Don’t Leave the Bread on the Table!

Matthew 26:14-29

There is so much going on today.  We have Palm Sunday, the beginning of Passion Week, the revelation of the betrayer of Jesus, and the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  For a few panicked moments earlier in the week, I was trying to discern how to put all of that together into one meaningful sermon.  I soon realized that was crazy!  I listened to where God was speaking to me, and it was and is in the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  In the midst of this Lenten madness, the joy of the Palms and travelling quickly to betrayal and death, we have the institution of Communion. 

Communion, for me, is one of the most important rituals that I participate in.  It has brought healing to me and to my family.  When I was a young person, my family did not attend church.  For most of my life, I didn’t really question that reality.  Then I became a teenager and had a little bit more control of my own locomotion.  We also moved to a small town in the Bible belt.  Church was very important to the structure of life and I began to question why my family didn’t go to church.  I started going, to a Southern Baptist church, and then I became certain that my family was going to hell.  Well, that is what the pastor and the community told me.  This was a very heavy burden for a teenager—carrying the weight of having to “save” her family.  I convinced my pastor to come and talk to my dad.  The miracle was I convinced my dad to listen.  The only result I know, is that nothing changed.  It was a mystery.  I knew that my dad had been brought up in a religious environment, but I did not know anything beyond that. 

As years went by and life happened, my view of the God of Christianity changed from the rigid legalism of that particular church to an uneasy alliance.  Then, when my kids were born, we decided it was time to find a church home.  As my faith was gently nurtured with an image of the God of love and a Christ of justice, the mystery of communion became central to my ritual at church.  Then, one Christmas, my dad was here visiting from North Carolina.  Mind you, I can’t even remember seeing my dad enter a church in my lifetime other than when I got married.  This particular Christmas Eve, we were performing a cantata at the 7:30 and 11:00 worship service.  I was the pianist.  My conclusion was that if my dad actually wanted to spend Christmas Eve with his family, he needed to be at church.  Knowing he has a beautiful voice, I asked him if he would be a reader and he said yes.  That was my first surprise.  He came to the 7:30 worship service, participated, but did not take communion.  Then, at the 11:00 worship, he came forward during communion.  Surprised does not begin to hold the emotions I was feeling.  There was some healing, I believe, that night.  For myself, and for my father’s uneasy relationship with the church.  And it came about by the offering of the free gift of communion with Christ enacted in the mysterious ritual of the Lord’s Supper.

Communion is important.

In a class that I am taking on Sacramental and Liturgical theology, our instructor asked the question, “During the Eucharist, who is doing the offering?  What is being offered?  And to whom is it being offered?”  The possibilities were nearly endless.

Who is offering

What

To Whom

God

Grace/faith

Us

Priest

Jesus

Father

We

Self

God

Jesus

God

Us

Jesus

Self

God

Jesus

Self

Us

Jesus

Salvation

Us

God

Holy Spirit

Us

I bet you can think of a combination that I haven’t listed!  In the book “for lovers of god everywhere,” St. Augustine is quoted from one of his homilies:

You are the mystery that is placed upon the Lord’s Table. You receive the mystery that is yourself.  To that which you are, you will respond, ‘Amen.’[1]

Roger Housden, the editor of the book, offers this commentary:

In placing ourselves on “the Lord’s table,” we are offering up our familiar identity and receiving in its place the body of Christ, which, in truth, is who we already are.  We are already one with God in our Christ nature.  As we experience this, the word ‘Amen’ will fall from our lips, for it means “It is so,” or “This is truth.”[2]

This thought has caught my imagination.  It actually makes a mysterious combination of many of the possibilities that I listed just a few moments ago.  During communion, we are offering and Jesus is offering and God is offering, and in this offering, God, self, Christ, and spirit are being offered, to God, to Christ, and to us.  My oh my.  This is a messy, inter-related living forth of the self-offering of Christ.  Exactly what communion can be.  John Wesley sometimes refers to communion as communication.  He says, “the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion or communication of the blood of Christ?”[3]  Now, just for a moment, I would like you to remember what it is like to be human and to participate in the process of communication.  Do we have to play a game of telephone to bring the point home?  Communication can be a convoluted, uneasy process.  Add in the idea that we are trying to discern the communication of Ultimate Mystery, and our descriptions continue to break down.  We just do not have the language that can hold the entirety that communion is.  So we will just go with communion is everything.  Or as some people might say, it is “all that and a bag of chips.”  So, if it is “all that and a bag of chips,” what do we do with such a powerful mysterious communication?

What are our choices?  In our scripture, we can see some of the choices that the disciples made.  Judas betrayed, Peter denied, the disciples scattered.  Of course, most of them came back together eventually, but in the immediate aftermath of participating in one of the greatest mysteries Jesus offers, every single one of the disciples breaks communion with Jesus and becomes deserters.  Figuratively, they leave the bread on the table.  It is profoundly sad.

What are they leaving on the table?  They are leaving the bread, the body of Christ.  They are leaving themselves, their authentic selves.  They are leaving God, holy relationship.  They are leaving the body of Christ, the church.  Going back to St. Augustine’s words, during communion, we receive the mystery that is ourselves.  To me, this means that we can only be a full, authentic person when we are in communion at the table and when we do not desert the table, but carry it with us into our lives.  John Wesley calls this “Constant Communion.” “A continual enjoyment of the Three-One God, and of all the creatures in him!”  Sounds wonderful.  The question is, how do we continue to strive for constant communion and why on earth would we ever leave our bread at the table in the first place?

