Creation Care in a Plastic Age

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It is hard to imagine our lives today without plastics. We’ve become dependent on them in most aspects of our lives. Nonetheless, plastics pose one of the greatest ecological threats we face today. Plastic pollution, especially marine plastic pollution, is doing incredible harm to our planet.

Plastics are incredibly durable synthetic materials that can take hundreds of years or more to break down. In 1950, approximately 1.5 million tons of plastics were produced worldwide. By 2015, plastics production had increased to a whopping 322 million tons. Forty percent of all plastics produced are used in packaging alone. Roughly half of the plastics produced in any given year are disposed of after only one use. Less than 20 percent of plastics are recycled. Consequently, about 35 million tons of plastic pollution is created each year, of which between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons wind up in the world’s lakes, rivers and oceans either as macroplastics or microplastics.

Macroplastics are pieces of plastic 5mm or larger in diameter. They enter our waterways and oceans through litter, direct dumping or inadequate waste management. Single-use plastic bags are arguably the most harmful of macroplastics in a marine environment. Worldwide we use some 500 million of these bags every year with devastating consequences. I’m sure we’ve all seen photographs of plastic bags in the stomachs of whales, sea turtles and sea birds.

Microplastics are pieces of plastic less than 5 mm in diameter, such as microbeads, fibres from synthetic fabrics such as polyester, and degraded macroplastics. These enter our waterways though our sewage systems. Even jurisdictions with sewage treatment systems aren’t able to remove all microplastics. A number of studies have found the presence of microplastics in the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes and as far north as the Arctic Ocean. They pose a threat to all levels of sea life. In fact, recent studies indicate that microplastics may even pose a greater threat to marine life than macroplastics. A 2018 study found microplastics in the stomachs of a majority of certain species of fish in North Atlantic waters. We’re poisoning an important part of our traditional food supply.

Clearly, we need to stop the flow of plastics into our waterways. But how can we do that? Sigrid Kuehnemund, a member of the St. Mark’s parish community in St. John’s and Vice President, Ocean Conservation of World Wildlife Fund Canada, offers seven very simple ways we can make a significant difference:

  1. carry a water bottle and coffee cup;
  2. drink tap water;
  3. carry a reusable bag for shopping;
  4. shop in bulk;
  5. say no to plastic cutlery and plastic straws;
  6. pick up litter, especially near beaches, waterways and shorelines; and
  7. let the provincial government know that you support a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags.

As a people baptismally bound to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth, Anglicans should be front and center in the effort to stop this desecration of our planet’s oceans and waterways. But are we? Have we eliminated bottled water, disposable coffee cups, cutlery, plates, plastic straws and single-use plastic bags from our parishes, our homes and our lives? Are the loudest voices calling our provincial government to ban single-use plastic bags church voices? If we’re to take creation care seriously, we need to petition all levels of government and society as a whole on behalf of our planet. But, before we can do that with any integrity, we need to take a long hard look in the mirror and address our own contributions to plastic pollution.

Father Mark Nichols is the Associate Priest at St. Mark’s. This post was originally published in the November 2018 issue of Anglican Life.

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Can I Get a Witness? A Sermon for the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls

black protest

Swedish activist Tess Aspblund bears witness to the power of love over hate as she confronts and stares down a white supremacist’s march of over 300 in Stockholm, .

Recently, I started doing something that I promised myself I would never do again. It’s something that has been a great source of trouble and conflict in my life. I still bear many scars…not physical scars, mind you…but emotional and spiritual scars for sure. I thought I had put all of this behind me, but in the last few weeks I have had to revisit all these emotions. Yes, I recently started reading the Book of Revelation again!

Revelation and I have a history that spans the first twenty years of my life. In those twenty years my young mind was bombarded with the Book of Revelation. Honestly, it wasn’t pretty. One of my earliest memories is sitting on my grandmother’s lap in the local parish hall for a screening of the evangelistic film A Thief in the Night. It was all about the horrors of being left behind after the rapture of the church.  Pardon my French, but it scared the crap out of me. I read all the books, listened to the sermons and sang all the hymns about being ready and being left behind. I have many memories of waking up in our quiet house with my heart pounding and thinking, “Darn! I’ve been left behind!”

