A while back my small church community had a couple of explorations into breaking bread together – not something we often do on a Tuesday night.
But the shared symbolic meal of bread and wine is the place Christians traditionally retell the story of Jesus – centring on his very memorable last meal. So it seemed like an idea to tell some stories of our own and find out what makes a meal memorable for us.
We spent the evening in a warm house around a laden table and told stories of our own memorable meals. Because the communion meal is all about our stories intermingling with the story of Jesus. We find our place in his story and he finds his place in ours.
We said this story prayer, then I told…
We’re here tonight to say thank you – ‘evcharisto’ (eucharist) as they say in Greek.
Around a table, we express our gratitude that God offers us a welcome. That God says, Come in, sit down, eat – I have prepared a place for you at the table.
There is no threat, no raised eyebrow, no secret password. The Bible is clear that the message of Jesus is an open secret. The walls between us as people, and between us and God, have been broken down.
Jesus partied with the wrong kind of people. He would sit down to dinner with anyone, it seems. Some people found it a prickly experience, and he wasn’t afraid to offend his host.
Often when Jesus sat down to a meal, something changed.
A polite middle class person was shocked to the core. An uptight religious leader went red in the face. People got back embezzled money. Women embarrassed everyone – except Jesus – with unfettered displays of affection. There was suddenly an awful lot of very good wine.
So this man, Jesus, was heading for a fall. He caused a stir wherever he went, they say, healing people with all kinds of diseases, saying all kinds of unsayable things – like the poor are in fact the people who are blessed. Everyone the world thinks has been dealt a duff hand – they are the ones with reason to rejoice; they’re much closer to God’s world than the world the rich and the powerful and the privileged are making for themselves. He claimed he had a hotline to God, the ability to heal your soul as well as your body.
He had been winding up the religious leaders ever since he started preaching, now he came to the notice of the Roman prefect who had to come into town to watch over the crowds who had come to Jerusalem for the massive celebration of the Jewish Passover. Threatening to upset the order of things, the status quo, that kept the rich rich and the poor poor, that oiled the wheels of the empire – well he knew what had happened to one preacher after another that had gathered a following around him. One way or another they were silenced.
Yet he made his way to the centre of things – the capital city, the heart of the religious system he seemed so determined to upset – and as the storm clouds gathered around him, he came to a place on the outskirts of the city, a room in a house, where a meal had been prepared for him and his closest friends.
One of them – for whatever reason – was about to betray him, to work with the authorities to fix up a quiet arrest. Who knows why. Was he disappointed? Was he disgusted? Had he begun to see all his hopes come crashing down? He’d invested his life in following this Jesus from Nazareth, maybe thinking he was going to do one thing and then beginning to see that was not Jesus’ idea….
Well, who knows, but this was an emotionally charged meal. And then towards the end, Jesus takes some bread, gives thanks to God, breaks it, and says, “This is my body – it’s for you.”
Then he pours some wine, gives thanks, and says, “This is my blood.”
And he passed it round the table.
Within 24 hours, he would be dead.
[PAUSE – CONFESSION]
We take a pause here, at the darkest moment, to offer to God our own emptiness, to acknowledge our hunger, our thirst for the life only God can give, but which we so often misdirect as we hunger and thirst for things, for money, for security, for safety, whatever it might be. Let’s offer to God the emptiness we seek to fill with anything but God.
Now, obviously, I wasn’t at that meal with Jesus and his friends. But then again, I have been, probably hundreds of times now in my life.
And now, somehow, tonight, I’m there again. Listening to Jesus say those dark words. Knowing with hindsight, as those at the first table did not, that they did in fact have the darkest of all possible meanings – that his body would be broken and his blood would be spilled.
But also, with hindsight, believing that somehow Jesus didn’t stay dead. That a body broken gives life to other bodies. That by God’s spirit, people who accept God’s invitation, together get called the body of Christ – somehow they bring Christ to life again in the world, each in their own way – the goodness, the forgiveness, the promise, the hope.
And the bread and the wine become the symbol of this – we eat and drink and they become part of us, like all food and drink, and get turned into energy by our bodies and so we live and work and dream and play and love…
So we accept God’s invitation to the table, sit down and join the conversation, throw ourselves in to the flow of God in the world, God becomes part of us, and so we live to the full, work with all our strength, dream with all our heart, play with all our spirit, and love with every part of our being.
So let’s take a piece of bread and drink some wine, and remember what life to the full meant for Jesus – in the end giving himself away completely.
And as we eat the bread, let’s accept our place at God’s table, and God’s strength to sustain us.
And as we drink the wine, let’s feel our blood warmed by God’s spirit, feel the tingle on the tongue and the gentle fire in our belly, and remember that we are called to live, not just to exist.
And let’s remember that after the meal, Jesus’ friends followed him out into the dark, not knowing where it might lead…
[BREAD AND WINE IS SHARED]