There is nothing more inviting than the smell of freshly baked bread. It pervades throughout the house, reminding you of the comfort and sustenance it brings. For me, an amateur baker (though I’d like to think of myself as artisan!), each new loaf bring a sense of joy and wonder as I take such simple ingredients, knead and form them into something of nourishment for my family and friends. Most of the hard work in this process is in fact not done by my hand, but by the yeast which infiltrates the dough and brings fullness. Bread is an important part of our lives.
The image of bread flows through the Bible and can help us understand how different aspects of God’s story weave together. In the Lord’s Prayer, taught to the disciples by Jesus, he instructs to be continually asking God to ‘give daily bread’. I don’t think that Jesus is personally encouraging me to bake more. There is a greater depth to this phrase.
For his disciples, whose desire to pray better meant the initiation of this prayer, the idea of God giving ‘daily bread’ was part of their Jewish heritage. Hundreds of years previously God had provided daily manna from heaven to their ancestors in the desert (Exodus 16). This miraculous provision of food fed the Israelites for 40 years – they were literally kept alive in a place where there was nothing else to eat. Jesus’ disciples knew this story, as they prayed this prayer they could easily use this phrase to extol the greatness of God the provider.
Along with remembering God as provider, we can also consider that although the dough is the product of human hands, Creator God is the one who created grains that go into it and controls even the yeast that allow it to ferment and rise. All the wonderful foods that we enjoy are part of the creation work of God.
Receiving of daily bread is a place of remembrance for us, a time to celebrate not only the physical provision of food to sustain our bodies, but a time when we can celebrate the spiritual provision of Jesus. In the Gospel of John, Jesus declares that he is The Bread of Life (chapter 6). He is the true bread come down from heaven, (v.32) this phrase links back to the manna of the Israelites. He is declaring that although manna from heaven gave physical life, he has come to give spiritual life. He is a gift from heaven to each one of us; he comes to us when we are in dry, desert places and gives us the spiritual food we need. It is by believing in him that we receive this spiritual life.
Sharing communion is the really important time for us to reflect on this spiritual reality. At the last supper Jesus again equated himself with bread, using it to symbolise what he was just about to go through on the cross. Jesus taught that we should use this aide memoir to help us reflect on the work of the cross. Whenever we celebrate the last supper, it’s the bread that reminds us that Jesus gave up his body for us. His sacrifice is what we are giving thanks for.
The image of bread is so rich, and I feel as if I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of how it can help us understand the nature of God. We can see a greater depth of how God provides for us, and how this flows through our lives. Next time we smell bread baking breathe it in deeply and allow time for that delightful fragrance to speak to us.