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The Mundane Bread of Heaven

By John Thorpe

The ninth day of Christmas is the first one people forget about. It’s back to work for most of us after New Year’s reveling. Schools are often back in session, offices are open, traffic is stressful again, and everything resumes the normalcy with which it will push forward into the coming year. Often by the ninth day of Christmas we are tired of festivals and welcome the normal, the mundane, the chance to put the holidays behind us and get on with daily life.

Jesus has a pattern of coming to us on such days. There was nothing special about the day of his birth: it was not a holiday or a feast day for his culture, as far as we know. The angels sang to shepherds who were working overtime (and probably grumbling about it). Even Jesus’ resurrection happened on a Sunday — the day that was, for ancient Jewish culture, the back-to-work day of the week, the equivalent of our Monday morning. God is not just for festivals: He takes great pains in Scripture to show us that he is with us in the workaday details of our mundane existence.

In the Gospel reading of the Episcopal daily office lectionary for the ninth day of Christmas, Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51 ESV). Jesus leaps at every chance he can make to show us that he intends to be connected to our daily lives. Here he uses bread to make that point.

Bread is never an individual labor: the very existence of bread requires at minimum a tiller, a sower, a watcher, a harvester, a thresher, a miller, a mixer, a kneader, a baker, and an eater. Bread is a communal effort. Even when the same person performs all these roles, bread is by no means an uncomplicated task. It is so labor-intensive that archaeologists have, until recently, believed prehistoric peoples did not make bread until long after they gave up their nomadic ways and were able to marshal a whole community to make the labor more efficient. The child’s story of the little red hen, who pleads unsuccessfully with her fellow farm animals for help during each of the bread-making steps, is an anthropological truism.

Jesus comes to us in bread — workaday, normal, communal bread. In his hands, mere bread becomes the Bread of Heaven produced by the Holy Spirit’s labor, the Bread of Life that can sustain us forever, the Bread of Holy Communion that bears a new reality and is no longer properly called bread but body — Christ’s flesh given for the life of the world. With Jesus,  the normal and miraculous go hand in hand.

This year, let the ninth day of Christmas mark a first step into a new normal — a life in which the presence of Christ makes the normal and the miraculous go hand in hand. Let him be bread to you: common and communal, the stuff of life, the first taste of a blessed eternity, divinity together with humanity.

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