Bread for the Soul

Each week in DiscipleChurch Dr. Bill Longsworth leads the celebration of communion with two very significant items: home baked bread from his mother’s recipe (scaled down) and a ceremonial Olivewood chalice from the Holy Land. Here’s a little more about this sacred home communion ritual — maybe to inspire your own!

My mother’s name was Mary Rachel Miskimen Longsworth. We lived in Columbiana, Ohio, where my father was a Methodist minister. One of my favorite memories of her was that she baked bread for our family every single week, even when store-bought bread was readily available. That bread and the aroma of it wafting through the house — as well as the sight of her strong arms kneading it — are still vivid for me today. I still remember how she would place that bowl of dough on the counter near a window facing south. When we had sunshine, her bread rose in the warm sun.

My brother, Rev. James D. Longsworth, also a Methodist minister, preached a sermon about Mother’s bread, and I’m sharing part of it with you below.

 

“My mother was a baker woman, and we always knew when she was baking bread. The aroma of freshly baked bread would drift out of the kitchen onto the porch, into the yard. One of us would yell, “Hey, Mom! Be sure to call us when it’s done. And is there any of Martha Lower’s strawberry jam left?”

My mother’s homemade bread. She baked it at least once a week, five loaves at a time, or three loaves and two pans of cinnamon rolls. It was a treat, and even as children we knew it was special. Back then, in the 1950s and 60s, if you lived in town, hardly anybody baked bread. Store-bought bread was more convenient, and advertising had convinced people that “Wonder Bread” was somehow more nutritious than homemade bread. (I don’t think that was true; my mother also used “enriched” flour with the same added vitamins as Wonder Bread.)

My mother’s homemade bread. She didn’t have to do it. Store-bought bread would have sufficed. We were a large family of seven, but back then you could buy three loaves for a dollar at the A&P store up on Main Street. Store-bought bread would have probably been cheaper, and it would have sufficed.

I can still see her working the dough on the countertop in our kitchen, strong hands and arms leaning into the task. My mother never in her life worked out ina fitness club, but she had impressive guns — big biceps — so much so that we teased her, telling her it was a picture of her bicep on the Arm & Hammer baking soda box.

I see her there kneading the dough, then putting it into the big ceramic bowl, covering it with cloth, letting it rest, allowing the yeast do its leavening work in the warmth of that kitchen. Later that morning, she’d divide it, placing the proper portion in each greased pan, then into the oven, and that wonderful aroma would then escape to fill the house, drift onto the porch, and out into the yard. No bread machine efficiency here — it was a long morning’s work from dough to finished loaf — certainly a labor of love.

So, as I was growing up, I ate bread that was not just bread, but it was her homemade bread. In an important way, it has made a difference in my life. Eating homemade bread all those years was a symbol of her devotion, a statement of how much she cared, how much she intended to nurture us in the best of all possible ways. This labor of love told us, with every slice we ate, how special we were to her. Store-bought bread has always seemed rather common and ordinary to me. It satisfies my hunger but does nothing to feed my heart and soul. 

In the first 15 verses of the 6th chapter of John, there’s a miracle story about how Jesus fed them all, the whole multitude. In a miraculous way, he took the young boy’s barely five loaves and two fish, he blessed and broke them and fed the 5,000. It was the ordinary bread of the day, but the crowd loved it. They had been hungry. He had given them the bread freely.

And then the next day, when once more they became hungry, again they went to him for bread, wanting the ordinary kind of bread that had filled their stomachs the day before. Jesus knew of their hunger. He knew they wanted to be filled; knew that they would come to depend upon him for their daily bread.

Jesus also saw a deeper need in them, a spiritual hunger longing to be fed. To their disappointment, this time, he didn’t give them the ordinary bread to fill their stomachs. He talked to them of a special kind of God-given bread that would nourish their spirits. He said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger.” A few of them heard his words that day and understood. A few of them at this God-given bread, the bread of heaven, and they were fulfilled.

Some things that appear to be ordinary are not. Sometimes it’s not just bread we’re offered. Sometimes it’s homemade bread made with nurturing, loving hands. Sometimes it’s God-given bread, “heaven-made bread” offered by the spirit of Christ himself.

So come, eat this heavenly bread with me, be fed and nurtured and strengthened by it.  By God’s goodness and grace, it is freely given to you — let it feed both your body and soul. Take it and eat — let the very substance of God become a part of who you are.”

— James D. Longsworth

Want the recipe for Mother Longsworth’s bread? Ready to start your own family tradition of soul nurturing? Want to learn more about the bread of life we will share with the world this Sunday? Read the article, “World In Communion.”

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