This summer while you and I have been going about our business, archeologists have been digging in the Black Desert of Jordan, and under all that sand they unearthed something surprising: a piece of bread baked in a stone oven 14,500 years ago, made by a people called the Natufians, a people who lived in huts with round fireplaces, where they cooked meat and vegetables, as well as a kind of bread made from wild barley, wild oats and wild tubers.
Now that is an old piece of bread, for sure, but what makes it significant is that it’s older than the next oldest piece of bread ever found by five thousand years, and those who made this discovery are saying that this prehistoric piece of bread is actually changing what we thought we knew about the development of human society, because the people who made it were nomadic people.
Until now, we thought that nomadic people figured out the process of agriculture, learned to plant crops and harvest them, settled down and then came to the happy discovery of bread.
But now, because of the piece of bread found this summer, these researchers think people knew how to make bread from wild sources and it was BECAUSE these people discovered bread that they decided to settle down.
These scientists are suggesting that these people loved bread so much, found it so filling, and thought making it so worthy of their time, that they found a way to domesticate the plants used to make bread so that they could give up their nomadic lifestyle and settle down to make bread.
The discovery of bread may have been the catalyst for the agrarian revolution, which is to say, as important as we know bread has been to humanity, it may be even more important that we thought.
Sharing bread takes us the core of what it means to be human, and to the heart of what it means to live together in community.
My grandmother made homemade biscuits every morning from the time she was a teen into her nineties.
When we would go to visit, by the time we woke up she had already mixed flour, baking soda, lard, salt, and milk; she had already kneaded and rolled out the dough and used a tin can to cut out the biscuits and placed them in the oven to brown.
As we came down into the kitchen we could already smell those biscuits cooking.
Grandmother would mix up the dough, never once measured anything. She could feel in her hands how much of each ingredient she needed, because she had learned from her grandmother, who made biscuits the same way.
When we gather around the table to break bread, we remember how God has sustained us from generation to generation to generation until today.
When we eat this bread, we recall the Israelites on the desert journey, on their way from Egypt to a promised Land, who woke up each morning hungry and found bread already prepared and lying on the ground, given as a gift by God so they could continue the trip to a home God was preparing for them.
When we eat this bread, we remember Elijah on the run from Jezebel, afraid for his life, and how God gave him food to strengthen him so that he could continue his journey and ensure the name of the Lord was proclaimed to the people.
When we eat this bread, we remember how Christ fed five thousand ordinary, hungry folks like you and me with just two fish and five pieces of bread, and then said, “I am the bread of life that came down from heaven.”
Now, that crowd gathered around him; while their bellies were so full they couldn’t eat another bite, they approved of him. But when Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life,” they complained.
The people in the crowd say, “Well he might be a wonder-worker, but listen, we went to high school with this guy, and we know his Mom and his Dad, and just who does he think he is?
And so, their Yelp review on Eating with Jesus reads: “We liked the food. Good bread. Miraculously created, which you don’t find every day. Generous portions, and lots of leftovers, but the service was offensive. Jesus says he is the living bread come down from heaven. We don’t think so! One star.”
And we might ask ourselves if we are ever like that crowd: grateful to God when he provides for us, but less-enthusiastic when his words are challenging – when he requires our ultimate allegiance, or ask us to forgive one another, or commands our compassion to someone in need when its inconvenient for us.
So Jesus reminds the crowd, and any who have doubts about him, that what he is doing is in God’s character. It is in God’s character to provide for our those who hunger, to accompany those who are in trouble, and to make a way for our freedom. And no matter what people think of him, Jesus will be obedient to the Father’s will, continuing his walk to the cross.
So that when we eat this bread, we also remember that on the last night of his life, this same Jesus takes bread in his hands and gives us a new promised land, a new home, new strength for the journey, and invites us to taste and to see the that LORD is good.
When we eat this bread, we truly receive Jesus, and his real love is given to us again.
We take part in Jesus’ eternal, abundant life that lasts forever and we’re invited to sit down at a table that stretches through time.
This bread joins us to all God has already done for us, but it also stretches into the future and is also a foretaste of the feast to come.
When I was a student at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, we would worship every Thursday night in Christ Chapel. The service was open to the community, but most of those gathered were faculty, staff, and students. We worshipped together on Thursday nights because we were all out in field parishes in the surrounding community on Sundays.
Once a year we would have a homecoming for clergy and people connected to the seminary and the weekend kicked off with worship in the chapel and it would be jam-packed.
What was essentially the fellowship hall and kitchen was directly below the chapel and about half-way through that service, as we were worshipping, we could start to smell all the good food cooking downstairs. It was palpable. We could smell the fried chicken, the ham biscuits, the green bean casserole, the macaroni and cheese, and all sorts of goodies, being prepared just for us. And we would be invited to come forward and receive the Eucharist, Holy Communion, knowing there was a feast waiting.
Today Christ invites us to his table, for a foretaste of the feast the Lord is preparing. God is preparing a feast of his mercy, his love, his kindness, and his healing for you, and for me, and for the whole world.
In Christ, at his table, we are joined to all our fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers and all who are at rest in God, and we are joined to all who will come after us until the day Jesus returns to consummate all creation and take us home to be with God face to face.
This bread of Jesus has changed the course of human life. We were destined to die but now, here at this table, we are given life.
This bread changes what we thought we knew about ourselves and this world.
Here at this table we learn that we do not need to be afraid.
Taste and see, and do not be afraid of the future. Do not be afraid of the unknown. Do not be afraid that you will fail. Do not be afraid of the turmoil in our country. Do not be afraid of the suffering in this world. Do not be afraid of your doubt or your shame.
We don’t have to be afraid of death, because it’s not the end.
We can live with courage because Jesus promises he will raise us up on the last day.
I was visiting with Jeff and Susan freeze this past week and we were talking about this Epiphany. They appreciate your prayers and love while they are not able to be with us and they send you their love and prayers. They are so thankful to be a part of this congregation. And Jeff said it wouldn’t be good to be proud about it but they are also glad to be Lutheran.
In fact, Jeff and his family like to say, “We’re Lutheran born, and Lutheran bred, and when we die, we’ll be Lutheran dead.” And we laughed, because a lot of us could say that, and we’re glad for anyone who is adopted into the way of following Jesus in the Lutheran expression of the church
But we know there is more.
Lutheran born and Lutheran bred,
And when we die, we’ll be Lutheran dead,
But my dear friends, hear what Jesus said,
“I feed you and I am Living Bread.”
So we will die, but live again,
In a life with God that has no end,
A bright new day, the night all through,
In Christ – Alive! In Christ – Brand new!
Clamed by the One who was crucified,
Who is now alive and walks by our side.
So from birth and all the way to the grave,
We can meet each day and not be afraid,
Since Christ our bread has come from above,
To feed us and fill us with God’s own love.