Sometime my sons call me “Earl.” It’s an odd and treasured nickname. I hear: “Earl, would you make me a sandwich?” I take delight in hearing that name and in ransacking the fridge and pantry to create a savory sandwich. And, there is a much larger story behind that ordinary reality.
“Sandwich” is derived from John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718 – 1792). Some say that the Earl was so busy gambling that he did not take the time to have a formal meal. Others suggest Sandwich was preoccupied with naval, political and artistic matters. Apparently, he would ask his servants to bring him portions of meat between two slices of bread. As others began to order “the same as Sandwich” – sandwich made its way into our vocabulary.
Like “sandwich,” some words come to us in a straightforward manner. For example, our forbearers started calling taverns “bars” in the late 1500s because of the barrier or counter over which drinks or food were served.
Or take another single syllable Old English word: “bread.” English students who learn other languages are grateful for the similarity between “bread” and:
· brauð, Old Norse,
· brød, Danish,
· brad, Old Frisian, a language akin to English spoken on the North Sea coast of modern Netherlands and Germany before 1500.
· brot, Middle Dutch,
· brood, Dutch, and
· Brot, German.
By about 1200, straightforward “bread” had replaced the usual Anglo Saxon word “hlaf.”
Hlaf’s history is not straightforward. Hlaf has been transformed to become our word “loaf.” The “h” faded away and “a” stayed but was overpowered by a new “o” that took precedence. Hlaf became loaf. Got it?!
Consider the English translation of four Anglo Saxon words paired with hlaf.
manna heofenlic hlaf (“heavenly loaf”)
communion bread hlaf mæsse (“loaf used at mass”)
taking communion hlaf gang(“loaf going”)
bread winner hlaf-weard (“loaf warden” one who provides/guards bread)
Now, let’s watch another part of the Anglo Saxon bakery vocabulary transform. By the fourteenth century, the final word, hlaf-weard, lost not only its “h” but also its “f” and “w.” People called this guardian of the loaf: “laeard” or “laird” and, eventually, “lord!” To think that nobility had such a practical history – caring for our daily bread – is refreshing. Such history sustains the humble and challenges us all when the upper crust grows stale by losing compassion.
But what about the LORD whose compassion never fails (Lamentation 3:22)? Imagine God’s delight when English translators chose “LORD” (“Loaf Warden”) as the English equivalent of the Hebrew – “Yahweh.” What a connection! Yahweh is: “I am that I am” – the unending Source – holy and eternal but also the personal, intimate, covenant name of God – by far his most frequently used name in Scripture – 5,321 times (Theological Wordbook of the OT, p.210). How grand that God helped the Hebrews understand who he is by this name. But, for our Anglo Saxon forbearers “LORD” added new dimensions to the name above all names.
Imagine understanding Hebrew history with Anglo Saxon eyes:
· Manna, heofenlic hlaf, was a heaven-sent, wafer-like substance that tasted of honey and oil and could be ground or milled, baked or boiled. Exodus 16:15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” (Hebrew: Manna) for they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD (Hebrew: Yahweh)has given you to eat. For forty years, the LORD would send manna – the bread of heaven. What a Loaf Master!
· After the Hebrews entered the Promised Land, Moses summarized God’s purpose for them in sending manna. Deuteronomy 8:3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Bread for our souls.
· For the Hebrews, in worship God also made it clear that he was the One who provided bread. As worshippers came to the tabernacle or the temple, there was always the smell of freshly baked bread. In the Holy of Holies were the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, AND the golden pot of perpetually fresh manna. Loaf Master, indeed.
What a plan God had – to take “LORD” – a name from a tribe, the Anglo Saxons – a tribe like the Crow tribe of Montana – and have it flourish so that over 2 billion English speakers today could utter: “LORD.” Multiplying loves, indeed!
All of us, Hebrews and English and more, are called to remember that we not live on bread alone – that real life comes through the revelation of God that leads to communication with him. We can tell the “LORD” about all kinds of concerns – like daily bread. Proverbs 30: 7Two things I ask of you, Lord (Loaf Warden!) do not refuse me before I die: 8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. 9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ (i.e., I will be my own Loaf Warden). Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.
Sometimes, daily bread was in short supply for the Hebrews. So, they called upon the LORD during famine. Famine sent Joseph’s family to Egypt. Famine caused Naomi and her family to flee to Moab. There were famines during Elijah’s time. But, God sent deliverance through heroes like Joseph and Boaz. Elijah in the wilderness was fed by ravens. Did these ravenous birds bring him bread and meat from the king’s table?
Then came the great rescue – the great transformation. The Loaf Warden became the loaf. After gestating nine months in the womb of a virgin, the Loaf Warden fulfilled prophecy by being born in Beth (house of) lehem (bread) – Anglo Saxon: Hlaf-hus. At the beginning of his public ministry we find this Manna fasting – starving. Like too many people in this world, Jesus knew hunger – he did so because he identified with us. And on occasion, though he would not turn stone into bread for his own needs, he miraculously multiplied bread to feed thousands. Loaf Warden, indeed.
Jesus also knew we have a deep spiritual hunger that only he can satisfy. To end that famine, on the cross the Father ground up – kneaded up – his dear, dear willing Son. He not only broke his Son – the heaven-sent kernel of wheat – he molded the flour into a loaf and baked it – baked him. And, from this crushing and grinding and kneading and molding and baking on the cross came a loaf with sweet life for those who would believe. My Life for Yours. Take and eat this marvelous wonder – Bread. Hot cross buns, indeed.
John 6:32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you…my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Ask the “LORD” for the whole loaf. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Sucking out (some of) the marrow-nourishment from the bone-words with you,