The Breaking of the Bread – a homily

It is Parish Picnic Sunday, so this week’s sermon is short, sweet, and hopefully not too boring for the children who won’t be going off to Follow the Word.  I’m fighting a backup voice recorder, so audio may or may not be available.

I love bread!  How many of you love bread?  Almost everybody loves bread.  Having gotten to know some celiac and gluten intolerant folks, I’ve come to realize that even if you are gluten-free, one of the main goals in life is to find a decent loaf of bread.  Really, since the beginning of human existence, some form of bread has been one of the basic building blocks of life.  “Bread represents the life of the community; various members contribute their time and effort to grow, harvest, grind, and cook in order to provide bread for the people.”[1] People eat bread in many different ways: flatbreads, bagels, loaves, crackers, biscuits, rolls, and even hushpuppies; and it can be made from all sorts of ingredients: corn, wheat, barley, rice, cassava root, even potatoes.[2]  Of course, it is bread made from wheat flour that we are most familiar with.

Bread was very important to Jesus as well.  When Jesus was out in the dessert and didn’t eat for 40 days and 40 nights, it was bread that the devil used to tempt him.[3]  Jesus used bread as an example in his teachings.[4]  When his disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray he told them to ask God, “give us this day our daily bread.”[5]  What I find most interesting, however, is how Jesus used bread in his ministry.  First, there is the story of the time Jesus and his friends were out in the middle of nowhere teaching to a crowd of more than five-thousand people.  It came time for supper and everyone was hungry, but all they could find was five loaves of bread and two fish.  Jesus took that little bit, asked God to bless it, broke the bread into pieces, and told his disciples to share it with the people.  They ate and ate until everyone was full and then collected twelve baskets of leftovers.[6]  Every Sunday, we remember the night that Jesus was at dinner with his friends when he took the loaf of bread from the center of the table, gave thanks to God for it, and then broke it and gave it to his disciples.[7]  And then there’s the story you just heard me read.  It was evening on the first Easter Day when Jesus met up with some friends on the way to a town called Emmaus.  They didn’t recognize him because they weren’t expecting to see Jesus, but when they sat down to eat, he took the loaf of bread, blessed it, broke it into pieces and as he gave it to them, they realized who he was.[8]  The disciples knew the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

According to the Book of Common Prayer, one of my main jobs as a priest is to “celebrate the mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood,” which is a fancy way of saying that I am a bread breaker.[9]  Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Father Keith or I recall for us all those moments of sharing when Jesus took the bread, gave thanks and asked God to bless it, broke the bread, and shared it with his friends.  Like Cleopas and his companion, I see Jesus every time the bread gets broken.  As I look out at the congregation, I see Jesus in the eyes of the faithful gathered in worship.  I see Jesus in the wide eyed smiles of children with arms outstretched at the altar rail.  I see Jesus in the withered hands of an aging great-great-grandmother.  Of course, I see Jesus in a lot of other places as well.  Just this week, I saw him in Joseph, the Red Cross employee, who was handing out Waffle House biscuit sandwiches to those who had been displaced by rising water.  I saw Jesus in the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Deputies who were taking a moment amid the busyness of the flood to break bread over lunch.  I saw Jesus in the outpouring of care that neighbors have given each other in the aftermath of all that rain.  I’ve seen Jesus all over the place this week: in helpers and those in need; in the mundane and the profound; and often in moments of broken bread.

[10:30 ONLY In just a minute, we are going to renew our baptismal vows and Father Keith will ask you if you’ll continue in the breaking of the bread and if you’ll seek and serve Christ in all persons.  To me, they might as well be the same question.  When we break bread, whether it is at church, in the cafeteria, or at home, with God’s help, we see Jesus in the faces of our companions.]

I love bread.  I love it in biscuits, loaves and rolls; ciabatta or pretzel; plain or toasted; I even secretly love those ridiculous wafers we call “Eucharistic Bread.”  I love breaking bread: be it at my dinner table or standing at the altar. I love the power of bread to bring people together.  Even our word “companion,” someone we spend time with, comes from the Latin for one with whom we break bread.  Bread creates community, even in the depths of sadness, and especially when we follow the example of Jesus by taking, blessing, breaking, and most importantly sharing it with those around us.  And so, on this Parish Picnic Sunday, our prayer is simple “be known to us, Lord Jesus, in the breaking of the bread.”  Amen.