It’s plain to see I suffer from Post Traumatic Revelation Disorder. In that way, the Anglican Church was a great fit for me because most Anglicans think that Revelation is just too weird to bother with at all. Honestly, you’re not wrong. It is a strange book filled with images of an otherworldly Jesus, violence, science-fiction-like beasts and creatures. Its pages are peppered with xenophobic, misogynistic and triumphalist language. The bulk of it discusses, in gory detail, a series of judgments unleashed on the earth. These judgements include natural disasters, plagues, disease and war. Many theologians have wondered how in the world we let this book into our canon.

Is there anything good that we can take away from Revelation? Or should we just ignore it like we do that strange relative at family gatherings?

Our passage today is one of those most familiar to all audiences of Revelation. It begins the last two chapters of the book and the climax of not only this book, but the entire New Testament. In the last of the visions of John he sees the breathtakingly beautiful, heavenly city of Jerusalem coming down. The old heaven and earth have passed away and this is the new one. God dwells among humankind. It’s interesting that the Message translation of the bible uses the same language here as it uses in the prologue to John’s Gospel that God has moved into the neighbourhood. No more tears, no more death. The voice from the throne declares that he is making all things new. This voice, of course, is Jesus – the alpha and omega, the A to Z, the beginning and the end.

It’s a beautiful piece of writing and one that can make us quickly forget all the pain and destruction, the death and mayhem that came before it. Most interpretations that I have heard of this passage, and for all of Revelation for that matter, have tried to do just that. Forget about your pain, your suffering, your loss, your poverty, your oppression. Sometime in the future God will sort it all out. After all, Revelation is a book about the future, right? Well…I’m not convinced. Revelation is written to Christians in what is now modern day Turkey, urging them to remain faithful to Christ, to not compromise their faith to appease the Roman authorities. It is really a tale of two cities, two kingdoms. We can choose to live in Rome with its violence and brute force approach to life. Here Rome is a stand in for any earthly empire. On the other hand we can choose the heavenly Jerusalem where peace and justice prevail, where love and healing is the way.

Notice that in this passage the heavenly city is coming down, but John never details its final descent. In the meantime God has already moved into the neighbourhood. God is here among us now, but the final culmination is a work in progress. Again Jesus says “I am making all things new”, not “I have made” or “I will make”, but even right now God in Christ is making all things new. Revelation does not present an escape from the world, but a call to the renewal of this world. But neither does it make the case for a world made better simply by human ingenuity, science and progress. What it does present is the bringing together of heaven and earth, where we partner with this God who is making all things new. The story of the whole New Testament, the whole bible, is that God calls all people to take part in this renewal of all things. We see it in the creation stories of Genesis, the resurrection of Jesus, the spread of the church in Acts, and we are reminded again in the pages of the Book of Revelation.

The word that Revelation itself uses for this is witness. It does not mean one who sits on the sidelines and passively observes. No, witnesses are ones who are engaged and active. First and foremost they are followers of Jesus who do and say and go as Jesus did. So it’s significant that on this Feasts of All Saints & All Souls that we remember and give thanks for all those witnesses who have gone before us. We have seen in their lives the light and life of Christ. Often unsung and unknown to the world, but crucial to us. They took part in the making new of all things and that’s why we call them saints. The work continues because God knows there is a lot of making new left to be done. And that it why it is also significant that we have baptism today. Little Willow, precious and innocent, today joins the ranks of the witnesses. We will nurture and care for her and show her how to follow Jesus, how to join in the renewal of all things. We will show her that in a scary world, a world bent on violence, vengeance and self-gratification, that we are called to bear witness to a better way of peace, forgiveness and self-giving love.

+ And we will do this in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Rev. Robert Cooke is the Rector of St. Mark’s Church.

