I read the news today, oh boy.
Artillery shelling of the Syrian city of Aleppo on August 16 left at least ten people dead and countless others wounded after a shell struck a bread line outside a bakery. The attack came at 6.30 am when many people, including children, line up for bread before it gets too hot. A video posted online shows at least two bloodied children covered with blankets and the bodies of three men. One witness described the scene as ‘like a river of blood.’
“I am the Bread of Life. If you eat of this bread, you will live forever.”
Before I read about the shelling of Aleppo, I was going to write a rant about having to preach about bread for five weeks in a row. Why, I wondered, did the ‘Bread of Life Discourse,’ which comes around every three years in the lectionary, get five weeks? I can’t find anything about the reasoning behind this decision (I do find a lot of blogs and articles from other preachers complaining about it). OK, I get that the bread of Holy Communion is central to many Christian traditions. But, I would argue, so is the water of baptism. How come we don’t give five weeks to obsess about the Baptism of Jesus? OK, rant over.
But now I’m wondering about the connection between our bread line to the Communion table and the bread line to the bakery in Aleppo. At first glance, one might conclude that there is no connection: the majority of the Syrian population is Muslim. I would argue, however, that in our deepening awareness of a non-exclusive reading of Jesus’ offer of bread/life, we cannot turn away from those standing in front of that bakery waiting for bread, for life. We also cannot help but see Jesus himself standing in that bread line along with those others seeking life in the midst of violence and oppression – and certainly in the bloodied and broken bodies in the aftermath of empire’s rage.
And if Jesus is there among them, then so are we all. Their longing for bread is our longing for bread; there is no difference between the spiritual and the physical, leavened/unleavened, whole wheat or rye, gluten-free or Wonderbread. There is no difference between us either: Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Pagan, etc. This will no doubt raise questions for us, which is OK; wrestling with these concerns is necessary.
So this Sunday – as we ONCE AGAIN (OK, I’m really done now) read about the Bread of Life – maybe we can envision ourselves, with Jesus, in the bread line of Aleppo. And as we grieve for them, may the bread we eat strengthen us for the work of justice and peace everywhere.