Good Friday

By Sara Miles

Every Sunday, at my church, I carry a plate full of fresh bread, the body of Christ, to feed the crowd around the altar. Every Friday, around the same altar, I run a food pantry that offers free groceries––bread, spinach, potatoes, oranges, Cheerios, beans and rice––to about 500 hungry families. Both gatherings are matter-of-factly open to everyone: on both days, we feed people without asking them what they believe, how much money they make, or if they’re “good.”

The food pantry, especially, can feel almost trippily Biblical. Every week there are hundreds of people milling about; women working and arguing and feeding each other; men embracing; someone singing, someone crying, someone washing dishes. It isn’t hushed and pious; it’s loud and holy.

But on Good Friday––a day in Christian churches that’s traditionally been devoted to private penitence and collective binges of anti-Semitism––everything falls quiet. The church is stripped of ornament, and hung with black; at night the congregation gathers to chant a funeral liturgy, laying flowers on an icon of Jesus’ tomb and leaving in silence, taking hot cross buns to break their fasts.

As evening fell, Paul Fromberg, our priest, was setting up for services. A long-haired homeless guy, kind of sweaty and intense, strolled in looking for groceries, and Paul explained to him that the food pantry was closed for Good Friday.

“But don’t you have anything to eat?” the stranger asked.

Paul turned and saw the trays of hot cross buns on the stove, and handed him a couple. The man paused and lifted them up.

Baruch attah Adonai…” he said. “Baruch attah Adonai eloheinu…. oh, man, it’s been a long time since my bar mitzvah.” He was saying the Hebrew blessing for bread: ‘Blessed are thou, Lord God, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.’

Paul stood there in his black cassock trying to recite the prayer, as the homeless guy smiled and took a big bite of the first bun. “Baruch attah Adonai eloheinu melek ha-alom….” Paul began. He couldn’t remember it all either.

“Well, bless this bread,” Paul said.

The stranger nodded, took another bun, and walked out. “OK,” he said. “Thanks. Good Shabbas.”

Or, as we say in church, Amen.

Sara Miles is the author of Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion. She is the founder of the food pantry at St. Gregory’s of Nyssa in San Francisco.

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