Please, allow me to convince you, once again, what a freak I am.
(Normally I try to dust it under the rug or cloak it in hipness. Or justify it away as simply a different version of normal. But no, this morning we shall lay it out there for all the nerdiness glory that it is.)
Fermentation. Fascinating really.
It’s no secret that our eating habits have changed as my body decided to reject the contemporary means of keeping food from spoiling, namely, processing and preservatives. It’s been just about a year now (I remember Girl Scout Cookie time last year was a low point) and my knowledge of how plants and animals come to serve as food has increased greatly. Oh, don’t let your eyes glaze over yet.
Mmmm. Glaze. Like a donut…. (see? I still value my roots).
So in my food discoveries it should be no surprise that I picked up a book called The Food and Feasts of Jesus. It combined my favorite topics of conversation and research! Not to mention it contains a heavy Jewish-practices component, another secret fetish. Win-win, win. I’ve enjoyed not only the history but the culture that unfolded when you begin to look at how a people group eats.
One of the primary means of nourishment “back in the day” came down to bread. Not a fluffy white loaf of Wonder, but a basic loaf made from a variety of grains depending on availability. And, as with most food, the means to make it came from a handy little process called fermentation. Really, the best foods in which we tend to over indulge come from tiny little bacteria making a party – wine, beer, bread, cheese, yogurt… all of them are “living and active”, made vibrant on your kitchen countertop, defying the need for refrigeration. The key to good eating: take a lump from your last batch and add it to the new. This, my friends, efficiently leads to daily bread.
You take what grew last week, add some grain, milk or fruit, and let it fester. Not in the refrigerator where things go dormant, but right beside it where the coils produce enough residual warmth for things to grow comfortably. A good 24-72 hours later and we have a new food product.
(Show of hands for who just put down their Yoplait?)
Though the traditional sourdough kept a staple place on the dining room table, it wasn’t really welcome at the alter. In fact, in nearly all grain offerings made at the temple were mandated to be unleavened – without the piece of yesterday’s fermentation in it. It was basically baked flour+water+oil. Like a cracker. KLR made unleavened bread once for an event and there were rules around how quickly you had to get it in the oven to ensure that nothing started to grow. And taste? Well, yes. It tasted exactly as you think it did. We choked it down out of principle.
But if bread with air bubbles was standard practice, why couldn’t it make its way into standard worship? What did God have against leavening? Even Jesus uses the idea as an unbecoming description of the Pharisees, warning followers to “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees.”
If yesterday’s loaf was the means of life for the culture, why did God keep it out of worship?
I read how the Todah, or thanksgiving, feast offering differed from other sacrifices of worship to the Jewish believers. The Todah took place after a believer came face-to-face with death and lived; it acknowledged the saving hand of God. Typically after recovery, you’d take a large animal and 4 loaves of bread – one of them leavened – to the Temple for sacrifice. Then you’d have a party large enough to eat all the offerings as a celebration that same day. You’d retell the story of how you were delivered and the people that loved you most celebrated the fact that you’re still here.
This act of worship celebrated that which had already happened. The authors noted, “the person making the sacrifice and holding the feast came to the temple already experiencing shalom, not seeking it.”
Now, I don’t want to take any theological leaps or liberties here; numerous reasons stand behind God asking for His bread to be sans bacterial reaction. One of them comes from His history with the Israelites fleeing Egypt, leaving before their bread had time to rise. I’m sure other people more wise or educated than I can provide supplemental reasoning. But allow me to throw my own loaf on the table.
What if God’s primary concerns aren’t the yesterdays, but the tomorrows?
Of course, God commands us to remember (actually throughout the book of Deuteronomy it comes up several times). But not remember who we were or what we did, but rather keeping in mind the actions of God and His faithfulness.
But bringing to worship something that ties us to the past doesn’t seem to fit with God’s general prerogative. God seems to think that when it comes to facing Him, all things become new.
If I had to guess, the Todah allows leavening because we remember what God did; our other efforts at worship and connecting to God are asking him to do something in the future and God doesn’t need the past. At least, not our past. He’s over that.
Maybe God doesn’t want us to bring something with life already in it because we may be tempted to miss that He is the giver of life itself. He’s about creation, about making things new. He doesn’t need what we’ve already done. In fact, what we’ve already done seems pretty inconsequential, both for the good and the bad.
Instead, God looks ahead to what He will do. How He will provide. How He will reach down and connect with His people and reestablish peace and shalom in our lives. How He will use what is dead to breathe life into us.
Visit me elsewhere: