Monday, 19 November 2012

The Staff of Life

I have been baking bread today. It is something I haven’t done for almost forty years –since I was at school. Well, not by hand anyway; I do have a bread maker that sees the light of day once in a blue moon. The recipe is an Amish one, from a book by Lovina Eicher and which she says was passed on to her by her Amish mother. I was given a copy of the book last Christmas and I must say I am loving it.

Amish families are usually large – averaging 6 children each, some with many more. So the Amish tend to find themselves baking bread on a daily basis. My two little loaves have taken me all morning and part of the afternoon – how the Amish manage to bake bread daily and still do their gardens, cook meals, do housework and visit friends is beyond me. Maybe I will get quicker if I practise more. But there are only two of us and even with my husband’s healthy appetite, I doubt we would get through two loaves a day! Which means I might be baking bread twice a week – maybe.

Bread is an important staple in our diet. What would we do without it? In fact, bread has been a staple since very early times and has been part of religious ritual for eons. In Genesis 14v18, we read, ‘Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High’. In Hebrews 6v20, we are told that Jesus has become our ‘High Priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek’. Christians the world over consider Melchizedek to have been a kind of prototype of Jesus; the bread and wine mentioned in Genesis 14 are a forerunner of the bread and wine in Luke 22v14-20, where Jesus instituted the commemoration of His (soon to happen) death in breaking bread and drinking wine.
What is the reasoning behind the communion, practised by Christians worldwide?

It all started with the Israelites being oppressed by the Egyptians. Some years before, there had been a severe and prolonged famine in Israel. Through the treachery and deceit of the sons of Jacob, one son, Joseph, was sent before them into Egypt, as a slave. Feeling guilty about selling their brother into slavery, the other brothers led their father to believe that Joseph was dead. Once in Egypt, Joseph rose to the height of Prime Minister of all Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. When the famine struck, Joseph was appointed manager over the grain supplies. Egypt had enough and to spare. Eventually, Jacob sent his sons to buy grain from the Egyptians, which in turn led to Joseph being revealed to them, and Jacob and his family moving to Egypt. [Read about it in Genesis 37 and 39-47]

After Jacob and Joseph had died, another Pharaoh arose in Egypt who ‘knew not Joseph’. He saw that there were many Israelites in his land and became afraid lest there should be an uprising and his throne be taken from him. He enslaved the Israelites for many years, until God intervened in the person of Moses. Using Moses as a mouthpiece between Himself and the Israelites and Himself and the Egyptians, God finally led His people out of slavery and to the Promised Land. The final event in Egypt that led Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to leave was the event known today as the Passover. Jews still celebrate the Passover today, commemorating their release from the tyranny of Pharaoh.
God told the Israelites to kill a lamb and paint the blood of the lamb on the lintels and doorposts of their homes, because that night, the Angel of the Lord was going to pass throughout the land of Egypt, and the firstborn son of every family that did not have the blood on the doorposts would die. But when the Angel saw the blood, he would ‘pass over’, hence the name ‘Passover’. [See Exodus 12v1-30].

Fast forward several hundred years to the first century AD. Israel was occupied by the Romans. Into that situation was born a Man who said He had come to set men free. Many of the Jews of that time thought He would bring about a revolution that would throw off the shackles of the Roman government and free them politically. However, He preached about a Kingdom of peace, where God would reign and sin could be forgiven. Those who understood what He was saying, acknowledged Him to be the promised Messiah. He came to set men free from the tyranny of sin, not the Romans.
There was a dispute among the Jews about who this Man was. Jesus of Nazareth was not welcomed by the leaders of the day. I sometimes wonder how our churches would react if Jesus came into their gatherings without identifying Himself – would He be accepted, or would the church leaders be up in arms against Him?. He had made Himself out to be equal with God – that made Him a blasphemer and He had to be done away with. It was not the Romans who killed Jesus (though they were the ones who directly executed Him, because the Jews were not allowed, under Roman rule, to execute anyone); it was the ‘church’ of the day!

At the time of the Passover in approximately AD33, Jesus held the traditional Passover meal with His disciples in an upstairs room. At the end of that meal, He did two things:
1.       He washed His disciples’ feet (more of this at a later date)

2.       He inaugurated a simple commemoration of His death.
It was customary to conclude a meal with a piece of bread. At the Passover, the bread was unleavened – that is, it was not made with yeast, so was more like pita bread than the loaves we usually find in our shops. Jesus gave this custom an entirely new meaning. He broke the bread into pieces and distributed them amongst His disciples, telling them that this bread was a symbol of the New Covenant and a symbol of His body, broken on the cross for them. He then passed round the cup of wine and told them all to drink some, because this wine was a symbol of the blood He was about to shed that would ‘take away the sin of the world’ (Matthew 26v26-30 and Luke 22v14-20). From that time forward, Christians have commemorated Christ’s death by taking bread and wine the world over.

Incidentally, in the time it has taken me to write this article, my loaves have cooled down, so I have sampled some – and it’s not turned out too shabby, though I say it myself.


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