The Superbowl commercial using Paul Harvey's "And so God made a farmer" was very moving, although I'm not going out to buy a Dodge pickup.
The truth is this has been a warm limp brown snowless winter in southwest Missouri. Not far from where I sitting right now, spreading acres of dry dirt fields look sadly abandoned. They would look much better covered under a while blanket of snow. But, for now, the fragments of the remains of last fall's crop lie mingled acres of dirt. No one would call it a pretty sight. No one makes a landscape painting of a Missouri field in February (unless there's snow).
Thankfully, in just a few weeks, we will be driving by those fields during that marvelous springtime transition from death to life. A few months after that, they will have evolved from the greens of summer in the gold of harvest. Then, huge combines, like dinosaurs of a bygone epoch, will slowly graze their way across the land, each machine consuming into itself tons of grain which it then pours into the waiting trucks. And, then, several months after that, the cold winds of February will once again blow across the wasteland of empty fields quietly waiting for the next cycle to begin.
In a rapidly urbanizing world, I am glad I drive past miles of farmland every time I go to church. I am not a farmer. But I am surrounding by land constantly transformed by them. For most Americans in today, bread is just bread. It sit there as read made out of, well, bread.
Perhaps in the minds of children, somewhere a bread truck slowly drives around planting tiny loaves of bread. In a few weeks, the tiny loaves would become large loaves, eventually wrapping themselves in moisture retaining plastic and a twist-tie. Then, the bread delivery truck drives through and picks them out of the ground and driving them to the market so we can bring them home. Technically, we know that's not how it works. But, we still live in a world where bread seems to just be bread. In our world no one objects to little tiny pre-chopped up bits of sterilized bread piled into Communion trays. What's the difference? Bread is bread.
In a document called The Didaché (The Teaching), written near the beginning of the second century, we can read a prayer some local churches were using during Communion. It is, in part, a farmer's prayer. It is a prayer from an time and place where everyone gathering for worship knew by living experience the wonder that rests there quietly in a single loaf of bread.
We thank you, our Father, for life and knowledge that you have made known to us through your Servant, Jesus. To you be glory forever! Just as this broken loaf, once scattered across the hills, was gathered together and became this one loaf, let your Church be gathered together from the ends of earth into your kingdom. For yours is glory and power through Jesus Christ forever (Didaché 9).
The words draw us into their world where scattered grain taken from hills and valleys being brought together and crush under a millstone to form a single loaf of bread. The loaf, for them, was a visible metaphor of the universal church being gathered from across far-away lands and times into a single united people at the end of the age. Paul gives the seed of this very thought when he observes, “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf (1 Cor 10:17).”
I don't think they would have liked our tiny pre-broken bits of cooked wheat. It isn't a loaf. It never was a loaf. So, we never see quite the picture they saw each Sunday. E pluribus unum in corpus Christi.
But, it is always easy to miss the big picture. When you’re standing ankle deep in a muddy brown field in February, it's hard to look down and imagine you're standing in the a little part of someone's sandwich. When you reach up for plastic wrapped pre-sliced loaf at Krogers, it is not easy to imagine massive Combines chugging away on a hot dusty August afternoon somewhere in Kansas. We mentally acknowledge the slice we just spread peanut butter on grew out of dirt, was drawn into the blades of a combine, crushed in a mill, formed, needed, and then baked. Blinded by the present we shrug. It's just a slice of bread now in serious need of some jelly.
The Didaché began the Eucharist with a prayer that links the loaf with the farmers' fields. It is and it was. Now, as the service concludes, another prayer move beyond the present outward toward a future harvest. In this coming harvest the whole cosmos shall be the ripened field out of which the pure grain shall be separated in order to be gathered.
Let grace come! Let the world pass away! Hosanna to the Son of David! If anyone is holy, let him come. If anyone is not, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen (Didaché 10).
And so we gather, between harvests past and harvest future, between February's emptiness and September's harvest, and break bread.