In 7th grade,
that terrible and dramatic year of emerging adolescent,
I received a nickname that stuck for several years
like something you don’t want to step in.
We had gym uniforms;
some of you may remember those days.
Ours were blue shorts with white a tee shirt.
The shirt had the name of our school
emblazoned across the chest,
with a blue-bordered rectangular box
where the student was to write their last name
with a permanent black magic marker.
Well, I was writing my name with
all the attention to detail that has followed me
the rest of my life, and wrote “Miller”
except that I left out an “L”.
For two years after I was called “Miler”
by boys in the older grades.
It stung all the more
because I was a particularly slow runner.
That same kind of thing happens in history,
when events or people get stuck with a name
or a reputation that lasts for centuries.
The cross is like that.
Jesus was flayed like a flank steak and hung up to die,
so we wear gold and bejeweled crosses
around our necks.
We have crosses all over our churches,
a symbol of a brutal agonizing death.
Episcopalians prefer artful crosses
fashioned to look like gold encrusted sculptures,
while Roman Catholics compete for the goriest,
most gruesome depiction possible
adorned with blood dripping down the body.
As I said on Palm Sunday,
what is a cross if not an electric chair
or the gurney with hypodermic needle
waiting to inject death juice?
So we wear jewelry and adorn sanctuaries
with a symbol of state terror and capital punishment
and don’t think twice about it.
That is a lot worse than ‘Miler’
which faded away two-years later
after I did the next stupid thing.
But poor Jesus,
2000 years later Christians
still have his limp, dying body
asphyxiating between nailed wrists
as a marketing image.
I would bet my whole box full of poker quarters
that Jesus would not have wanted it that way.
This is just one man’s opinion,
but I am guessing that anyone tortured
and left to die
while hanging on a cross
would not have chosen
his instrument of death as short-hand for his life.
Besides, Jesus actually did tell us
what he wanted to be remembered by:
“My name is Bread,” is what he said.
He called himself Bread.
He didn’t call himself “The Way” – that was later,
after he was dead and others called him that.
He didn’t call himself the “Truth” – that was later too,
words placed in his mouth like an epitaph.
He didn’t call himself “Life” – that was so much later.
He didn’t even call himself “Messiah” –
others threw his hat in the ring for that one.
“The Rock” was not his – that was Peter.
“The way, the truth and the life” was not his.
Son of David was not his.
Son of Man was not his.
Son of God was not even his, at least not by his own admission.
He didn’t call himself “Lamb”
or “Shepherd” either.
He called himself Bread.
Of all the things he could have called himself,
and of all the monikers,
animals, elements, or weapons
he could have asked us to associate with him,
and he chose bread…
the bread he called himself was Manna,
like the stuff they found in the wilderness.
Manna was that surprising bread
appearing out of nowhere
and famous for the unique property
of disappearing over night.
It was just enough to keep you alive in a tight spot
but not much more.
Manna rots when the sun comes up
and cannot be preserved overnight.
It cannot be stored,
It must be eaten then and there
when and where it appears
or not at all.
Manna in the wilderness is the bread
Jesus wanted to be known by.
“My name is Bread,” he said.
Bread…think about it.
Bread is the food of kings
as well as food for the most miserable outcasts
on the face of the earth.
Bread…whether it is for a feast
at the most splendid table in Paris
or a death camp at Buchenwald,
bread is given and received.
Bread…it is homely and common,
the most basic platform of the human diet
whether made of rice or mullet or wheat.
It is crumbly, and left around in pieces
to get stale and mold because,
after all, it’s only bread.
everyone has some sometime.
Served whole or in pieces
it must be divided to be shared,
broken to be given,
eaten to sustain and nurture.
To Jesus there was another kind of bread
one even more important: Passover Bread.
It was the stuff you make in a hurry
because you are about to escape
and can only take as much as you can carry.
Passover bread is a flat, ugly,
stuffed-in-a-bag for the journey,
kind of bread.
The Passover Bread is a bread of affliction
that your ancestors ate in slavery,
in the wilderness,
at the Temple,
To Jesus, bread meant Manna in the wilderness,
and Passover bread at the edge of deliverance.
But he also talked about a third kind of bread:
Daily Bread – what you need in order to get by.
“My name is Bread,” he said,
that is who I am.”
“Take me,” he said, “I am broken for you.”
“Remember me,” he said, “whenever you eat bread.”
We are so close to this bread and wine thing we do
that we take it for granted.
But if we stand back from what we know for a moment
and remember that Jesus wanted to be called “bread,”
it is actually quite amazing.
So many names he could have given himself
other than Bread;
and so many names
he was given by so many other people;
but the only one
he gave himself was Bread.
So tonight is the one night in the whole long year
that we remember he called himself Bread;
gave himself to us,
was broken by us,
and became bread for us.
Gave himself to us, broken by us, became bread for us.
This memory we have tonight
is not a story to share
or an allegory to ponder
or a parable to wonder about.
It is a name whispered on a memory.
It is the one name
and the one metaphor
we have been given
from the man himself: Bread.
There is no one
to tell us what it means.
There are no experts
with the ultimate interpretation of ‘Bread’
so that we can hide within easy explanations
and precise, literal definitions.
WE have to decide what it means,
each one of us.
What did he mean
by naming himself Bread?
What does that mean for us?
Who or what is our daily bread?
Who or what is our manna?
Who or what is our Passover bread?
Is he our bread?
Is he yours?
“My name is Bread,” he said,
“given for you.”