‘I Hate Lucy’: How Television from the Past Spoiled our Ability to Respond to the Present

I Love Lucy

Like many of my generation and younger, I bristle when I hear seniors talking about ‘What the Young People Want.’ That phrase seems to demand capitalization, since it has become the new Philosopher’s Stone for the Church these days: if we could only figure out What the Young People want, they’d all come flocking back to church, and we’d have no problem. People were asking that question when I was a ‘Young People’ and I’m not sure that my perspective was ever taken seriously. Now, as I settle into middle age, it’s hard not to be cynical when I hear people saying ‘No, this time we really need to listen to the Young People.’ Except I think I’ve finally hit on one of the biggest problems in trying to understand not just young people, but society in general today, and it starts with ‘I Love Lucy.’

In 1952, I Love Lucy was the single most popular series on American TV. It had a Nielsen rating of 67.3, which effectively meant that for every person who was watching something else, there were two people watching Lucy. It was a staggeringly popular TV show that helped define the sitcom as a genre. But fast forward 65 years. In 2017, the most popular TV series was ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ but it only had a Nielsen rating of 11.5. In other words, for every person watching that show, there were nearly eight people watching anything else! (And well they should, because The Big Bang Theory is an abysmally terrible show! 😆)

What changed? A big difference between 1952 and today is that there’s a lot more on TV than there was then. In 1952, you had a choice between watching ‘I Love Lucy’ and… static. TV was an exciting new medium, but there wasn’t a lot on yet. Shows like I Love Lucy and the Ed Sullivan show got massive audiences, in part because of their quality, but also because there was limited choice. Today, broadcast TV is only a tiny slice of the entertainment available to us. If you’re not watching The Big Bang Theory, you could be watching video clips on YouTube, binge-watching a whole series on Netflix, paying top dollar for premium shows on AMC or HBO (or pirating them online), or reliving old favourite through video on demand. There are so many possibilities that it only takes 10% of the total audience for a series to be considered a ‘smash hit’ and ‘wildly popular.’

So what does that have to do with the church? Everything. If someone points out that the kids they know like laser shows and smoke machines, people are quick to jump on the bandwagon and say ‘The Church should get a smoke machine!’ If someone else points out that their grandchildren are always on Snapchat, the answer is ‘The Church should be on Snapchat!’ Sometimes we like to combine the answers and say ‘The Church’s smoke machine should be on Snapchat!’ What we tend to forget is that we don’t live in an I Love Lucy world any more. The single most popular trend among a younger generation might still only represent a fairly small proportion of that generation. For every person who thinks the smoke machine is a great idea, there might be eight young people who thinks it’s an objectively terrible one. We can’t assume that the most popular approach will speak for a whole generation, let alone the majority.

When I was a Young Person, I loved traditional Anglican worship. My faith and vocation were formed by the Book of Common Prayer. I have developed broader tastes since then, and as a priest I can appreciate and offer a wider variety of Anglican expressions. But personally, these are the traditions that speak to me. I have known many other young people who responded to that particular flavour of religion, and there are many who still crave it today. We don’t crave it because it’s a throwback to ‘better days’ long gone, but because it still speaks, even to young people, in the world today. Worship at St. Michael’s has a profound symbolism of word and action. We use language that is at once familiar and uncommon, intelligible and yet otherworldly. Curls of incense draw our imaginations heavenward, mingling our prayers with the prayers of the saints, somehow taking us away from everyday life, but then the sharp ring of bells call our attention back to here and now, to the business of being the church in the world.

That spoke to me, and still does speak to many. But I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to assume that what appeals to me appeals to everyone. Even if I read a study that said it’s the most popular expression of Anglicanism, I wouldn’t assume that it would speak to most people. We don’t live in an I Love Lucy world any more. But we live in a church that’s starting to panic. We live in a church that is desperate to find one magic bullet that will solve all our problems, even if it means alienating those who won’t prefer that. If we’re going to be serious about responding to the reality of the world that we live in, we have to recognize that the days of assuming a single approach will appeal to most people are long gone. Of course we need to listen to young people. But we also need to recognize that there’s more than one answer to ‘What do they want?’

