Two of our new friends at the Maui Church of Christ are Akira and Carlyna Tosie, natives of Micronesia and long-time residents of Hawaii. Earlier this month we were honored to join their extended family of 16 for a Micronesian home cookout, to celebrate Akira’s 71st birthday and grandson Steven’s fifth. Because Akira and Carlyna tend the church building and grounds, we have enjoyed their company at our place also. One day Akira, who served as a legislator on his home island, cut off a coconut growing in our backyard, made two swipes with his machete, and handed me a fresh sampling of nature’s own milk-of-fruit.
Yesterday after work, Akira presented us with a green-colored, melon-shaped breadfruit, explaining that Carlyna would teach Sara Faye how to cook it. She did, and 30 minutes later the green sphere had become two dishes — a heaping mound of what looked and tasted like narrow potato chips, and another plate filled with boiled breadfruit in coconut-cream sauce. Hunger assuaged and curiosity piqued, I turned to the internet. There I learned that a breadfruit tree can grow 85 feet tall and produce 50-150 fruits year-round. This starchy food has also been the stuff of legend: The British ship The Bounty was going to Tahiti in 1787 to pick up breadfruit for the West Indies when its Commander Bligh was deposed by his mutinous crewman Fletcher Christian.
Our tasting party also reminded me of the importance of bread throughout history. In many languages, the word for “bread” also means food in general, and it often is used that way in the Bible. But bread can also be heavenly in source. God fed the Israelites with what the Psalmist calls “bread of the angels” (Psalm 78:25). The startled consumers called it “manna,” which in Hebrew means “What is it?” (Ex. 16:14-15). In an extended conversation that references God’s gift of manna, Jesus identifies himself at least seven times as the bread that came down from heaven (John 6:32-58). By choosing this metaphor, Jesus reminds us that God faithfully and generously provides whatever his people need, that Jesus sustains spiritual life, and that apart from him, we eventually shrivel and die.
The early church regularly “broke bread” together. The phrase refers both to the Lord’s Supper (“Communion”) and to a shared (“common”) meal. Originally, these were almost certainly combined, and it is impossible to know for sure which is meant throughout the Book of Acts. It is all about Jesus, and I love the words by which The Book of Common Prayer places the eucharistic bread in our hands: “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven. Take this and eat it in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.” (9/20/09)