Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sharing Bread...

John 6:51-58

One could say it was a children's sermon gone wrong.

A few Sundays ago as we were talking about Jesus feeding the 5000 we did an 'experiment.'  I had the end of a loaf of sourdough bread left from baking on Friday and we decided to pass this piece of bread among those gathered for worship that day.  I broke it into three pieces and then sent three youngsters out into the congregation with it: one small piece for the right side, one for the left side and one for the balcony. As the people passed it from one to another, they were invited to take a piece for themselves.

It took a while for those bits of bread to make their way up and down the pews... and as for the balcony?  Well, in the congregation I now serve it's a far distance from where I stand --- so I couldn't really tell how it was progressing there until laughter started rippling down.  I looked up and asked what had happened. Several shouted out that they would tell me later. Still, it was clear that something had happened to their portion of bread.  So having a little left from one of those which had made its way through the main floor, someone ran upstairs with it and everyone in the place wound up getting a piece of bread. A small piece, to be sure, but still at least a few crumbs.

I followed up later with the balcony crowd and learned that there was a three-year-old accompanying his grandma at worship on Sunday. When the bread came to him, he popped the whole piece into his mouth!

Bread is for eating, of course, and this youngster knew it.  He simply received it and did what he knew to do with it...

It is also so with the bread that is Jesus --- this living bread which comes to us from God's own hand. promises life.  It is ours to receive, to enjoy, to celebrate, to give thanks for.  And like all bread, it is meant to feed us. 

I was on call at our local community hospital a few weeks back.  It was mid-morning on Thursday when my cell phone rang.  It was the hospital social worker calling to tell me she was with a family whose 90-year-old mother was dying and they had asked for pastoral care.  It wasn't urgent, she assured me, but hospice had been called in.  Then almost as an afterthought she said, "The language shouldn't be a barrier.  Her children know enough English so that you should be fine."

So off I went.  I stepped into Carmella's darkened room and introduced myself to a handful of sons and daughters and daughters-in-law.  They spoke of their mother and her deep faith. This was evident from the rosary tucked into her hand and the prayer card laying next to it. They spoke of how close she was to death.  They spoke of her other children still on their way.  They spoke of their grief and of their wondering if the others would arrive in time.

My high school Spanish is paltry.  Still, I did understand when Carmella's daughter leaned over and told her mother "La pastora aqui."  The pastor, a female pastor at that, is here...

And so we gathered round Carmella's bed and with my hand on her forehead I prayed.  It was in the next moments that one of Carmella's sons turned to me and asked if I would bring them communion.  "Of course," I said.  And I drove back to church and refilled my communion kit with plenty of wafers.  I loaded up the little plastic glasses just in case, although as I expected, their practice was to receive only the bread.

I returned within the hour and by then most of the family had gathered --- crowded around the bed of their mother and grandmother....  I repeated the story we hold in common, "In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread..." I wish I could have said it in Spanish...even so, they nodded as I repeated the words they clearly knew so very well.  We bowed our heads and prayed as one our Lord's Prayer and then I circled the room and pressed the tiny wafer into the hungering hands of a grieving family. And yes, since they asked me to, I gave a bit of wafer to Carmella, too.  Did she realize then the gift that hers was to receive once more in this life?  I'm told the dying comprehend more than we often give them credit for and so I expect she did know.  I know it was great comfort to her children that together with her family she might have one more taste of the Living Bread that is Jesus.

And so it is we hear of Jesus as Living Bread again this week. I know there are a thousand, thousand ways to encounter Jesus and I know also that the story I just told is probably an example of how we who are deeply churched most expect to encounter him.

Only I didn't expect it in quite this way when I walked in to that hospital room that morning.  I didn't expect it would be shared across so much which would otherwise separate us: language, culture, and faith traditions, to name a few.  And I certainly didn't expect they would be so eager to receive this bit of Living Bread even from me...   So in this once more I am reminded of how this Bread that is Jesus brings life also in surprising places and between unexpected people: binding us together across all that would separate us.  And I am reminded again that this gift of God IS ours to receive, to celebrate, in the simple example of one small child in the congregation I now serve -- this gift of God is ours to eat, to take into ourselves, to change us from the inside out, giving us life and energy and hope for another day. Like the bread we enjoy every day, this Bread does the same only more for receiving this Bread has us abiding with Jesus who is the source of life and hope itself.

