A baker, as any half-witted dolt knows,
adds yeast to his dough, and waits as it grows.
For yeast is alive - it’s a single-celled critter -
warm water awakes it; gets the yeast all a-twitter.
It feasts on the sugars that are there in the flour;
and having thus eaten, discovers new power,
that’s impressive and all, but not very classy:
for the dough starts to rise when the yeast gets all gassy.
It’s what happens when yeast in the dough can ferment;
and results in light airy loaves, not cement.
Now there once was a baker, back in long-ago times:
a good decent man, who’d committed no crimes.
He baked tasty bread: it was light, it was crusty.
His ingredients were good, and his oven was trusty.
He also baked cookies and cupcakes and pies,
which required him early each morning to rise.
The first thing he did every morning was throw
salt, flour, and water, and yeast into dough.
Then using his very own hands he would knead
the dough, prompting yeast on the flour to feed.
His customers knew that his bread was first rate,
he sold out of it early, they knew not to be late.
They loved to awaken with its scent in the air,
and to hear the good baker lift his voice up in prayer,
for the baker was known as a man who loved God.
There were many who thought it was not at all odd
that his bread was the best you could locate for miles,
since the baker enjoyed from his God many smiles.
It made sense that such good bread, all crusty and yeasty,
was baked by a man many thought of as priest-y.
He was known to be good to the poor and the needy,
when a helper was needed, he would always be speedy
to offer whatever could make a wrong right,
or to find a solution, whatever the plight.
He was gen’rous and regularly gave away money,
and his humor, some said, turned a cloudy day sunny.
He was kind to the elders, cared for cats and for dogs,
and to keep himself fit, he went daily for jogs.
The body’s the temple of the spirit, he knew,
and he thanked the Almighty for every breath that he drew.
Early one morning, long before dawn,
He finished his mixing, his kneading, so on,
And he turned to his prayers while the yeast did its thing,
he gave thanks to the Lord for the blessings he’d bring
to the day that as yet had not hardly begun,
as he did every day till th’ dough’s rising was done.
Then he turned to the dough, and removed the damp towel
that covered it, and he looked down with a scowl.
For the dough had not risen, it was flaccid and flat,
where it should have plumped up like the crown of a hat.
But there was the dough, just as flat as a griddle,
which posed to the baker what you might call a riddle.
This was odd, this was strange, this was certainly weird,
and it could be an omen of the sort to be feared.
Why’d the dough not arisen? Why’d the yeast not awoken?
Was the magic that once worked in the bakery now broken?
It’s mystical how the dough rises for bread;
it gives life to ingredients that look like they’re dead.
But they’re not, as you see when the dough gets puffed up,
and is baked into bread on which you and I sup.
And the baker, you see, had always regarded
rising dough as a sign that God had bombarded
the world with his blessings, and his people with grace,
and felt almost holy, he felt God’s embrace,
as the yeast did its work on the water and flour
by the baker in his bakery, of a wee morning hour.
It was almost as though it was meant as a sign
that although it was dark, the sun would still shine,
although there were troubles all over the earth,
there was still such a thing that you might call new birth.
The clock was still ticking, for time marches on,
but still the new dough was as flat as a lawn.
There would be no fresh bread from the oven that day;
he put a sign in the window and he started to pray.
He checked his supplies, and the temp in the room,
and he prayed that tomorrow the yeast, it would bloom.
He spent the day quietly and he slept well that night,
and he woke in the morning without too much fright;
and he mixed up his dough in its great big dough bowl,
but when the time came it was flat as a Sole.
This pattern continued for days and for days,
the yeast was not working throughout this whole phase;
the dough should have risen, and taken new shape,
but instead, day by day, it was flat as a crepe.
The baker of course began to despair,
and thought it must be something wrong in the air.
But he never stopped praying to his God and his Lord,
though he felt that his spirit once higher had soared.
He began baking quick breads, and muffins and matzoh,
but he couldn’t quite bring himself to start making pasta.
His neighbors and customers all now assumed
that the baker, for reasons unknown, must be doomed.
Weeks had gone by since he’d baked any bread;
he was pushing his chocolate chip cookies instead;
which were good, but it really just wasn’t the same;
they were not, you recall, what gave the baker his fame.
And people would sigh, as they passed by his place,
and remembered the bread, back before the disgrace
of this failure, that no one could quite understand,
least of all not the baker, who this shame must withstand.
