Address 1: Bread as Story

As some of you may already know from the age of 7 to about 14, I lived in Skelsmergh, it’s a small community made up of a few scattered houses and one village just outside Kendal on the edge of the Lake District.

Looking back it was a great privilege to spend some of my formative years in that place, though of course you don’t realise it at the time.

One family had a particular place of esteem in the church and wider community. I spent a good deal of time with during these years. They were farmers and so as a young boy I would spend days and afternoons with them up at Burton House.

What more could a young boy ask than the chance to learn to drive tractors or play in barns and be well fed?

 For food was always plentiful and one of the highlights was Sunday tea. To a boy like me mountains of fly pie, other cakes and especially bread and jam was a glimpse of heaven.

Perhaps heaven might be afternoon tea and the most amazing thing was because they had it early about 4, I could get another tea when I got home. Is it any wonder I am the shape I am? Simply white bread, thick with butter with jam on top, simplicity itself but close to heaven.

For most of us bread, such a staple of our diet, the staff of life as it’s sometimes called is in some way linked to our stories. It’s interesting that the food writer and chef Nigel Slater’s auto-biography is entitled ‘Toast’ for him, as for me, as for many of us memories are formed around this simple food, yeast, water, salt and flour.

So what of your memories, do you have similar memories to me? And what about now, is bread or toast or a teacake the thing you turn to when you need a bit of comfort.

Indeed perhaps the best comfort food might be bread pudding or bread and butter pudding, the best of both worlds but that’s another story.

For now think about how bread is woven into your story, how the smell of toast or a teacake or of freshly baked bread takes you to another time and place.

Just the other day I was talking to someone who remembered how their mother baked bread for them early in the morning and because she lived close by she used to tie a freshly baked loaf on the door handle, which would then fill the house with a wonderful aroma. Such was the memory you could almost sense she could smell the loaf as we talked.

Bread is of course part of our story as followers of Christ. We break it to share it week by week.

And this meal which means so much to us with the breaking of bread at its heart wasn’t some random idea that Christ happened upon when he was having tea with his friends. He compared himself with something was both ordinary and extraordinary, for those gathered in the upper room.

Bread was something central to the Jewish story.

And bread is at the centre of who we are as followers of Christ and in some way is part of our story as individuals gathered here, from one church but with lots of different stories.

So how has bread been part of your story, that’s the first thought I want you to spend a bit of time exploring as we begin this day together.

And secondly, I want you to also consider how often you think about bread now?

Is it something you take for granted or pay little attention too, something you quickly throw in the toaster or is it something you take more time over, maybe make your own bread.

A few years ago there was a bit of a craze for bread makers. It was the latest thing to have. They seem to have declined in popularity now, although the programmes that invite us to bake, like the Great British Bake Off continue to grow in popularity.

Yet despite those enjoyable distractions that set our mouths watering, I’m not sure we bake as much as we once did, it’s much easier to leave it to Mr. Warburton or if we are feeling extravagant the artisan baker as we buy posh bread.

But like most things we sometimes need to be connected or re-connected to them in a very basic way to understand them more and also to see how that can have an impact on the rest of our lives.

A friend of mine, having spent much of his life living at a frantic pace has over the last few years rediscovered the joys of the simple things in life. One of them is making bread so he puts time in his diary to bake bread and listening to him talk about it seems to be one of the most fulfilling moments in his week.

There is something about doing things which connects us with them more deeply, this applies to making bread but more seriously to other things too, poverty for example.

I recently took a funeral of a woman who became a widow in her early twenties, she had two young sons and when they were young they had nothing. She had to work every hour she could to, and this was her sons’ phrase ‘put bread on the table’.

Bread was the word to describe having what they needed.

Unless you’ve really been poor and I mean really struggled to put bread on the table then it is hard to see poverty as anything other than an idea. Yet if we have some experience of it then it changes how we see things, in fact I would say helps make us more generous, more willing to share our bread with others.

Jesus didn’t seem particularly bothered who he shared his bread with. In contrast to those who enjoyed rules and regulations, Jesus came and eat with all the people that were lost and unseen, the sinners and the outcasts, the poor, his bread was for all, full stop.

Making bread connects us more deeply with ourselves and in some symbolic way with the world around us. When was the last time you thought about where your daily bread comes from?

