© Stacey Steck
I’ll never forget the first time I purchased bread and juice for a communion service. I was guest preaching at a church where it made sense for me to wear one of those black shirts with the little white tab clerical collar, like Roman Catholic priests often do. And I get this call to pick up the elements on my way to church because the regular person can’t do it. And so there I am at the grocery store walking down the aisle with a loaf of bread in one hand, and a jar of grape juice in the other, and getting a range of looks from the other customers somewhere between “Something is just not right here” to “What kind of Messiah does he think he is anyway?” I guess for some people, the elements just grow on trees and magically appear on the Communion Table on Sunday.
Actually, of course, someone buys them and prepares them, whether on the little trays and in the little cups, or some other way. But even before that happens, the reality is that someone grows the wheat and the grape, and someone harvests it, and someone else works in the factory that produces the final product, and someone else drives the truck to bring it to my store, and someone else takes my money and puts it in a bag at the store, but all of that process, and whether it is done justly or not, well, that is another sermon entirely. What I want to focus on this morning is just who brings the bread to the table, and what that means for us as we enter a season of trying to discern just what God has in mind for us here in Mill Bridge.
This morning’s story from the Gospel of Luke will hopefully be instructive in that regard. Here we have probably the most famous of the post-resurrection, pre-ascension appearances of Jesus, on the road to a village called Emmaus. There is a lot of interesting and spiritually enriching stuff in the first part of the story, about how the two despondent disciples are joined by Jesus on their journey, how they experienced what happened in his life and crucifixion, how Jesus “interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures” as they walked along together, but I want to focus on the second part of the story, what happened when they arrived at their destination. You see, that is where many of us are, perhaps not all of us here this morning, but many of us have heard the story, read the Bible, been to Sunday school, in a sense we’ve had the experience those two disciples had on the road, and we’ve arrived at our destination. Not that our journey is complete, mind you, not that we are perfected, but that the walking phase has landed us somewhere and what happens next is really important too.
So Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple and Jesus arrive at Emmaus, and Jesus acts like he is going to continue on his journey. Somehow I doubt that, but that is what it says. To me, it seems more like he is fishing for an invitation to dinner, seeking to plumb the depths of these two disciples’ understanding of hospitality and grace. You see, in those days, it was pretty much expected that you would invite a traveler to join you for a meal after dark, that you would even give them a place to stay for the night. And so we could even imagine Jesus heading right through the door, but he plays it cool and they take the bait and invite him in. And so they sit down at the table together, and Jesus takes the bread he finds there, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. Maybe you’ve heard that series of words before. Took, blessed, broke, gave. It is the formula Jesus always uses for these types of meals. Feeding of the four thousand? Took, blessed, broke, gave. Feeding of the five thousand? Took, blessed, broke, gave. Last Supper? Took, blessed, broke, gave. Our last celebration of the Sacrament here at Thyatira? Took, blessed, broke, gave. Later this morning? Yes, you guessed it, Took, blessed, broke, gave. You’ll hear that formula each and every time you come to the table because its pattern is not only what Jesus actually did at meals, but because it is the pattern of his own life. You see, God took him from heaven, blessed him, broke him on the cross, and gave him to us. And that must be the pattern of our own lives as disciples, because the meal, and the life of Jesus, and our lives together are bound up in bread, in wine, in God.
“Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” You’ve heard those words before too. I use them almost every time we celebrate the Sacrament, not because there aren’t any other options, but because I think it is the very point of the whole exercise, that in the experience of this sacrament we meet Christ again, he is made known to us again, we experience his grace anew, our eyes are opened yet one more time to the mystery and the glory and the joy of the Lord. How does our story this morning conclude? “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” Jesus reveals himself not only as the “bread of life,” but in the midst of the bread itself, the stuff on the table, the wheat turned into loaf, the staple food for all humanity. Thanks be to God!
But how did the bread get there? Did Jesus, like a good guest invited to a dinner party, stop at a bakery on the way, and pick up something that complemented the rest of the menu? No, it was there waiting for him in that house at Emmaus. This is an interesting feature of all the feeding stories in the Gospels except at the end of the Gospel of John at the breakfast on the beach, that in none of them does Jesus bring the bread. In this story? Someone else brought it. Feeding of the four thousand? The disciples had it with them. Feeding of the five thousand? A little boy had five loaves and two fish. Last Supper? Made ready by someone else in the Upper Room. Our last celebration of the Sacrament here at Thyatira? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Jesus getting the table ready for us. Later this morning? Yes, you guessed it, no Jesus there either. You see, someone else always brings the bread that Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives. Jesus never brings the bread. That is our job, our contribution to the feast, our part in having our eyes opened that we might recognize him.
Now, that is not an open invitation for everyone to bring a loaf of bread to church the next time we have communion, although if you would like to contribute that some month, please come talk to me. But it should tell us something about how we approach the table, how we approach God, how we approach one another, with a gift to share, with something to contribute, with something that will play a part in helping us recognize Jesus or make Jesus known, recognizable, present. If it is not a nice loaf of sourdough bread, what is it? Well, we already brought our confession. That’s a start. We’ve prayed and sung and we’ll make an offering. That’s all good. But of course what we are called to give is more than what we come to church once a week to give. We are called to give our whole lives to be taken by God, blessed by God, broken by God, and given by God to a hungry world whose eyes need to be opened. And so the bread we are called to bring to the table is really nothing more or less than our generosity, our willingness to give every minute of our lives, every ounce of our strength, every stray thought, every idle moment, every material good.
Or we can just bring real bread.
A few years ago, a member of my church in Minnesota, Chad Ruble, died, and in the months following his death, his wife Mary shared with their friends her journey through the grief process. And I remembered that she had posted on Facebook something she had found on an internet support group, a sort of open letter from a widow to those who might be wondering what it was like in the first days and months following the death of a spouse. One of the sections of this letter acknowledges the very common experience of dealing with people who are eager in some fashion to help. And so, this is what one young widow writes, in the section called “Practical Things You Can Do”:
“I understand that a lot of you find it hard to cope with my emotional pain. Hate to see me hurting so. If you can’t help me emotionally, you can help me practically.
- Don’t ask me what you can do to help. I have no idea, I am overwhelmed.
- If you are an organized person offer to manage my bills. Collect the bills as they come in and let me know when they need to be paid, and make sure I do. Time has no meaning for me right now. It’s only when the cut-off notices come that I realize I need to do something.
- Get copies of photos I don’t have from family and friends and put them in an album for me. It will be one of the most precious gifts you could give me.
- Bring me some meals that I can just put in the microwave.
- Find out what sort of bread, milk, toilet paper, etc. I use and bring me them to me. I have no idea I need them until I run out, so don’t bother asking me if I need anything.
“Don’t ask me what you can do to help. Find out what sort of bread I use and bring it to me.” It is that simple. Christ will take that bread and bless it and break it and give it and your eyes will be opened and you will recognize him.
As you come to the table this morning, I invite you to do some reflecting on what God is calling you to offer that will allow you to recognize Jesus Christ as we commune together. It doesn’t have to be much, because God doesn’t really need very much. Sometimes all it takes is a loaf of bread. Amen.