Thursday, April 1, 2021

Journey to the Cross: God, the Ultimate Baker

Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.” They asked him, “Where do you want us to make preparations for it?” “Listen,” he said to them, “when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.” So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. --Luke 22:1-27 (NRSV)

Tonight, we remember the last night Jesus spent with his disciples celebrating the Passover meal. We remember that the early church would gather for Agape meals or love feasts to remember Jesus’ life and ministry, to affirm their communal identity as the body of Christ, and to share food and resources so everyone would have enough. 

Tonight, we gather at many tables in many different homes to remember that meal so long ago when Jesus gathered with his dearest friends, his disciples. We remember the wilderness around us: isolation, illness, unemployment, homelessness, racism, violence, fear, uncertainty, grief. We also remember the wilderness to come for Jesus: betrayal, denial by his closest friends, suffering and death. 

Yet, in this wilderness through which we have been walking, and in the wilderness Jesus would experience, there would be moments. Moments of the unexpected. Moments of new realization. Moments of learning.

Over this past year, I’ve become a YouTube watcher. Some of this certainly has to do with the algorithms that continue to offer videos that draw me in.  Many of them have been about food and cooking. And bread baking. Perhaps, it’s the bread baking videos that catch me most, because, I don’t know about you, but there is something about a freshly baked loaf of bread that brings back many memories. Memories of my mother, who, for many years, would diligently bake a couple of loaves of bread each week.

I recently watched a video by Peter Reinhart, author of many books on baking bread. In it, he talked about the transformational aspects of bread. He suggested that to fully understand what it is about bread that is so special - the metaphorical and mystical aspects of bread baking - we must understand it at the most literal level. 

So what must happen to create a loaf of bread? Bread first begins as wheat. A grass that grows in the field at some point puts out seeds. That we harvest. Harvesting is really just a euphemism for killing. The wheat gives up its seeds, which, for the wheat plant are a promise of future life. But, instead the seeds are given up, crushed, and turned into flour. The plant is killed and denied the potential for creating future life. So, the first transformation, which is a radical change from one thing into something else - the first transformation is that the wheat stalk moves from being alive to dead.

Next, the flour is merged with water and salt. This creates something like a clay that is then infused with yeast or leaven. The word “leaven” is related to the word “enliven” - to bring life. The Hebrew word for clay is adam. The baker, according to Reinhart, is the god of the dough. When the leaven is added to this clay, it grows. Or proofs, in baker terminology. It proves that there is life. There are things happening: the enzymes break forth sugar, the yeast eats the sugar, which turns to carbon dioxide. The bacteria eats that same sugar to turn to acid. The personality and character of the bread is being developed under the watching gaze of the baker. The bakers choices all along the way determine the outcome of the final product. A subtle change in temperature or time or something else can change the final product. Then, the dough that worked and kneaded to develop the gluten - this net that develops that holds the loaf together - yet all along, the dough continues to prove that it is alive and is developing character. This is the second transformation - when the wheat and the dough created from it has moved from being dead to being alive.

But, then, it’s time to bake. The dough, shaped and formed, is placed into an oven. When the bread reaches the temperature of 140 degrees it passes the TDP, the thermal death point. All life ceases there. The yeast, whose mission up to now has been to raise, to enliven the dough to complete its mission, has to give up its life. It moves from being alive to being dead. Another transformation.

The final transformation involves us. We eat the bread. It nurtures us and gives us life, thus completing the life cycle once again. 

Over and over and over again, this process of death and resurrection happens in the life cycle of the bread. In the same way, over and over and over again, this process of death and resurrection happens in the bread we eat in this meal. This final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples on that Passover Eve. A meal that would bring betrayal and death to Jesus. And yet, a meal that would bring life to the community he would leave behind, that he would infuse with his Spirit. That he would continue to transform through this meal - a meal that we still share today. A meal of bread and wine that is not simply about remembering, like the memories that I have of my mother baking bread. But a meal that is transformational. A mystical meal in which we believe that Jesus is present with us, here and now, continuing to transform us. Forgiving the dead parts of us. Bring life out of that death. Molding and shaping us into the people and the community God desires us to be. A people like Jesus. Humble. Serving. Loving. 

May we trust in and experience this transformation tonight and as we go throughout our lives, challenging as they may be in this very moment. May we remember that God is the ultimate bread baker. That God makes the ultimate choices. And that, in the end, God always brings life from death. Amen.

Preached April 1, 2021, online with Grace & Glory and Third Lutheran churches, Goshen/Louisville, KY.
Maundy Thursday
Readings: Luke 22:1-27; selections from John 13.

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