So bread as story, bread as part of our story then and now, bread as part of story and bread as part of the story of our faith and of the world.

And so bread is where we begin and end today and after each little talk you are invited to get involved in making bread, in silence of course, it’s not compulsory but I hope it might be helpful and after each talk we’ll make something different.

This time a basic loaf or roll and I want you to use at least some of the time of silence to reconnect yourself with bread, through your own memories, that which you enjoy now and how bread represents so much more than its component parts.

We’ll talk about that more in my next address, so for now perhaps hold in mind some words from one of our prayers before communion ‘but you Lord are the God of our salvation, you share your bread with sinners

Chew over those words in your mind, dwell on each one and let God speak to you through them.

Address 2: Bread as Identity

A walk around the supermarket is a reminder that our tastes in food are much more diverse than they once were. The ‘foreign food’ sections have expanded, the lines have blurred and we can find pasta alongside rice and so on.

It is a good thing reflects that we are a diverse people with various tastes and yet there is something lost here too for when we have everything all the time we lose something of what makes a food special and a treat.

That aside but there is a connected issue here that brings us back to bread, in that bread is in some way tied to who we are.

The French have their baguette, croissant and so on, the Italians, their pizza and ciabatta, the Austrians their semmel roll which I much enjoyed last summer, the Irish soda bread, Ethiopian Flat Bread, the Spanish their tortilla and so on. What about we English?

Well tour the country and you will find particular bread recipes, often involving another element, think for example of the Hot Cross Bun that is in many ways a peculiarly English delight and very appropriate to think of as we soon begin Lent.

Bread is about identity.

That is certainly true for us as Christians, it is what defines us, we gather to break bread and though there are all kinds of different interpretations of what that means across the different denominations we would be united in the sense that bread is important, it is part of our identity.

In my first address I wanted to get you to think about bread in relation to your life, to your story to think about a time past or present when bread represents something you cannot quite put into words.

I also wanted to hint that when we are disconnected from it, i.e. always just buying it off the shelf we lose something important about being where it comes from and how it is made and how that process relates in some way to our story.

To make that more explicit, in this second address I want to think about the ingredients of bread and the process that goes into making bread as being in some way metaphors that hint at the different strands of the lives that we bring with us today.

Bread is, on one level a very simple thing flour, water, salt and yeast.

So in the first instance I want you to think of these ingredients as being different strands of your life, all essential, necessary and dependent on the other to become something more. We cannot make bread without them, the ingredients of course all come in different quantities but then it seems to me that life is like that.

And to make good bread you need good ingredients. You get what you pay for as it were, get the best flour you can for example and you will as our nearest Supermarket puts it ‘taste the difference’.

And so with our own lives, we need the best from the different strands of our lives, we want to live fulfilled lives. Whilst there are times when that won’t always be possible, we sometimes have to plod and put our head down and get on with it, our desire is for the good life and making it happen by our choices.

So what might the ingredients of your life look like for you? Well, if we think about it, much of our life is normal, ordinary, necessary, perhaps this is the flour. Yet flour doesn’t do anything on its own, it needs things to be added to it.

The hand hot water needs to be just that, hand hot. It cannot be hot or cold, (well it can be but it won’t have the same effect) it needs to be at just the right temperature.

Likewise that tiny little amount of salt brings something unique.

Bread making was part of life in Jesus’ day ‘the sound of the millstone’[1]Revelation 18.22 was heard and so as ever, Jesus used ordinary and familiar things to make his point. He said ‘if salt has lost its saltiness[2]Matthew 5.13’, it’s no longer any good.

Perhaps for us, our faith, is the salt that brings flavour to the rest of your life, enables you to savour things more? But it might be something else too, trip to the footy, the stimulating conversation with a mate, the walk in the country, whatever it is we need salt to bring out the flavour.

And then there is that which makes us rise, the yeast of our life. When mixed with the other ingredients, the yeast works its magic, given time and warmth the dough doubles in size, it is enlarged. So we need yeast in our lives, to expand our horizons to enlarge our vision, to lift our heads. That happens in all sorts of ways but they’re often so easily neglected or ignored.

In the bread, each ingredient has a purpose and value, so in our lives each of us does different things and has different interests yet we are united in a sense that we need to hold the different strands in our lives in a creative tension, to help make us into bread that can nourish others as well as ourselves.

