The Blessing of the Bread

“…And looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.” Mark 6:41b

Blessed are You, LORD our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

 

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Thanksgiving is Thursday! As a good American, I’m planning to eat an enormous meal with gathered family members for which I will be truly thankful. Thinking about all the upcoming gluttony, I was pondering a food related topic that fits well with our theme of gratitude.

 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Jesus is always blessing bread and breaking it. In the gospels, it seems like every time I turn the page there is a similar phrase about the bread. Jesus says he is the bread of life. At the last supper the bread he is breaking is his body. Jesus is recognized by the Emmaus two when he blesses the bread and breaks it.

 

Since Jesus is said to give thanks for all of this bread, I went in search of information about the prayers he might have prayed. I am vaguely familiar with Jewish prayers and blessings, so I did a little digging. The blessing for the bread is the one I was looking for, and with it I found a whole treasure of bonus information.

 

(Before I share further, I need to insert a disclaimer of sorts. Reading back into history a discussion from modern scholars isn’t always the way to go. Rabbis rarely agree unanimously on anything whether modern or ancient, although some common themes arise. The following information comes mainly from Chabad.org and myjewishlearning.org.)

 

Offering up a blessing for the bread is obviously a long-standing tradition, but who really knows how long the Hebrew prayer giving thanks to God for bringing bread from the earth has been said at the family table?

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Blessed are You, LORD our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

You may notice that the bread is not what is being blessed in this prayer. Read it again. God is the one receiving the blessing. It is a prayer of thanksgiving and praise to God for providing bread for us to eat. On special occasions, this prayer is very solemn and can be preceded by a moment of silence.

 

According to some rabbinic thought, when blessing the bread no one is actually referring to the bread in their hands. This intrigued me. Why bless the bread if you aren’t actually blessing the bread? For some, the bread referred to is the manna God provided in the wilderness. For others it is a reference to bread that God provided in the Edenic past and will provide again in the Messianic future. My head was spinning at these revelations and I had to sit with them for a while.

 

Blessed are You, LORD our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

 

If Jesus was blessing God for providing bread in the past, whether the manna or bread that sprang effortlessly from the ground in paradise, and if there was any thought of looking forward to the messianic future when bread would once again be provided without the toil of human beings, then it puts a whole new spin on the feeding of the 5,000. I had to ask, could Jesus have been proclaiming himself Messiah to those gathered on that hillside by first giving thanks for the bread and then multiplying it to meet their needs?

 

After this initial thought about this miracle I recalled all the different and various ways that Jesus literally and figuratively claimed to be ushering in the reign of God on earth. I’ve studied these declarations, written papers and sermons about them. I never imagined that Jesus could also have been proclaiming himself Messiah in this small way, at every meal, at each Passover, and on the night when he shared a final meal with his disciples.

 

Blessed are You, LORD our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

 

As we prepare this week to eat a feast, gathered around a table, could we conceive of a way to usher in the Messiah’s kingdom in radical and mundane ways? By breaking bread, and blessing God? By daily committing to follow this Jewish Messiah while continuing to look forward to a day when we will break bread at a feast none of us toiled for? A banquet of grace, mercy and love? A table open and welcoming to all of God’s children?

 

Thank you, God, for grace we do not earn, for provision in the distant past, and for the confidence that you will yet provide justice in the age to come.

Blessed are You, LORD our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

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Blessed are You, LORD our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
 


Charity Kemper-Sandstrom is a pastor, wife and mom.