By Tom Lawson
Not far from where I live, vast acres of grain fields extend as far as the eye can see. It is intriguing to see the land transition from muddy brown to springtime green to harvest gold.
Huge combine harvesters make their slow passage through the fields in August and September, pouring tons of harvested grain into the beds of waiting trucks, as the rich fields are reduced again to brown stubble and mud.
Few of us give much thought to where our food is produced, or by whose hands and efforts it comes to our table. To us, a loaf of bread is just that. Although we may know better, we tend to think of it only in its completed, whole, and sliced-up form. One could almost imagine a great chugging piece of farm machinery, slowly making its way through a vast field of plastic-wrapped loaves of sliced sandwich bread.
The reality, of course, is that our bread is produced by crushing thousands of kernels of wheat to a fine powder. This is transported, packaged, and brought home. Then the powder is scooped into a great mound waiting for the addition of water and other ingredients. Then comes the kneading, forming, rising, baking, and, finally, a loaf of finished bread shared around a family table. The grain that makes up that finished bread came from hundreds of individual plants spread over great distances. Scattered kernels brought together into a single whole loaf.
Near the beginning of the second century, an unknown Christian writer composed a prayer to be used during a Communion service. Although not part of inspired Scripture, the prayer is moving and gives us an intriguing glimpse into the worship of that first generation of believers after the passing of the apostles:
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).
What an image—scattered grain lifted from across the hills and brought together to form one loaf as a visible parable of the church of Christ being gathered from across far-away lands and far-off times into a single gathered family of the kingdom of God 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 Corinthians 10:17).
It is hard to see the loaf of bread when standing in the middle of endless acres of growing grain. It is also hard to picture the acres of grain when looking at a loaf of fresh baked bread. Yet, in our hearts, we know both realities, the seen and the not-yet-seen, are true.
May our coming around the table give us the ability to see both gathered bread and scattered fields, and to live in the certain hope that soon the harvester will be sent forth to bring us all home.
Tom Lawson teaches at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri.