First Congregational Church
April 6, 2014
Fifth Sunday in Lent
"Broken Bread Restored"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
They say truth is stranger than fiction. In light of today’s theme, never has there been a more perfect illustration. Last year, we celebrated Maundy Thursday with our Methodist brothers and sisters at the Elberta Church. Maundy Thursday generally has one or two foci: stewardship - with the washing of feet - and/or The Lord’s Supper. So after deciding on a particular readers theater piece, Rev. Fay and I decided that we would service communion intinction style, as we shall do today.
It so happened that one of the Elberta ladies had volunteered to make bread for the occasion, and had done so earlier that week. There was no plan as to who would hold what, so I ended up with the bread, and Rev. Fay with the cup. I would break off a bit of the bread, give it to each person, and the individual was to dip it into the cup that Rev. Fay was holding. With the very first chunk, crumbs tumbled to the ground. The bread was the perfect consistency for toast, not so much for breaking and dipping. With each person that came up, the circle of white bread snow on the floor grew bigger.
It wasn’t thinking much about it, because no matter how old or new the bread is, when you break it or cut it, pieces fall off. But this bread went far beyond the label of crumbly. At one point I needed to tear off bigger chunks, because even as an individual moved the two or three feet from me to Rev. Fay, more crumbs fell to the ground. For anyone who has been afflicted with the laughing bug during a particularly quiet moment in church, you can understand the position Rev. Fay and I were in - not to mention the fact that we were supposed to be the ones that set the tone for the communion as well as the entire service! Fortunately, and no doubt with a little help from God, we seemed to hold it together enough until we finished.
However, from the time we started, until this day, the theological significance of that evening continues to unfold. But before going down that path, we need to take a side trip for the scripture passage.
Our passage takes place after Jesus fed the 5,000 with the help of a little kid and his two fish and five barley loaves - the cheapest of bread at the time - even held in contempt because it was the grain of animals. The cool thing is that Jesus used it to feed everyone. After such a block party, Jesus needed some time away, so he went to a mountain by himself.
While Jesus started his retreat, the disciples decided to take a boat across the Sea of Galilee, to the city of Capernaum, which brings us to the second scene-setting miracle. As they sailed across the lake, the wind came up, the disciples became afraid, and Jesus walked out onto the water to ease the disciples’ minds and hearts.
The next day, the people that had camped at the scene of the great block party went looking for Jesus, and finally found him across the lake. They asked him about his trip, and Jesus called them on their motive for following him. He told them not to work for the food that spoils, but for food that lasts forever. When the people asked what they had to do to do the work God requires, Jesus said it was to believe in the one God has sent. Which brings us near to the end of John 6.
John 6:48-51 The Message
47-51 “I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life. I am the Bread of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died. But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever. I am the Bread—living Bread!—who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.”
Thank you, Candace. In this Lenten series on brokenness, we’ve dealt with the woman with the broken heart who broke a jar of expensive perfume over Jesus’ head as he dined in Simon the Leper’s house. The second week was about Judas breaking Jesus’ trust in him and week three dealt with Peter’s broken promises of faithfulness. Last week’s topic was on broken justice, and how Jesus wasn’t about just about fixing the broken, but about raising up the restored to the status we were always intended to have: ambassadors - brothers and sisters of the King of Kings.
Today’s topic of the restoration of broken bread - Jesus being the Bread of Life - is sort of a misnomer. In Jesus’ day, when criminals were crucified, there was a difference in the way Romans and Jews performed them. Romans would leave their victims to linger on the cross - sometimes for days. Those deaths were as gruesome as a movie maker could imagine them.
But Jewish law was different, and the crucified one had to be removed from their cross before night. To hasten the dying process, sometimes the bones were smashed, which is what happened to the two that died with Jesus. It is interesting that back in the book of Numbers, there was a law that said of the Passover Lamb, “that not a bone of it should be broken (Num.9:12). When the soldiers came to Jesus, knowing he was already dead, but just to make double sure, they pierced his side with a spear.
In giving up his life, the Bread of Life became an offering of the craziest sort. It wasn’t an offering like a perfect loaf of uncut bread, but more like that of the crumbly kind, that falls to the ground and makes a mess and is hard to hold, and is anything but lovely. And yet, it is, a lovely thing that Christ did; even if there was no one else on earth, Christ would have offered himself that you may be restored to all that God has ever seen in you to be.
We are restored in the offering of the Bread of Life, because it, along with water, are the most basic needs of survival. The Bread of Life, restoring us, allows us to live - and flourish - in ways beyond our dreams and expectations. Even when it seems that we may be traversing a dry and barren land or desert, the Bread of Life, laying down his life for us, sort of like manna in the desert, whether we feel it or not, gives us enough to get us to the next day, the next place, the next whatever.
A number of years ago, when I was more into the making of real bread - the kind with yeast and kneading and hours and no bread-maker - my sister gave me a plaque thingy with a poem about bread. I couldn’t find who wrote it, but it says,
“Be gentle when you touch bread
Let it not lie uncared for—unwanted
So often bread is taken for granted
There is so much beauty in bread
Beauty of sun and soil, beauty of honest toil
Winds and rain have caressed it,
Christ often blessed it
Be gentle when you touch bread.”
I think that’s part of why I love to hold bread at communion, and maybe for some of you, too. It’s such a gift, so forgiving, so real, so essential, so spiritual. It is our reminder - that as Christ gave of himself, so can we give of ourselves, in the restoration of the brokenness of this world. Let us prepare our hearts, sweeping out the cobwebs, setting the tumbled chairs to right, throwing open the windows of our hearts, that the essence of Christ may move us to allow the Bread of Life to touch every part of our lives.
Let us pray. Gracious Holy Spirit, we thank you for being in our midst, most certainly in each other, the music, the words and the togetherness, but most especially in your Bread of Life. As we continue through this Lenten season, into Holy Week, Easter Sunday and beyond, remind us of how much have wanted us to be as you have always seen us - broken - perhaps - restored - most certainly - as your people. Remind us, each time we touch bread, see it or smell it, that all of life is holy, even in that which may seem ordinary. May that which we eat today strengthen us for the journey ahead. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.