Break Bread Together
May 03, 2020 | Sarah Stewart
When we first began to take this COVID epidemic seriously here on the East coast, when we began to hear those reports about serious illness in Washington State, and the spread of the illness in the United States, for a lot of us, the very first sign of an effect on our everyday lives was at the grocery store.
I remember that even when the illness was still only in China and Italy, it became difficult to get cleaning supplies at the grocery store, you couldn't buy bleach, it's hard to buy disinfecting wipes or even ordinary soap. And then as people began to fear that they might have to stay home for a long period of time or they might get ill and not be able to leave, then they began to buy food of all kinds. I remember not being able to buy tomato paste, of all things, I think because people were planning on making a lot of pasta sauce. I remember one day when I went to the store and couldn't find any mushrooms of any description, at the grocery store. And I think, here in Worcester, we're better off than in some places in America. We must have a good number of grocery stores per capita, there has not been a huge shortage of food here, but in some parts of the country; a friend of mine has not been able to get fresh meat or fresh vegetables for about a month. There is a Jewish saying that although we humans like to believe that we are in control of our lives, God is in charge of three fundamental realities: birth, death, and the rain. And from the rain of course comes our food. One of the spiritual lessons of this crisis is that we are dependent always on the earth and on one another for our daily bread. Living in the United States, in what we call an advanced civilization, especially if we were in the middle class or had enough money to get by on a day to day basis, we perhaps cast an illusion. over ourselves, an illusion of independence. And the more privilege we had, the more powerful this spell was, that we cast. We might have said to ourselves things like “well I have everything I need”, or, “good food and exercise help keep me safe from illness”, we might even have said “oh, I don't need any help”. This is something that Yankees get teased for, for saying that that we don't need any help, and even sometimes when we do; an ability to look on the world's problems with some pity, thinking that we were insulated from them and they wouldn't happen to us.
And now, this pandemic reveals just how dependent we are on so many things. If you're unemployed, you may be thinking how long can I afford food? and do I need to have a budget for my grocery shopping?, so, we're dependent on an economic system that provides jobs for everybody. Some people are dependent on food pantries, because otherwise they don't have enough food for their families. Food pantries in the country are seeing more clients than ever, right now, so, we are dependent on generosity and on a government that helps redistribute resources to where they're needed most. We're dependent on what we're able to buy at the grocery store, so, we're dependent on commerce and on a system of trade that helps produce goods that we buy in a store. This week we've been hearing about meatpacking plants and trouble all over the country, and so, we are dependent on the health of other people; people we don't even know. Workers whose names and faces we will never see, but we depend on their health and their well being and a system that supports it. In our country, we produce more food than is needed for people to eat every day, but we don't have a distribution method that makes sure it gets to everybody, so, we're dependent on systems and infrastructure that help get the food from where it's produced to where it's needed. There are millions of children across America who rely on schools for breakfast and lunch every day, and so, we're dependent on a safety net that provides food to hungry children.
We need to be able to shop without fear, and to be able to go into grocery stores and get what we need. And if we can't do that, then we are dependent on neighbors to help us, and friends who can do that shopping for us, and deliver us what we need if our immune systems don't allow us to go to the store right now. And of course, we are always dependent on the earth, which produces the food, and without which, we could not live. Truly we depend on the rain, and on the sun, and on the growing power of the earth, for our own birth and our own life. And in the midst of this crisis, even though all of us are feeling the pinch in one way or another, our privilege still matters. And those of us with more privilege are weathering this crisis better.
The fact that we have to eat every day, that no matter how advanced we are as a civilization, we are utterly dependent on the earth, and on each other for our lives. I think that this is why humans create sacred moments around eating. Why we give thanks when we sit down to a meal together. It is why eating itself, that act of acknowledging our dependence on the earth, and on each other, is a reminder of ultimate reality and of what matters most in our lives. This is why food is a sacred focus in all of the world's religions; in the communion service and the Eucharist and Christianity, in keeping kosher and celebrating sacred meals in Judaism, and in the holy month of Ramadan, which is going on right now, when Muslims fast during the day and increase their charitable giving to others. In my house we try to make mealtimes sacred in an effort to get everybody to slow down for even just a few minutes, and recognize the sanctity of what we're doing together, when we sit down to dinner. So, we try to say grace before we eat, and different people choose the grace every night. But for maybe for over a year now, almost always, the grace that we say is simply to hold hands with each other and each person to say one thing that they are grateful for. It can be something big or small, sometimes it's the food we're about to eat, sometimes it's just one good thing that happens that day. Andy, my husband, these days he always says he's grateful that we're safe and healthy, and that is a big piece of gratitude in our hearts right now. It's a reminder that eating is sacred. And that our love for one another as a family is sacred. And that we show each other love and we respect our dependence on each other and on the earth, by sharing our gratitude. But it's not just my family that I'm thinking of right now, the larger community is in my heart as well. And there are things that we can do to help support food security in Worcester County. The United Way is helping to coordinate immediate needs in our community. If you go to WorcesterMA.gov, you can find a link to donate to the United Way of Central Massachusetts. And the Worcester County food bank, which supports food pantries in our area, including Carty cupboard, the food pantry at Wesley United Methodist Church which has reopened with our help in the past few weeks. They provide food and they are a place where you can donate food or money for them to help buy food for needy people in Worcester County. And it's even possible for you to go to a food bank and pick up food for someone else who needs it; the person who goes to the food bank does not need to be the person who will ultimately eat the food. I know next door at Wesley, all they're asking is for the zip code and ages of the people who will ultimately get the food, and even if you don't have that information, you can still get food for a needy family. So if that's you, if you know of somebody who has food need and you could help them by picking up from a contactless food pantry, all you have to do is open your trunk. So,Wesley Food Pantry is open on Wednesdays from 1:00 to 3:00; every Wednesday 1:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon, and they're accepting donations on Wednesday mornings.
When the Israelites were in Egypt, they could imagine that when they were free, they would be the captains, of their own fates. They would be in charge of their destiny, all they needed was freedom, and then they would have everything they thought. But once they were free, and in the wilderness, they realized, that in fact, they were still dependent. They needed the grace of God for birth and death and the rain for food that they could not produce themselves. They realized that they were still living beings who needed to eat. They were dependent on the earth, and on one another. When the crowds who gathered around Jesus became hungry, the disciples at first wanted to send all those people away to find their own food, “let them be dependent on their selves”,
the disciples might have said. But Jesus said to them that their faith taught them to share the blessings they have, and to encourage all who were there to do the same thing. And in this way, everyone was fed. Jesus reminded them of their dependence on one another. And we too are dependent on one another. When we break bread, we know the sacred, because we remember our dependence. We give thanks for blessings we did not earn, when we ensure that all in our community can eat.
I love you all. Amen.
Even as we stay home, work in essential jobs, or navigate unemployment, we are all in this together. Justice is just us, working together. A worship theme on the mission and values of our faith during these hard times.