It’s always interesting to me to learn how words take on different meanings from the original definition. Every generation creates its own language and many of the words that were everyday, common words would be given a new meaning. When I was young, we talked about being “cool” (not with respect to temperature) or “hip” (not the anatomical part of our anatomy that connects our leg into our pelvis). Someone was “neat” who might be an absolute slob. Today, something that is “sick” is good and something that is “bad” is cool. There are countless movie scenes about this where parents or some representative of “The Man”—another slang word for society—doesn’t understand the lingo at all thus making for great comedy. Nowadays, it is using an online short-hand lingo that has become very interesting… and very confusing.
The word “bread” meant money in the 70’s. Cheech and Chong and their slangy comedy talked a lot about “bread”— making and spending it. It makes sense to me that the word, bread, would become a euphemism for money. Bread is a staple of life that we can’t live without; money is something we need to purchase goods and services like actual bread. I’m sure there have been sociological analyses of the meaning of bread.
I think of Jesus’ statement in the temptation story, “Human beings can not live by bread alone.” Jesus quoted the book of Deuteronomy. Elsewhere Jesus said, “You cannot be a slave of God and money.” A popular first-century saying that was used in Timothy and the early church was, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” We cannot live on bread alone and we should not live for money alone.
In looking up meanings and definitions, I came across a little submission for Wikipedia about “Bread in Culture.” The word “companion” comes from the Latin words “with”—com—and “bread”—panis. A true companion is one with whom you break bread. The article went on to talk about the spiritual, cultural and political significance of bread. Bread has deep symbolic meanings in many cultures and religions, not just Christianity where we break bread and pour the cup. Politically, in 19th-century Britain, the Corn Law caused major social problems because it allowed the price of bread to be greatly inflated. The Assize of Bread and Ale in 13th Century England imposed heavy fines for short-changing bakers; a few years before that, bread appeared in the Magna Carta of all documents.
Today, we have gluten-free bread, sprouted grains bread, rye bread, spelt bread, whole wheat bread, quinoa bread, pita bread, naan bread, breads of all kinds. Bread has mushroomed in its varieties (pun intended!) and is still important symbolically and practically today. Even though there are many carbs in bread and we should eat it in moderation, it is foundational to who we are. And just imagine the smell of freshly-baked bread! Fridays, when I grew up, was bread day and mom had baked fresh bread. To come home to the smell of freshly baked bread was lovely! Heavenly!
And so, bread is an apt symbol of something deeper as Jesus demonstrated over and over in his sayings. It is the teaching that each life—that all life—is sacred. It is the teaching that we are part of something much more than just physical bread—what we can feel, see, touch, taste and smell. We are connected to each other and the deep and vital power of life. We become companions in the sharing of bread. It is the teaching that there is enough bread for all. It is the teaching that the deep sense of God’s life in our lives means that we can start again, that we are never defined by our past brokenness. Bread is the tangible, physical expression of the words of Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” This deep, symbolic meaning of bread is why I advocate that we take communion more frequently.
In breaking bread and pouring the cup at communion, we emphasize that we are companions to one another, to God and to all that is life. And I believe that Jesus knew about this hunger for mystery in his day and age, knowing that it is a truth in every day and age. We hunger for something more than just crumbs on a plate or bread in our bank accounts. We hunger for those deep connections that come with companionship. We hunger to know that we are connected to something more than what we can see. We hunger to know that we are not alone in the struggles we face in our lives. We hunger to know love, to share in love, to experience love, to give love, to be loved! We hunger… and we can come to this table to break bread and be filled with so much!
So, in the Iona Community words:
“Come to this table, you who hunger and thirst for a deeper faith, for a better life, for a fairer world… Come, you who have much faith and you have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.”
Come, because we will meet the Christ here and we all will be companions on the Way of life and love.