Fr. Jonathan Rowe is the Rector of St. Michael’s Anglican Church in Kenmount Terrace and an Adjunct Faculty Member at Queen’s College. Despite their often wildly differing approaches to the world, he and Rev. Robert are often mistaken for each other.

(Don’t) Show Me the Money: A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Creation

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There is often in a favorite movie a quote wherein one knows the movie just by hearing that quote. “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” or “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” The Godfather “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The Wizard of Oz “May the Force be with you.” Star Wars “Show me the money.” Jerry McGuire “You can’t handle the truth.” A Few Good Men Christians are called upon to handle the truth as given to us in The Bible.

Movies can also be misquoted. In The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader does not say, “Luke, I am your father.” He actually says, “No, I am your father.” In the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gecko does not simply say, “Greed is good.” It is actually much longer, “The point is ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works.”

People have favorite passages from The Bible, but The Bible can be misquoted. For example what St. Paul says in the epistle reading this morning in 1 Timothy is one of my favorite passages, but it is often misquoted. This reading is one of the great reality checks that we can have. It starts off with the observation, “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it.” We are told to be content with food and clothing and not to fall into the temptation of pursuing wealth, for simply the sake of pursuing wealth with the love of money as a golden idol in one’s heart as this course of action will result in temptation, ruin and destruction.

Here is the misquote. People often say that “Money is the root of all evil.” And that saying comes from the Bible. But, what is actually said. St. Paul said “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…” Pursuing riches can lead people to wander away from the faith. This can mean that wealth becomes a golden idol in people’s hearts. We should be acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.

On the same token was St. Paul or Jesus opposed to engaging in enterprise making money or being lazy having everything handed to us? In this Season of Creation, the message is that we need to use the resources which have been given to us more effectively. We need, as Jesus tells us in this morning’s Gospel, to strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness. St. Paul was not opposed to work and making a profit. His profession was as a tentmaker and he did support himself on his missionary journey. He would acquire material, and through his labor make the tent, and sell it for a profit so that he could live and travel to do the Lord’s work. Consider also what is written in Acts 14:14-15

A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one who worshiped God, heard us; whose heart the Lord opened to listen to the things which were spoken by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and stay.” So she persuaded us.

The important phrase here is that Lydia is a seller of purple dye, the color worn by higher parts of society. She had an exclusive clientele. She was a successful business person. She was wealthy. Faithful people like Paul and Lydia can be faithful to the Lord while plying their trade, but there are responsibilities, such as producing a good product, being fair to one’s workforce (that is to say respecting the dignity of every human being), charging a fair price, and now we would add, being environmentally conscious, either using less resources because resources are finite and/or getting more from the resources that we are using to maximize output while minimizing input. And, if we do that we will not follow a golden idol in our hearts loving money as opposed to loving God.

The reading from Deuteronomy tells us when we have our material possessions of food, houses, money, and producing more to exalt oneself, but remember the Lord who has given us the power to create this wealth and confirm the covenant of the Lord in your heart. Be fruitful and multiply. Own your possessions and don’t have your possessions own you. Plan but don’t worry excessively as the worrying won’t add to your life or what you are called to do.

In this Season of Creation, we are reminded that we are stewards of the earth. By respecting the environment and avoid putting golden idols in our hearts, we can live out our baptismal vows and be those faithful stewards of creation in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Alex Faseruk is Non-Stipendiary Associate Priest at St. Mark’s and Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Business at Memorial University.

In the Beginning Was The Bang: A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Creation (Genesis 2: 4-7, 15-24)

Hubble Goes High Def to Revisit the Iconic 'Pillars of Creation'

We are surrounded by stories in our daily lives. We share personal stories everyday on social media. We read stories in the news. Marketers craft stories to get us to buy their wares. We live in the midst of grand stories like capitalism and democracy. The church and any religious communities are founded and sustained on stories.

The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, our world, and the way things should be naturally change over time. Our understanding now is not what it was when we were children. Failure to come up with new stories or the ability to hear our stories in new ways can cause a crisis: an identity crisis, a crisis of faith, a crisis of how we live together in this world.

Something like this was happening to the Hebrew people, the Israelites. Even though they are God’s covenant people they find themselves in exile in a foreign land, cut off from their holy land, unable to worship in their holy temple in Jerusalem. Who are they now? Where is God? How do they make sense of this new reality?

It was in this period that they began telling new stories and re-telling old stories in new ways. They began compiling these stories in books. These books would become Torah, the teaching or the guidance.

One of the stories they told was of creation, and they told it in many ways – in poetry like in the psalms; in folk tales like in Job; and in Genesis, their story of origins. They were influenced by the stories around them. These stories told of violent, bloody beginnings, but their story and their God was different. They told a story of a God who brought all things into being with creativity and flare, like an artist. Another story, which we read today, told of a God who was close to the creation, intimate even. This story told of a God who had dirty hands from creating, like a gardener. This God walked and talked with the creation. This story gave humans a special place in this garden creation – to care and look after it. Humans bear the breath of God, the spirit. The human comes from the creation and is set apart to care for the creation.

Their story becomes our story, but over time this story takes on new meaning. We retell the story with us at the center. We forget our place in the garden, even forgetting that the creation is a garden. Instead of taking care we take advantage. The garden is just a resource, something for us to use. We see ourselves as separate from creation, above it even. We see creation as fixed and static. This creation becomes something evil, corrupted, something to escape.

Pretty soon we find ourselves in a crisis, in sick world, a broken polluted garden. The stories that we told ourselves seem out of touch, they don’t make sense anymore. We know that there is more to creation, more to us. We need a new story. We need to reimagine the story we have been telling ourselves.

How do we retell our story of origin?

We know more about our world then our ancestors did. Science has taught us a lot. Science is good with the how of creation and we need to include that in our story. But there is still the why of our story: why are we here? Why are things the way they are?

How do we bring those two stories – science and theology – together? It might go something like this …

In the beginning there was a bang, an explosion. This holy explosion sets in motion an ever expanding creation called life. Matter forms into stars, stars form into galaxies, more exploding stars give birth to planets like earth and their moons. And the material from those stars, celestial DNA, come together in the life forms that we know here on earth.

Over billions of years this creation gets more and more complex, more and more intricate. Until finally we emerge from creation, creation itself now conscious of its existence. The remnants of long dead stars brought to life once again. We are a mix of matter, light and spirit. We are able to reason, to create, to love.

We Christians also believe that God, the energy, the force, the presence behind all of this, moves into this creation – lives in it as a human being, like a seed planted in a garden, giving life to produce life. It’s the story of creation spilling over into recreation.

We tell this story over and over again. In fact, we act out this story in the Eucharist and in baptism – the seed of new creation planted in us, taking root and bearing fruit. Nourished at the table and through water and light, we remind ourselves of who we are, where we came from, who we belong to.

We are connected to the divine.

We are connected to each other, every one of us in this room and outside of it.

We are connected to creation. In fact, we are creation.

That leaves us with important questions that we have to struggle with:

What is our responsibility to God and each other? And in this season of creation we narrow our focus on the question, What is our responsibility to creation?

What is our responsibility as human beings and as Christians to this planet, our island home? Are we only concerned with some other place to some other time? Do we abdicate our responsibility onto God and shrug our shoulders and say it’s all in God’s hands? Or as God entrusted us with the care of this world, inviting us into the cosmically divine plan of healing, salvation and renewal?

May we struggle with these questions as we journey through the season of creation. May we do this in the name of God who is the creator, redeemer and sustainer of the universe. +

Rev. Robert Cooke is the Rector of St. Mark’s.

