of Poland. We spent four days with him during our recent trip. Even before we went a number of
people said to us, 'oh Warsaw is all right, but it was so damaged in the war it's not the real thing. If
you want to see the real Poland go to Kraków or Gdansk.' Well we did not have time for that, so we
went to Warsaw.
Warsaw is certainly a city much touched by death and the ravages not just of war, but of the brutality of
both the Nazi and Soviet regimes of the last century. The Nazi years alone saw the ghettoisation
and then extermination of three million Polish Jews, many of them from Warsaw, and less than
10% of the Jewish population of Warsaw survived the war. Powerful memorials to the forcible
removal of Jews, gypsies and homosexuals by train in cattle trucks are to be found across the city.
For 63 days in 1944 the Poles struggled to free themselves from Nazi control. Known as the
Warsaw Uprising this was a major operation by the Polish resistance Home Army to liberate
Warsaw from Nazi Germany. I am sure many of you who are a little more advanced in years will
remember it. The Uprising was timed to coincide with the Soviet Union's Red Army approaching
the eastern suburbs of the city and the retreat of German forces. However, the Soviet advance
stopped short, enabling the Germans to regroup and demolish the city, reducing its many beautiful
ancient buildings to rubble, while defeating the Polish resistance. The Uprising was the largest
single military effort taken by any European resistance movement during World War II. It resulted in
estimated German army losses of 23,000, Polish army losses of 36,000, the slaughter of nearly
200,000 civilians and the expulsion of a further 700,000 from the city. During the urban battles
25% of the buildings were destroyed and subsequently German troops systematically levelled
another 35% of the city block by block. Together with earlier damage suffered in the 1939 invasion
of Poland and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, over 85% of the city was destroyed by January
1945, when the course of the events in the Eastern Front forced the Germans to abandon the city.
So where in all this horror is the bread of life?...
but it is certainly very beautiful and very much alive. Every so often as you go about you come upon a bench with electronics that enable a button to be pressed and the music of Chopin to fill the air. In the ghetto music and song kept the people going, preserving identity and passion and self belief- it was the very bread of life. Now in more peaceful times that music continues to nourish the next generation, and fill them with hope for brighter times to come in a world where new means of communication are breaking down fear and suspicion.
One of the most intimidating things for any Australian visiting Poland is undoubtedly the language,
which is highly complex. David told us for example that there are something like nineteen different
translations of the word 'to' depending on its position in a sentence. Poles are rightly proud of their
language and anxious that it is not overcome by foreign imports such as English. Yet if there is to
be living bread, in many senses, for the next generation then some of this resistance must be
overcome. In one traditional Polish restaurant that we found the waiter spoke fluent English - well
strictly speaking American, as he had spent a year in the States on a scholarship through Rotary.
Not only did this allow us to be fed with the literal bread of a delicious meal that we would not have
been able to choose without his help, it allowed more living bread in the shape of an invitation to
him from David to speak at his branch of Rotary. Thus a chance encounter will allow that whole
group to be nourished by this young man's experience, and may well lead to further opportunities
for him. Out of the terrible tragedies of the past are coming fresh baked loaves of co operation and
peace - not of course without struggle.
For bread does not just occur in nature. Grains have to be ground into flour; dough has to be
leavened and kneaded and left to rest and rise and kneaded again, and baked. Bread is a
wonderful metaphor for the struggles and imperfections and individualities of life, for no two loaves
are the same. Bread comes from the marvelous marriage of creativity and wrestling with hard
things, as does life. In war torn Poland a loaf of bread was sometimes literally the difference
between life and death- it was the bread of life. Many thousands of non Jewish Poles gave bread
to their Jewish neighbours, and did many other wonderful things to shield them, even when they
faced the death penalty themselves for such actions. After the war, when many orphans were
placed in care it was found that they could rarely sleep contentedly. A psychologist at the time
found a solution. Each child was given before sleeping some bread to hold - not to eat, just to hold.
Knowing that they then had bread enough for the next day allowed such orphans to find restful
sleep at last. Such is the power of bread not just in our stomachs, but in our minds and
imaginations. Ponder that, next time you say 'give us today our daily bread'.
Most of us (and I except Janis at least from this) have not known the horrors I have been speaking
of today. However we can relate to them and to the ways in which they are overcome. For we all
know how it is that God reaches us in the broken and struggling places of our lives, often more so
than in our moments of joy and triumph. So when we look for the places in our lives that God has
fed us with God's very self, with the bread of life, we should not be surprised to find that it is in the
difficult times, the times we can identify as times of famine and hunger, whether literal or spiritual,
that God has come to us and fed us with the bread of life. That bread may have been a word of
kindness or advice; a sympathetic shoulder to cry on; a good book or TV programme that changed
the direction of our life. The bread of life comes in many shapes and sizes. But what makes it so
distinctive, what makes it so precious, is its capacity to transform what appears dead and ruined
into what is vital and creative.
The streets of Warsaw were leveled to the ground, their churches destroyed, their faith forbidden.
Yet through it all enough of the bread of life was to be found for a new city to rise from those ashes.
May it be so for us in all the burnt and ruined places of our lives and may we find in Christ fresh
bread for others as well as ourselves. Amen
by Penny Jones for August 2 2015 John 6: 24-35