We can see in yesterday’s Easter story of supper at Emmaus a figure of the sacramental Presence of Jesus in the liturgy of the altar. But in the original story, as Jesus gave thanks, broke bread, shared it with His followers and only then was recognized by them, it was not a ceremonially stylized liturgical meal. Rather, it was an ordinary weekday supper at an ordinary table with an ordinary loaf of bread. And the blessing prayer of thanks for bread that He used may well have been spoken in the ordinary Jewish form called berakhah: “Blessed are you Lord God, Ruler of the universe; you bring forth bread from the earth.” As Jesus prayed, He and His companions would have known that bread didn’t just spring effortlessly from the earth—grain was sowed, harvested, milled, and baked before bread could arrive at the supper table. The blessing prayer of thanks recognizes all of this—bread comes from things of nature transformed by human work, in human connection.
Near the end of World War II my father, who had grown up on a farm, spent one year managing a farm attached to a former estate that had become what was then called an “old people’s home.” To save the tractor’s gasoline, which was rationed, he seeded forty acres of wheat by hand, walking along the furrows. In years after that when we lived in a small Minnesota town he would help out at wheat and corn harvesting times on certain farms where elderly couples didn’t have money to pay for extra workers. He knew in his bones that bread and human labor went together.
Now in this time of social distancing and shelter in place we are not able to meet Jesus and one another face to face in the community thanksgiving gathering we call Eucharist (Eucharistia—thanksgiving). But we still have daily bread at home. It comes to us through God’s continuing creating activity—in God’s provision of nature—soil, air, water, light, and plant life—and in God’s provision of people together, who sow, cultivate, harvest, mill, bake, and distribute, in relations of interdependence that should be—but not always are—right relationships, relations of justice. As we slice in half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or break apart a dinner roll we can give thanks to our Creator for daily bread in its fullest meaning. God indeed brings forth from the earth the bread that sustains human life, and God does so in and through human labor and human connection.
“Blessed are you Lord God, Ruler of the universe; you bring forth bread from the earth.”
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington