A sermon for the 2017 Fall Gathering of the Florida-Bahamas Synodical Women’s Organization, November 11, 2017
“One bread, one body.” That’s the phrase we’ve been using all weekend. We’ve been singing about it and studying it. And I just have to say—I am SO grateful for the invitation to dwell in this phrase as a community of faith. The more I think about it, the more powerful it becomes.
Because does it feel to you like there are some major rifts in the body these days? I don’t know about you, but this year it feels like division and conflict seem to get center stages. Whether we look at politics, society, even families and relationships, it feels easier to identify brokenness than healing. It feels easier to identify hunger than wholeness.
But it is in THIS context that we read this passage from Matthew about Jesus’ last supper. Jesus knew the reality of conflict and division. Throughout his ministry he was constantly faced with tension and friction in the community. whether it was his own family not understanding him or religious and political leaders questioning him, I would venture to guess that Jesus was familiar with the emptiness of broken relationships and division.
And he knows things are going to get worse. He knows that even within the inner circle of his disciples, loyalty is being tested. Judas is about to give in to the offer to turn Jesus over. Peter is about to deny he even knows Jesus. Other disciples are about to flee in fear. And I think Jesus knows this—or at least his gut is telling him something is about to happen. So he gathers his disciples for what we know of as his final meal, and he tries to give them something that will strengthen and sustain them in the days ahead. He joins them in sharing a Passover meal—a meal that already symbolizes for them God’s deliverance and protection.
But he does something more with this meal. He takes a meal that is already meaningful and re-defines it for them, so that in the days ahead they would have something to connect to him and to each other when it would be easier to be disconnected. With the breaking of bread and sharing of the cup, Jesus no longer just points to a God out there who is disconnected and distant from human suffering. Now, by defining the bread as his body, broken and given to the very disciples who doubt, question and are about to abandon him, Jesus shows us a God who doesn’t just pass over our experiences of pain and death, but comes FOR US and fills us in those very experiences.
This is my body, broken for you, Jesus says. This is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.
And with these words, the God who the disciples previously knew as one who passes over—and maybe even seemed to be one who dictates and causes death—now is one who gives himself to the very people who betray and abandon him. The God the disciples knew as one who demands sacrifices for sin IS now the sacrifice for the forgiveness of all sin.
I think these words that we hear each time we gather around the Lord’s Table can easily lose their impact. But in a day where there is so much division and conflict, so much pain and hunger, we need to hear that we don’t have a God who passes over us. We have a God whose very body is broken for us. We don’t have a God who is distant and disconnected. We have a God who comes to us in the very ordinary stuff of our lives—like bread and wine, like food with friends—re-covenants with us, and declares forgiveness.
This year has been an interesting year for me as I have left a congregational leadership role. For several months this year I have attended worship with absolutely no responsibility. And I just have to tell you, on more than one Sunday, as I sat in the congregation and watched people file forward for communion, I could not hold back tears. It was like that reading from Rachel Held Evans I read earlier…the body of Christ, broken for you…the body of Christ, broken for you. As I have watched people of all ages, with all kinds of backgrounds and stories, file forward and receive this incredible gift, I have been moved to tears.
Do you allow yourself to get caught up in this meal that Christ shares with his disciples, this meal we share with each other? It’s more than just a wafer and wine. It’s the promise of connection with God and with one another. It’s the promise of forgiveness and healing. It’s the promise of God being WITH and FOR us—regardless of our merit and just before we do thinks like deny and betray him.
The writer of Galatians says that “now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”
It is through the one bread that Jesus shares that the disciples were fed. It is with the one body broken and given for us that we are filled with faith. And through faith we are ALL OF US children of God. Those things we use to define us—our backgrounds, our traditions, our preferences, our beliefs even—they lose their power in the presence of all God is and does for us. Through faith in Christ we are ALL OF US children of God. So this one bread broken for the disciples—a rag tag crew who didn’t always get it—united them with each other and with Jesus in a way that drew them together after the resurrection and sent them out into the world. Breaking bread continued to be a defining way they stayed connected to one another. Breaking bread became a key way they stayed connected to God. And breaking bread became a key way they embraced their neighbor.
And this one body given to the disciples on the cross is also given to us—a rag tag crew of followers who don’t always get it. and as we allow it to work on and through us, this one body makes US one body. It keeps us connected to one another. It keeps us connected to God. And it keeps us connected to our neighbors.
There are plenty of issues, perspectives and opinions that are working to drive us apart. There is plenty of pain in the world that leaves us hungry. But Jesus gave us something to strengthen us and sustain us. Jesus gave us something the world DESPERATELY needs. Jesus gave us his body. Jesus gave us the Bread of Life. And as we take, eat, and share this body with those around us, we become one in Christ through faith. And in Christ, those things that divide us just don’t matter as much. In Christ, there is unity and community.
Dear sisters in Christ, where you are hungry and empty, may the Bread of life fill you. Where you are broken, may the body of Christ strengthen and heal you. and may we together continue to share this amazing gift with the world around us.