First, I think that Jesus tells us pretty clearly in Matthew 25 how to maintain constant communion.  Almost directly before our scripture today, is the story referred to as “The Judgment of the Nations.”  Jesus says,

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

There’s our outline for constant communion, for carrying the bread out into the world.  Now we see how easy it is to leave our bread at the table.  Going into difficult places and offering food, drink, and shelter is hard work.  And some of us are constrained by our own situations.  And even if we personally do every single one of these things, we participate in systems that make it difficult for the full communion of all of our brothers and sisters in systems of wealth, healthcare, or education.  Besides, we can’t be the savior of the world!  We already have one of those.  This is an easy route for our minds to travel.  I feel it myself.  Even though I volunteer in prisons and actually do visit prisoners, I confess to feeling pangs of guilt when I pass by a panhandler knowing I have an extra dollar and I don’t give it to him or her.  Or when I get cranky with my husband.  Or with my kids.  Oy vey!  Especially that.  When I step into that, I am putting the bread back on the table.

“All of a sudden a woman came running as fast as lightening toward us. Well, of course, we stopped dead in our tracks as for sure we didn’t want to get run over and we didn’t want to get involved in someone else’s drama. As she came closer we noticed she was looking over her shoulder and that she was carrying, what looked to be, a loaf of bread in her arms. She looked panic stricken and was holding onto that loaf of bread as though it was her long lost child and she was going to protect it whatever the cost. Then she saw us and came right up to us and gave us the loaf of bread. “Please take it. My family needs food but I think he saw me and I don’t want him to follow me into my house.” With that, she ran up to the house on the corner, opened the door, went inside and was gone. Well, what to do?!?

I then saw, at a distance, a policeman coming rather quickly up the street on foot, looking this way and that, surely looking for the lady with the loaf of bread. We knew this wasn’t probably her designated day for shopping and quite frankly it wasn’t ours’ either. Liz seemed rather removed and when I asked her what I should do just shrugged her shoulders without saying a word. Some things never change between friends and that is one of them. Well, I saw a large hole in the yard and a boulder nearby and quickly deposited the bread, covering the hole with the boulder. Then Liz and I resumed our walk as though nothing had happened untoward out of the ordinary. Better to let sleeping dogs lie, as they say. But that didn’t happen today.

The policeman, that we had hoped did not see us or pay any mind to us, walked toward us. “Did you see a lady run by here with a loaf of bread?” Liz and I looked at each other with the best puzzled expressions we could muster and I said, “Why, no, officer. It’s just my friend and I here taking our daily walk. No one about that we noticed.” But he was having none of it. “I saw you over there putting something under that boulder and don’t tell me I didn’t. So, what did you put there? You both realize don’t you that it is against the law to buy food when it isn’t your day to shop and worse to take it from the store, don’t you?” “Why, yes, officer, we do and we never shop on a day we aren’t supposed to nor would we ever take anything from a store that doesn’t belong to us. Nooooo, we are law abiding citizens. Yes, we are, indeed.” Then he turned on his foot and went to the place I had hidden the loaf of bread. He gave us a look and moved the boulder. He once again turned on his foot and came back to where we stood holding the loaf of bread in his hand.

“So, you don’t know anything about a lady coming through here with a loaf of bread, do you?” Once again I looked to Liz who just shrugged her shoulders. “I can explain, officer, really,” I said. He didn’t say anything for a moment nor did I and then, “I’m waiting and this better be good.” My heart was racing so fast I wouldn’t need to continue this walk today because as fast as it was racing it gave new meaning to cardio vascular. “Well, you see officer, there was a lady but she really didn’t say much, something about children and no food and such. I know we aren’t supposed to go shopping on a day that isn’t our designated day and I felt so sorry for her and all…” He just stood there staring at me and I could see ‘bars’ before my eyes and the headlines that read “Elderly Woman Steals Loaf of Bread and is Sentenced to Jail.” Why, I wouldn’t even travel on a plane so the thought of jail?!? I could feel myself breaking out in a cold sweat (and for a woman of my age that is saying something). “Anyway, I just couldn’t think of those poor children with no mother to feed them and knew she must have been very desperate to have done something so foolish, to take a risk like that. So, when I saw the hole it came to me I’d just put the loaf there and no one would be the wiser. Then those poor children would not go without their mother.” I was hoping he was going to fall for it but, really, even I was having a hard time believing what it was I was saying. But he seemed to be thinking about it all the same and we waited. In my mind I wondered what it would be like to wear handcuffs?!? Must be cold is all I could think of. Then he began to speak.”

To summarize the rest of the story, the officer has a heart and lets them keep the bread.  However, it has suddenly multiplied to two loaves.  And when they took the bread to the family, it became three loaves. It is a bread mystery.  The story wraps up with:

I stepped out into the sunshine and saw Liz waiting at the end of the walk. I walked up to her and looked at her and said, “Don’t you think this has been a very strange day?” She simply shrugged her shoulders and smiled and we continued on our walk.”[4]

What I love about this story is the mystery of the bread.  It echoes the mystery of the bread that Christ offers to us as his life.  As the body of the church.  If we can reach out in faith and carry the bread, it multiplies and spreads.  If we leave the bread on the table, we leave our authentic selves there.  Separating who we are in the world, from who we are in Christ, leads to social conditions where the lost, the last, and the lonely are further marginalized by not allowing equal access to the table.  Leaving our bread on the table can have devastating consequences.  So pick up your bread, pick up the Christ light in your life, and carry it forth into the world.  As John Wesley said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” 

Walk in constant communion. 

Shalom and Amen.

(And P.S.  I hope you have a very strange day!)


[1] Housden, Roger.  For Lovers of God Everywhere.  p. 12

[2] Ibid.  p. 13

[3] Wesley, John.  Sermons, on Several Occasions.  Sermon 16.

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