Another key element in the process is of course the kneading, the working the dough, the knocking back and bashing. It can be seen as therapy and my son Nick likes nothing better than slamming the pizza dough onto the work top. It’s a good way to work your frustrations out.

The important message here though is the sense that you don’t just place the ingredients in the bowl and do nothing, you mix the ingredients together and then knead the dough. So we need to work the dough of our lives, put in the graft so that the rising might happen.

In my first address I wanted to get you to think about bread as story, and so now I want to extend that by thinking about ingredients, how they work together in a perfect harmony to create something so simple yet something deeply delicious.

You come here with a wealth of memories and experiences, things that have shaped each one of you and today you have valuable time to think and to be and hopefully as you think of the different ingredients that make up a loaf of bread, you can see it as a way to look at the different ingredients of your life.

And we do that here in the quiet knowing that one vital ingredient in making bread is unseen and not easily quantified, having kneaded the dough we put it in a warm place and wait for it to rise, a process that cannot be ignored or bypassed.

So this day we wait on God, using a symbol that he has given to seek his eternal nourishment and be fed in mind body and spirit.

Waiting was what the Israelites did in the desert waiting for the God who has led them there to feed them, and so he does, bread from heaven.

When Jesus later described himself as being the bread of life[3]John 6:35 then, his words went deep into their DNA he was making connections for them, uniting himself with their story, inviting them to make connections, to see things differently to understand that bread means so much more than the ingredients that make it what it is.

So it is for us, bread is something through which we encounter Christ here and now, ‘we break this bread to share in the body of Christ’ We come together as Christ’s body, Sunday by Sunday as well as later today gathered around the high altar and are united with him through bread.

Jesus comes to us in bread and so in the next period of quiet think about the ingredients of bread and how they might represent different strands in our lives, is the balance correct to make a good loaf, bread that will nourish you and those whom you’ve been given to love. 

Address 3: Bread as Nourishment

I’m not very good about timing and eating. I know I should be more disciplined. I know it would do me good. But I’m not good at being organised for breakfast or often taking a proper break at lunchtime and then I likely eat too much in the evening. Wrong time and all that. Perhaps I need to change my habits and maybe Lent that begins in a few days is a good time to do it but habits are well entrenched.

One habit which I rather enjoy is, if ever I am feeling peckish in the afternoon, I think Oh yes I fancy a piece of toast, I get a piece of bread from the freezer pop it in toaster and simply cover with butter (I know it’s all bad) but wow, it’s just the thing.

Butter melting into the bread, what an image if there are no mouths watering at this moment then something is wrong. That afternoon pause is a joy, whereas breakfast is more of a duty. In fact I savour that toast more than I would in the morning.

In the morning I just want to get on with my ‘to do’ list, so an afternoon piece of toast comes at the perfect moment. It puts you on till dinner.

I begin there because I wanted to use this third address to think about hunger, nourishment and savouring.

One of the great Christian traditions is that of fasting, of giving something up. It’s a discipline rooted in inviting us to think that there is something spiritual to be learnt about hunger.

Hunger of course can be a desperate thing when it isn’t something you seek, indeed it is one of the blights of our world that we have plenty while others have nothing.

Yet if we undertake it of our own freewill, then hunger from fasting, a deliberate decision to abstain has much to offer us. It is a discipline that invites us to think about what we hunger for. Thinking about fasting today is timely too and as we approach Lent perhaps it’s something for you to consider.

But aside from food, what do you hunger for in your life?

Time off, more space for holiday and refreshment, time for family and friends, a longing to know more deeply God’s love for you. Do you hunger for a greater for communion with one another and with God? Do you hunger to create more time for the things that important to you.

I guess amongst this list there are things we all hunger for. It’s a reminder that we face the same challenges are all easily distracted, that’s why days like this are so important, time to think and realign the direction of our life.

I guess it can be tempting (a very Lent word) to not bother about making changes knowing that we sometimes slip back into those familiar and often frustrating patterns for living. Yet we can do something, we do make changes, God works with the desire of our hearts. Small steps can take us on a long journey.

I’ve used the example of disorganised eating patterns as an example of where I should make some change (though the hot buttered toast will still figure somewhere) it needs to be done because when I don’t schedule my time properly, I end up eating the wrong thing at the wrong time – not good.

