Bread in Hand
New Covenant, by Craig Hawkins
At the death of Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, the world of economics lost one of its most influential thinkers. He is perhaps best known for popularizing the saying "There's no such thing as a free lunch," which is now a common English dictum.
Though consumer-trained eyes, we understand this phrase as Friedman intended: Anything billed "free of charge" still has a bill attached. It is both economic theory and lay opinion. Whatever goods and services are provided, someone must pay the cost. Thus, economically, we see that the world of business is first and foremost about profit and market share. And cynically, we suspect that every kind gesture or free gift has a hidden motive, cost, or expectation attached.
It was strange, then, to find myself thinking of "free lunches" as I was approaching the meal Christians call communion, the Lord's Supper, or Eucharist, which comes from the Greek eucharistia, meaning thanksgiving. I approached the altar, hands outstretched to receive a broken piece of unleavened bread. Could my consumer mindset apply to this table as well? How much might this 'free' meal cost? Certainly the compulsion many feel to drudge up a sense of guilt at this table could be one sign of its costliness. But is this cost the host's or a fee self-imposed? Inherent in his invitation to the table is the very freedom the Son came to offer: "Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away."(1)
Jesus spoke readily of the cost of the cross, but his is not a description of the kind of transaction consumer-hungry minds are quick to expect. The cost is his, even as he peculiarly invites the world to share in it. As the disciples gathered together in the upper room where they would participate in the last supper and the first communion, Jesus told them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer."(2) He is both the Bread of life at the table and the one who paid the cost that it might nourish his table of guests. Our consumption at the table holds a great deal in which to participate.
Unfortunately, we are at times like the poet Alison Luterman who admits it is quite possible not to participate, not to see or consume or desire this gift of the connection between what feeds us and the hands who made it possible. She writes eloquently,
"Strawberries are too delicate to be picked by machine. The perfectly ripe ones even bruise at too heavy a human touch. It hit her then that every strawberry she had ever eaten—every piece of fruit—had been picked by calloused human hands. Every piece of toast with jelly represented someone's knees, someone's aching back and hips, someone with a bandanna on her wrist to wipe away the sweat. Why had no one told her about this before?"(3)
Holding the bread of Christ in our hands, we are indeed faced with a costly meal. As Luke imparts, "And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.'"(4)
Stories of hunger and consumption pervade the world around us. The same theme pervades the gospel story, but in a manner that counters and transforms both our hunger and our ideas of what it means to consume. The consumer of Christ is not stockpiling one more product for personal use and fulfillment. Nor does he or she partake of a free service that requires a minimum purchase or a small commitment. The invitation to consume is neither selfish nor small: "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them." Those who come to this table cannot consume with the same disconnectedness with which we consume countless meals and materials. We are ushered into a community, an interconnected life, the Body of Christ himself, and it leaves an entirely different imagination of the world in our grasp. The Christian makes the very countercultural claim that one can desire what one already has in hand. Desire does not have to assume an incessant longing for what we lack. Every broken piece of bread represents nothing less than all that we hold in Christ: One who gives himself freely, who gives everything away to present the hungry with an invitation to join him, to taste and see that God is good.
This free meal that Jesus presents overturns our lives as consumers, turning our hunger and desire inside-out. As Augustine imagines the voice on high saying: "I am the food of the fully grown; grow and you will feed on me. And you will not change me into you, like the food your flesh eats, but you will be changed into me."(5) Christ is unlike anything else we can consume or desire in this world. For all who are hungry, the Bread of Life, the gift of God, is in hand.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) John 6:37.
(2) Luke 22:15.
(3) Alison Luterman, "Every Piece of Fruit," Ed. Alice Peck, Bread, Body, and Spirit: Finding the Sacred in Food (Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Path Publishing, 2008), 15.
(4) Luke 22:19.
(5) Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 124 [Book VII, 16].