Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Lenten Reflection - Bread

Ted reflects:

“While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to his disciples and said, ‘Take this and eat; this is my body.’ (Matthew 26:26)

The greater Indus region was home to the largest of the four ancient urban civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, South Asia and China. Harappa was a city in the Indus civilization that flourished around 2600 to 1700 BCE in the western part of South Asia, although the Indus civilisation traces its roots back to around 6000 BCE. Indus Valley civilization was mainly an urban culture sustained by surplus agricultural production and commerce, the latter including trade with Sumer in southern Mesopotamia.

Among the archaelogical finds, and what marks Harappa out as an urban civilisation, are the remains of what are taken to be granaries, and wheat was one of the main commodities traded by Harappans among themselves and with other peoples as far away as Mesopotamia.

So we can say, without stretching a point too far, that bread in one form or another was a part of the life of the earliest civilisations, and formed part of the staple diet of peoples among whom Abram and Sara would have lived.

“The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre…[Abraham] said ‘My lord if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant… Let me bring a little bread, that you might refresh yourselves.’” (Genesis 18:1,3)

While the Hebrews were wandering in the desert, the Lord sent them a form of bread to eat.

So, when Jesus said “this is my body”, is it possible to interpret this as saying “I have been with mankind since the earliest days, sustaining you”?

Last night, the liberal Rabbi, Mark Solomon, gave a talk to our parish about some of the symbolism of the Seder, the Passover Meal, as it is currently celebrated by Jews. He explained that the Seder was devised by Rabbis in Roman times, around 100 AD, following the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem, and may well be different from the passover meal eaten by Jesus and his disciples.

The Seder commemorates the last meal eaten by the Hebrews before they were liberated by the hand of God from slavery in Egypt, before, in effect, the nation of Israel was born and set off in search of the Promised Land.

During the meal, bread is broken into two unequal parts. The larger part is shared out among all those at the table, while the larger part is wrapped in cloth and, in the course of the meal, is hidden by the president of the meal. The children present are then sent to find the bread and bring it back at the end of the meal. It is then consumed as a final course.

Rabbi Mark was not able to say for sure whether this custom was observed in Jesus’ time, but for me, at least, the symbolism was immense, and on various levels – a true Midrash moment.

The meal, for Jews is not complete until the large part is re-united with the smaller part – just as the Jewish nation will not be complete until the ten lost tribes are found and brought back to the table with the smaller portion of the nation.

For me, as a Christian, the body of Christ is taken away after being broken on the Cross, wrapped in a cloth and hidden from sight. After three days, it is restored and the Passover of the Christians – the liberation from slavery to sin and ignorance – is complete.

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