The above picture from NASA is called the Pillars of Creation. It is a photograph taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of interstellar gas some 6,500–7,000 light years from Earth. They are so named because the gas and dust are in the process of creating new stars, while also being eroded by the light from nearby stars that have recently formed.

 

Creation – A Sublime Gift and Legacy

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This year St. Mark’s will be joining with other parts of the Church in observing the Season of Creation, which runs from the first Sunday in September through the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4).  This is to emphasize Creation Care as an integral aspect of the Christian faith; indeed, it’s part of our baptismal covenant.  Therefore, for the next five Sundays, we will step aside from the regular Sunday lectionary and use readings appropriate to the Season of Creation. This post on creation care from Father Mark was published in the September issue of Anglican Life. 

As Anglicans, it’s our practice to renew our baptismal covenant on a regular basis. In this covenant we not only profess what we believe about God, we also make specific promises about how we’re going to live out what we believe. With this in mind, I’d like to take a closer look at how we live out one of those baptismal promises in particular.

Twenty-eight years ago the Anglican Communion adopted the fifth of the ‘Five Marks of Mission’ – to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. In 2013, the Anglican Church of Canada incorporated this mark in our baptismal covenant by adding a ninth question of inquiry: Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the earth? Consequently, for the past five years, every time we’ve renewed our baptismal covenant we’ve acknowledged care for creation as an integral aspect of the Christian faith.

It should be noted that the Anglican Communion is not alone in seeing creation care as a matter of faith. In his 2015 encyclical, Laudito Si’ – On Care for our Common Home, Pope Francis lovingly refers to our planet as “our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us”. He then goes on to lament that our…

…sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.

On the World Day of Prayer for Creation in 2017, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew jointly stated that the “earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy, for which all of us share responsibility” and that “[o]ur human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation.” They go on to point out that the reality of human history, “reveals a morally decaying scenario where our attitude and behaviour towards creation obscure our calling as God’s co-operators.” In other words, care for creation is an integral part of our calling as Christians. Indeed, neglecting to do so is to sin against our Creator, be it “by what we have done” or “by what we have left undone.”

So, just how intentional are we in honouring the last of our baptismal promises? Do we strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation? Do we strive to respect, sustain and renew the life of the earth? I would point out that “to strive” is to devote serious effort, indeed to struggle, to achieve or attain something. It is not a passive activity. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us know that we need to do better – much better – if we’re going to faithfully live out our baptismal promise to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. In future columns I’ll offer some thoughts on how we might go about that.

Father Mark Nichols is the Associate Priest at St. Mark’s.

Baking the Bread of Life: A Homily for the 12th Sunday After Pentecost

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This week we find ourselves in the middle of a five-week stretch in the lectionary where we take a break from the Gospel of Mark and focus in on chapter six of John’s Gospel. It begins with Jesus feeding of the multitude with bread and fish, followed by a long discourse between Jesus and the crowd. It’s known as the bread discourse because in it Jesus repeatedly refers to himself as bread, bread of heaven, living bread, the bread of life. Some of his hearers are intrigued but most are confused, some even hostile. The whole thing even cost him some disciples.

Why? Why such a reaction to what Jesus is saying? And what is Jesus doing when he says he is the bread of life, the living bread? What does he mean?

The comparison to bread is a powerful one. It is a staple of life for most every culture in the world. In some cultures the word for bread and life are the same. Civilization as we know it exists because of our ancestors’ ability to grow wheat and transform it into bread. It enabled them to settle down in one place, allowing science, technology and art to flourish. In the ancient world, and still today, bread was central to our basic diets. This is especially true of the poor. If you’re too poor to buy meat, veggies or fruit you can probably still afford bread. A sharp rise in the price of bread still leads to economic, political and military upheaval. Many revolutions have started because of high bread prices.

Bread plays an important role in our own lives too. The smell of baking bread taps into our olfactory senses and unlocks an array of memories and associations, triggering hunger and nostalgia. Try to imagine a family meal that doesn’t involve some type of bread. Bread brings people together. The phrase ‘break bread’ is a synonym for friendship and intimacy.

Bread itself is a very simple thing: flour, salt, water, yeast, heat. Alone these ingredients can do much for our nourishment, maybe help you survive for some time. Baked together, though, in bread and you could survive indefinitely. There appears to be something supernatural about bread. In bread we get much from a little. It’s a miracle.

Bread is mostly air – nothing. It’s those pockets of air that contain gases that pop in our mouths when we chew, sending those aromatic gases up to our olfactory sense, thus triggering all those sensations. This air or nothingness is another reason for the spiritual connotations of bread. The ruach, the pneuma, the spirit or the wind and air is in the bread. Air is associated with the spiritual because it can’t be seen or touched. It carries with it a sense of the unknown. Seeds and yeast carried on the wind are brought together to create this miracle food made mostly of air. Bread truly is a mystical food.

While made of all natural ingredients, bread is not natural. It doesn’t grow but is assembled. Though simple, bread is a complicated thing.

A farmer plants and cares for the wheat.

The wheat is transported to granaries where it is milled into various types of flour.

Flour then comes to the baker who expertly combines flour, water, salt and yeast to make bread.

In our modern world it is then packaged and transported to supermarkets and restaurants where we, the consumers, purchase and eat the bread.

It truly takes a community, a network of people, building on each other’s work to make bread.

Over the centuries we have tried to make bread more efficient and profitable. The result is flour and bread that our bodies can’t handle. Thus the rise in celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. The bread we eat today is very different from the bread that our ancestors ate 100, 200, 500, 1000 or 5000 years ago. Actually, right now bread is going through a dark time. More and more people are deciding to go without bread. In trying to make bread more efficient, cheap or profitable, we have lost the essence of what bread is. Good bread takes time. There is a process. Many people must work together.

So what does Jesus mean when he says he is the bread of life? What does it mean in our world for Jesus to be the bread of life?

Of course in the church we have sacramentalized bread and dressed it up in liturgical garb. For us, bread points to something else. Bread becomes the body of Christ, broken just like his body was broken on the cross. This simple act of coming to church, taking a piece of bread in our mouths, eating it together has become the cornerstone of much of the Christian faith. For Catholics, Anglicans, and Orthodox Christians especially, to be Christian means to eat bread together. This act, that anywhere else is an act to fulfill our physical hunger, when done here fills our spiritual hunger. Like the water and light of baptism, this sacred meal nourishes and sustains our very being.

Actually, the older I get the more I see there is not as much of a gap between spiritual and physical, between matter and mystery, between heaven and earth as I once used to think. Now I see the spiritual as deeply physical and the physical as deeply spiritual. Maybe that’s why Jesus referred to himself as the bread of life. Bread is the ultimate soul food where physical and spiritual meet. He knew that in feeding each other physically it became a spiritual encounter; in gathering to feast spiritually we receive the physical stamina to keep going.

Jesus was on to something else when he calls himself bread – the truth that it takes many people to make bread. Maybe that’s why the church is called the body of Christ. In the same way that it takes a community to make a single loaf of bread, it takes all of us to make up the body of Christ, the true bread. All of us have a part to play, an ingredient to add, a part in the recipe to contribute. If Jesus is to truly be the bread of life, then it is us, the church, who will make that bread in such a way that people will want to come and feast.

What’s behind this meal of bread and wine is the simple act of welcome and hospitality. This is so in spite of the regalia, pomp and circumstance, and bureaucracy that the church often piles on top of this simple meal. Maybe that is one of the reasons why more and more people just can’t digest the bread we’re offering them.

This meal proclaims the truth that we can’t make this bread on our own, that we can’t feed ourselves. The church is just a gathering of people who realize that good bread, living bread, is best when shared and eaten with others. We know that true community, love, reconciliation, healing and grace really only happen around the table as we break bread together.

It is here that we invite each other and the entire hungry human family to taste and see that the Lord is good.

Amen