The same can be true in our lives with God, we don’t seek out and give time to that which nourishes and sustains us. We turn to God in times of need and desperation, there’s nothing wrong with that God is always there but is not God worth more to us than that?

This faith we share is the salt in our lives and it brings out the flavour in every strand of them, helps us see things differently, enriches our living rather than diminishes it.

Yet we can treat our life with God in Christ as if it were the cheap bargain basement bread, filled with e numbers that tastes a bit like cardboard. Whereas if we are to savour the bread which truly sustains us, we need to be deliberate and take time out to be nourished and sustained.

In Lent we remember the temptation of Jesus, in replying to the devil who invites the hungry Jesus to turn stones into loaves of bread he says ‘Man does not live by bread alone[4]Matthew 4.4.

Jesus isn’t saying that bread is unimportant rather than we need to see it as more than just food, bread is a metaphor for what we need to nourish our souls.

As followers of Christ we desire for his life in us to be our cherished centre and that, to return to my beginning is what fasting is about.

Creating space by missing a meal or by cutting something out, by watching less tele or by drinking less wine to create more space for that which we hunger for most in this life.

And we fast joyfully, we don’t do it to look impressive or to moan, we do it joyfully because it represents our desire to make more space for the God of love to come and dwell.

In the Lord’s Prayer we ask that God gives us our daily bread. That bread then isn’t just about food for the body but for the soul to be fed by love.

That love can sometimes be elusive yet we need days like this to punctuate our busy lives to remind us what is really important, what we really hunger for and do something about it.

It is hard when you live on your own, though you think it might be otherwise, to make time to savour things.

I can get lost in doing and being busy and over the last few months we have been busy, lots has been going on, in the midst of it all, as I once described it to a friend, I can feel like cheap margarine being too thinly spread over really rubbish bread.

It’s not a good place to be and though that does sometimes happen, thankfully I have come to know the signs and I have got better at stepping back and saying no, reflecting what I really think I am here for.

I’m so thankful for a little box room in my house, a room with my icons on the wall, a couple of candles and chairs, a table, prayer books a room that though I may only spend 40 minutes or an hour in every day that reminds me who I am before God, re-orientates me.

In some way the same must be true for you, it may not be being busy that’s the problem for you but there will be something that gets in the way but we’re all united in hungering for the one who described himself as the bread of life. The one who says ‘I am that which can nourish you forever.’

In the Gospel the reply comes which we surely echo that Christ will ‘give us this bread always.’[5]John 6:34 Christ is the bread life to whom we bring our hunger and I leave you with the question how can you carve out of your time or your space, that precious and vital time to be nourished, what would it look like for you?

Our next bread, will be a savoury bread, one to delight in and savour a reminder of our need and desire to savour our life with Christ and let us we hold in the silence those great words from the Gospel of St. John ‘give us this bread always.’

Address 4: Bread as Invitation

One of the most powerful moments in our service of Holy Communion is when the bread is broken and the priest says ‘we break this bread to share in the body of Christ.’

Jesus, St. Luke’s Gospel tells us was made known to them in the breaking of bread[6]Luke 24:35. It was in a pub in Emmaus. There Jesus broke the bread and the disciples who up till then hadn’t recognised him suddenly got it, the penny dropped.

I have a little icon of that scene at home, it’s on the cover of your booklet and it speaks to me because there is something about sharing a meal together which speaks of Christ being present.

The early Christians got it. The breaking of the bread was at the centre of who they were. They understood that this meal was central to who they were and through it they encountered Christ.

I don’t think they worried about detail or about how to and what exactly happens to the bread and wine and so on. The centuries that followed would see plenty of time spent on that kind of discussion. They just broke bread together and knew deep down they were meeting the risen Christ.

It was and still is a powerful metaphor for what God is like. Meals are times of hospitality and sharing and so the hospitality and welcome of God is revealed in this sacred meal.

All these years on, nothing has changed and the breaking of the bread speaks powerfully to us not just of Christ being broken for us on the cross but of our own brokenness and desire to be made whole by love.

It’s an action that expresses something in a way that words cannot, it expresses something of the feelings of those present, the journeys that have brought us all together.