For it seemed that the God he had every day prayed to
had somehow, despite all those prayers, not been swayed to
shower his blessings upon the good baker,
as if God now supposed that the man was a faker:
that his faith was not real, and his prayers were cheap,
and that people should see he was really a creep.
But the truth of the matter was not all that easy,
although his flat dough still left him quite queasy;
every morning although his dough would not rise,
the baker still sang out his pray’rs to the skies.
Then one day came a rumor about a new preacher:
a worker of wonders, and quite a good teacher,
who was said to be talking a lot about bread,
how he was the Bread of the living, not the dead.
He said that his Body was Bread, his Blood wine –
which is quite a hard teaching, not that tough to malign.
“I am the Bread of Life,” said this guy,
which as a lesson for some, might be hard to apply,
unless you’re a baker whose dough will not rise,
who’s been praying for grace to pour down from the skies.
In which case, a miracle-worker who speaks
about bread and new life, and who hangs out with freaks,
seems like a promising person to find;
like maybe he’d help a guy out of a bind:
like the baker’s, who frankly was now feeling cursed,
like his faith was akin to an un-quenchéd thirst.
So the baker set out to find this new teacher,
determined to discover if baking bread was a feature
of this man who so easily riled the High Priest,
but maybe knew something unique about yeast.
The baker, despite all reports of demise,
continued to pray for dough that would rise.
Every day in his bakery, he’d mix and he’d knead,
and he’d pray for what now’d be a miracle indeed.
Every day in his bakery, there’d be somewhere that dough,
that the baker was praying and praying would grow.
It was there on the day he went to find the great man,
it was there as if it was part of a plan,
to invite Jesus in to sit by the fire,
and then show him the dough: flat as a tire.
The baker found Jesus, heard what he had to say,
on how to live better, how to follow the Way.
About bread, it is true, Jesus went on and on;
enough for a chapter in the Gospel of John.
In his presence the baker began to feel warmed,
as if something brand new in his soul had been formed.
It was like Jesus’ teaching was yeast, his soul flour;
and the yeast had awakened a kind of new power,
as though everything that he once knew about bread
was now being instilled in his own soul instead.
He begged Jesus to come with him that very day,
and to see the day’s dough, like a fallen soufflé.
For he felt he had learned a new lesson in life,
he felt that there might be an end to his strife.
And Jesus went with him as far as the store,
but he paused with the baker, outside of the door,
and he told him again, he said, “I am the Bread,
and he who consumes me will never be dead.”
He instructed the baker to always believe,
and promised a blessing that soon he’d receive.
The baker who’d thought bread alone was the way
to make a good living, as long as he’d pray,
was now looking diff’rently at the whole thing,
as though in his heart he had crowned Jesus king.
He entered his bakery and he sniffed at the air,
for an odor was lingering that hadn’t been there
for weeks; it was something like yeast, he felt sure;
he smelled it as soon as he walked in the door.
And to his amazement, his certain surprising,
was the dough in its bowl, and today it was rising.
Now, yeast may be simple, made of only one cell,
it may not know much but it knows one thing well:
it knows that when people assume that you’re dead,
there’s new life within you, there’s real hope instead.
It takes just a small bit of water for God
to do in your life what you may think is odd:
to take the ingredients of life, though they’re plain,
and awaken new power, new life to attain.
It’s as though with the water, the yeast is baptized,
and just like old Laz’rus, the dough starts to rise.
The baker, you see, had needed to know
what only the yeast, it would seem, could him show.
The yeast has this gift, that it always is giving,
of knowing the One who’s the Bread of the living.
So next time you’re shoving some bread in your face,
remember this story, and all of God’s grace.
Remember the flour, the yeast, and the dough,
and how it refused, every morning, to grow.
Remember the baker, remember his faith;
and remember these words, which the Lord Jesus saith:
“I am the Bread who’s come down from heaven;
I am your hope, and I am your leaven.
He who partakes of me will never die,
and on this assurance you can rely.
When life seems uncertain, your seas are all tossed,
you begin to suspect that all hope has been lost,
your dough will not rise, so to speak, it stays flat,
as flat as a pancake, a pizza, a mat,
Remember the baker, who thought he was through,
and remember my words, and believe they are true.”
Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
26 August 2012
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia