor, Sara Covin Juengst, reminds us in her book Breaking Bread that feasts are biblical, that food is God’s gift and sacramental, that Jesus loved to celebrate with his friends over meals, that hospitality is an expression of Grace. Certainly I am grateful for our Shrove Tuesday Pancake supper and the way it nurtured our congregation. The sharing of food breaks down barriers and builds up relationships. Maybe it is time in this Lenten season to reach out to friends. Maybe it is time to build on our Souper Bowl soup success and generously support the CAP food pantry.
Bread for the journey is any spiritual practice that helps us to align our souls with Christ Jesus who longs to feed us with grace.