“After taking the bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you.”
I’m thinking about bread today, about its ordinariness caught up in mystery.
In his theology of beauty, Junius Johnson writes of God’s making each creature for himself and his glory. Prior to our use or enjoyment, each creature exists before God as a reflection of divine love and beauty.
If we have eyes to see, bread becomes transparent. In seeing it, we also see beyond it, to the God who made it. This capacity of bread, to be seen not only in itself but also to point beyond itself, Johnson describes as a kenosis—that beautiful Greek word meaning “self-emptying.” The bread continues to be what it is, and yet it also opens itself to more: food for the soul, the body of Christ.
Thinking of bread in this way seems particularly apt today, as Maundy Thursday remembers both the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples, as well as Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet. The humility of the creature mirrors the humility of the creator.
In the first, the humility of the bread, emptying itself to be filled with the significance which Jesus gives it: “This is my body, which is given for you” (Luke 22:19).
In the second, the humility of Jesus, who “emptied himself by taking the form of a slave” (Phil. 2:7).
David Bentley Hart says that, “Because the God who goes to his death in the form of a slave breaks open hearts, every face becomes an icon: a beauty that is infinite. If the knowledge of the light of the glory of God is given in the face of Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6), it is a knowledge that allows every other face to be seen in the light of that glory.”
Through the kenosis of Jesus—in his incarnation, in his taking on the humility of creaturely life, in his crucifixion—all creation is transformed. Not the bread only, but we too, as creatures, can be restored so that we point beyond ourselves, can humble ourselves so that through us, others might see God.