  1. What are your favorite stories of Holy Communion? When have you been surprised by the wonder of the Living Bread that is Jesus even in this traditional way you are accustomed to receiving it?
  2. Can you think of times when the Sacrament has brought together those who might otherwise be separated?  How do those experiences deepen your understanding of the gifts of God?  
  3. I am grateful to be part of a faith tradition which urges me on to be an instrument of feeding all those who are hungry for the gifts of God.  The Lutheran family I call home practices an open table. All are welcome.  Because of this I did not hesitate to fill my communion kit and return to the hospital that day.  I imagine there might be those who disagree with what I did.  What do you think? What would you have done?  Why?


  1. One summer when you served as pastor at Salem (Sycamore) we did a study of different movies. One of the movies we looked at was "Places in the Heart" with Sally Field. I recall a communion scene at the end of the movie where everyone was present, no matter their race, religious views, or social class. Even persons who had died in the movie were present in this scene. The very next Sunday, I imagined sitting with my grandmother (who is deceased) and receiving communion with her.

    On the Sunday I returned to church after my dad died this spring, I again imagined receiving communion with him. This Holy Sacrament we share has been shared with hundreds of thousands of people throughout the ages and will continue after we pass from this earth.

    I believe the Sacrament should be shared with all, believers and non-believers. Who knows, that piece of bread and drink of wine may be what brings someone to Christ.

    Thank you, Pastor for sharing with us each week.

    1. I, too, love to imagine all the saints who have gone before joining us as we receive the bread and wine that is Jesus. What a marvelous blessing that is. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences of communion with dear ones who have died. That surely is part of the gift of the promise Jesus brings! May this Sacrament continue to be a blessing to you... and yes, may this meal be the gift that brings others to faith even as it deepens ours. Much peace to you...

    2. “Feed me till I want no more” Jesus knew before hand just how hungry we were going to get for the living Word. Our times in worship, our spending time feasting, as the disciples did at the last supper has turned out (thank God for Pentecost) to be a universal “dinner time.” If we were not feasting on Jesus’ bread out lives would be empty and our hearts would clogged with the arteries damage. “Do this in remembrance of me” All the ritual that accompanies our suppertime together is because of Jesus walking down that road, carrying the heavy burdens, reaching the cross for our sins. But, wait! All was not lost the energy to move towards the Cross was because the last supper gave Him the strength to do what He was called to do.
      Today, I thank God for the bread of life!

  2. I was the last to serve communion to my mother-in-law just 3 months prior to her death. Failing health had kept her from attending church services and, unfortuantely, her church sadly neglected keeping in touch with her, let alone administering the Eucharist. I smile as I remember using grape juice instead of wine, primarily because of her staunch Southern Baptist views regarding alcohol. But she lovingly appreciated the Lord's Supper inspite of my using the Lutheran liturgy totally from memory.

    Similarly, I was the last to give my own mother Holy Communion two years ago. While Mom is still with us, the ravages of Alzheimer's dementia has affected her ability to both swallow and to comprehend any communication; in fact, she no longer knows who I am nor does she recognize my brothers or my sister. Nonetheless, she did actively participate in the Eucharist at the time I served it to her.

    While our Lord tells us to feed all those who hunger, perhaps we should look closely at members of our own family who might also be among those who hunger for the bread of life. For whatever reason, they, too, may be among those who hunger and may be easily overlooked in our concentrated efforts of seeking others lacking spiritual nourishment.

  3. After this last weekend of worship I talked with a friend who had gone to another church and it didn't "happen to be a communion Sunday". She was disappointed. After going through months of chemotherapy, I cannot imagine how disappointed I would be if one of the few times I was able to commune in community that they were not celebrating. I think it is time to round up the encouragement to congregations where this is a "1st and 3rd" celebration only. The world is still hungry.....and so am I. Rev. Laura Koppenhoefer

  4. Thanks, Laura, for your comment. I'm 'with you' in encouraging the celebration of weekly communion. Yours is a perfect example of why it is so important. We are all hungry...

  5. One of my favorite moments in distributing communion is when the third graders receive communion for the first time. They are so eager, so joyful. That attitude lasts quite awhile, in some longer than others. I wonder when and why we who are older lose that. Kris Zierke

    1. Kris, I totally is always a gift to see the wonder on the faces of children when they first receive communion. I'm with you... when DID we lose that?