 

[1] Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book, 289

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_breads

[3] Luke 4:3

[4] Luke 6:4, 7:33, 11:5, 14:15, and 15:17

[5] Luke 11:3

[6] Luke 9:13-17

[7] Luke 22:19

[8] Luke 24:13-35

[9] BCP, 531

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Where do you see Jesus?

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work…” (Collect for Easter 3)

I’ve never been a fan of Fraction Anthems.  Well, that’s not true, I’ve never been a fan of music at the Fraction when congregational singing is expected.  The rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer make it clear that the moment of fraction is meant to be contemplated, silence is mandated, and I’ve never understood why we would send people diving for hymnals and flipping through obscure service music to find a setting that few people can sing anyway.  True Fraction Anthems, that is, music sung by a Cantor or the Choir, I’m OK with.  Or, as is the case at our 9:00 service, a conglomeration of the two, where a Cantor sings the verses and the congregation echos a refrain, I’m OK with that too.  That refrain finds its home in this week’s Gospel lesson and Collect:

“The disciples knew the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread.”

As a priest, one of my main duties to to faithfully administer the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood.  In the moment of the Fraction, I see Jesus.  I see Jesus in the eyes of the faithful gathered in worship.  I see Jesus in the wide eyed smile of the 14 month old child.  I see Jesus in the withered hands of an aging great-great-grandmother.   I see Jesus in the exasperated parents whose child just won’t sit still.  Of course, I see Jesus in a lot of other places as well.  Just today I saw him in the Red Cross employee doing his best on no sleep to serve those who had been rescued by first responders or fled the rising water on their own.

Fish River residents are brought in by boat as Fish River crested to near record levels on Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in south Baldwin County, Ala. (Marc D. Anderson/manderson@al.com)

I saw Jesus in the poor (in every sense of the word) couple I drove back to their trailer down at the end of Meth Avenue.  I saw Jesus in the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Deputies who were taking a moment amid the busyness of the last 24 hours to grab a bite of lunch.  I saw Jesus in my parent’s who though they got very little sleep last night, came to watch FBC and SBC so I could get to the office and start making calls.  I’ve seen Jesus all over the place today: in helpers and those in need; in the mundane and the profound.  But nowhere was he more present then in the breaking of the bread at the noon Eucharist today.

Where have you seen Jesus today?

Breaking Bread

Despite the recent trend away from products containing gluten, bread has for centuries been one of the most important food commodities around the globe.  Be it Baguette, Matzah, Cornbread, or Nan just about every region of the world has a grain and water based staple that provides calories and carbohydrates for the hard working lower class.  In times of high cotton in America, workers have been said to “bring home the bacon,” but the reality is most of us are doing well to “keep bread on the table.”  It is no wonder then that Jesus’ encounter with Cleopas and his companion (literally, one with whom you break bread) is so intriguing.

Sure, it is a story full of nuance and questions.  Why don’t he disciples recognize Jesus?  Why does he pretend to continue down the road?  What were the disciples thinking as their hearts were strangely warmed?  To my mind, however, the most important action in the story is their sitting down to break bread together.  In the depths of their despair, the disciples offered hospitality to the stranger in their midst, invited him to spend the night, and shared a meal with him.  How many of us would do the same?

There is, I think, a discipleship lesson in the Emmaus Road story.  Followers of Jesus eventually realize the holiness of the mundane.  Breaking bread is something we do whether in joy, as in the Eucharistic Feast, or in sadness, as in the traditional funeral reception.  We take time in the midst of the highs, lows, and in-betweens of life to share a meal and remember the good things God has given us.  Sometimes it is strictly ceremonial, sometimes its therapeutic pimento cheese, and sometimes it is a feast of rich foods and well aged wines, but breaking bread is something we do, no matter what.

For the record, I hate pimento cheese, so please don’t see this as an invitation to bring some by my office. Thanks!