That’s what happens at the Eucharist we celebrate when my Cell Group meets. I’ve mentioned before that we spend a day or two together chatting and talking.

When we gather around the table at the end of the day, the fragments of our lives, often bits of brokenness, questions and doubts and hopes are somehow represented by the bread being broken.

But that’s not all something else happens too as we share that bread, we are made whole in Christ.

When we share communion together a bit later, we shall use one loaf, I will break it in half and then leave you to break of a piece for each other.

It may be unfamiliar territory, something they do up there as it were, but as we pass round our bread that fragment that you break off and give to your brother or sister in Christ in some way represents your bit of brokenness. Yet importantly you’re not alone, for as we share our brokenness we united with each other and with Christ for ‘though we are many we are one body’.

I wanted to talk a bit about brokenness in this last address because it leads into our Eucharist at the end of the day. So much is expressed by our actions at that service, both for us and also for God for it is as we break bread that we glimpse the unflinching hospitality of God. Sometimes the church can appear to be for a club, and we have rituals and rites to reflect that. Confirmation is one.

We have a few adults who will be confirmed in a few weeks, it is a moment for rejoicing but for me connecting confirmation and receiving the bread and wine is wrong. Confirmation is right and good we need moments in our journeys of faith to affirm our faith. However linking confirmation with God’s hospitality seems more about our rules and regulations than about the God who invites all to his table.

After all that’s the message we wish to convey to the wider community in Whitkirk and East Leeds. Our neighbours need to know needs to know that though there is brokenness there is healing and wholeness to be found in God, who turns no one away, who welcomes all whatever.

And so as God welcomes us, so we need to take seriously our calling to embody to welcome others, to live in the hospitality of God.

You’ve heard me say before that the faith we share is not really about inviting people into a set of ideas and concepts but about into a relationship with the living God who pours his love over us every single day, that gift is symbolically expressed as we break bread.

It’s not good to say, all are welcome and then say but you need to be confirmed to receive the bread of life. God doesn’t say come when you’re signed up, he simply says come as you are.

Sara Miles and American writer, describes her conversion in a book called ‘Take this bread’. She had been an atheist, yet she stumbled into a church and received the bread of life, tears flowed and things changed for ever, she had come home.

She went on to set up a food pantry for the homeless of San Francisco, modelled on what had happened to her, where all are welcome, all who come receive food. If that church had said no, what would have happened?

As I have prepared these addresses the sense that we need to discuss this as Christ’s body has grown in importance for me because when we share this meal, when we timidly, boldly, bravely and with awe dare to hold out our hands. We receive the bread of life. We come home.

That’s not to say that it’s not hugely worthwhile to prepare to receive the bread of life nor indeed that thought shouldn’t go in to teaching around it, rather that the sacrament isn’t about our worthiness but about God’s boundless generosity and grace, who gives and goes on giving even when we stuff it up, time and again.

So when we break bread, it reflects our brokenness and how when we come and receive and share, we are made whole and having received such a gift it should make us a people rooted in the hospitality of God, ready to share our bread with all who come looking.

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting to a couple who had been married for 60 years they spoke of how they met, at an airfield both medics doing National Service, she arrived and the staff canteen was closed. So what to do?

Well she glimpsed this chap having his sandwiches outside, he saw her invited her over, shared what he had with her, they didn’t know it then but that moment would change the rest of their lives. A bit of romance of Valentine’s Day.

More seriously that moment for them seemed sacramental, a sign of God’s grace and if he hadn’t offered to share what he had then he might not have married the woman who would shape the rest of his life.

We receive God in the bread and things change and we’re invite to share in his redeeming hospitality with those whom we have been given. To open our hearts and hands, our pantries and share. Joyfully, recklessly even without any hope of return but simply because when we do it we draw near to the very heart of God.

And when we share, like my married couple of 60 years, strange and exciting things happen.

So in this last little chunk of silence before we have the privilege of gathering around the high altar, think of the great hospitality of God, who takes our brokenness represented in the breaking of bread, and invites us to share in the hospitality of God.

To share what we have to open our table to the honoured guest and savour the bread that gives us life.

References   [ + ]

1. Revelation 18.22
2. Matthew 5.13
3. John 6:35
4. Matthew 4.4
5. John 6:34
6. Luke 24:35