(given on August 3, 2008)
One of the most comforting smells for me is that of homemade, baked bread, I love bread and not just one kinds. I think sourdough bread is one of the best flavors, then there is cinnamon bread which even smells better while it is baking. Then there is pumpkin tea bread. Mom found this recipe in the Sunday paper one day and it became legendary at family gatherings or carry-in dinners at church. When it is harvest time and that pumpkin tea bread is baking, it fills the entire house with spices and pumpkin. I do not care how bad a day you have had, if you can walk into a house with some type of bread baking, it just takes all the weights off your shoulder.
Today we are going to share in communion and bread is a staple of that sacrament. Bread can be a very real comfort on a terrible day; and through communion, bread becomes the comfort for our human journey. In today’s scripture the story of feeding the 5000 with only five loaves and two fish can illustrate the bond established through the sharing of bread.
Jesus had left town in order to mourn over the loss of John the Baptist. He had just heard that he had been executed and needed some private time. But word spread that he was there by the sea and they came. They came to listen to his message and even though he was mourning, he shared with them. When meal time came, the disciples wanted him to tell the people to leave, go home, go eat your supper. Jesus told the disciples to feed them.
Just imagine if you were in a position where friends and their friends just happened to drop by the house and want to talk over some very important issue with you. They came to you because you offered them hope. Suddenly it is time for a meal as is your habit, but they do not get up to leave. You know you do not have enough to feed that many people, but you feel compelled to offer them food. What in the world would you do!
The miracle that happens here is something we cannot honestly understand. We have no frame of reference that lets us see how to manage such a task. What is even more surprising is that the Bible tells us that when it was time to clean up from the meal, there were 12 baskets full of scraps and/or leftovers. And we are not talking about a basket which we typically take to a carry-in meal. According to the Archeological Bible the baskets used after the meal were “kopinos…a relatively small basket that could be carried on the back to hold provisions. Twelve of these baskets were used to gather the food that remained after the feeding of the five thousand.”
While reading these verses in Matthew once again, I found myself stopping and re-reading verses 19-20:
. 19And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
Now let’s look at the communion liturgy. Turn to page 8 in your hymnal. This time I want you to look at the read, italicized words at the bottom of the page and into the next few pages. As we read through these, compare it to the words in verses 19 and 20:
The bread and wine are brought by representatives of the people to the Lord’s table with the other gifts, or uncovered if already in place…(top of page 9) The pastor takes the bread and cup, and the bread and wine are prepared for the meal.”
Do you see the comparison? I struggle with providing a ritualistic delivery of communion, but as I read through these two verses I developed the mental picture of the pastors I have watched deliver communion. I know see why there are those directions written into the liturgy.
And it continues on to the actual breaking of the bread on page 11:
“The pastor breaks the bread in silence, or while saying: . . . The pastor lifts the cup in silence, or while saying: . . . The bread and wine are given to the people, with these or other words being exchanged . . . . .”When all have received, the Lord’s table is put in order.”
The manner in which communion is served, from the beginning to the end, is based on the model of Jesus feeding the 5,000.
Communion is a miniature version of the meals Christ participated in during his ministry. The model is based on the customs practiced in the Mid-Eastern culture at Christ’s time. In one resource I read, written by Rev. Dr. Mona West, of Florida, she compared the feeding of the 5,000 to a banquet described in Isaiah 55:1-5 . . .
1 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me;
hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander of the peoples.
5 Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations that do not know you will hasten to you,
because of the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”
Those words sound so familiar again. These words are woven into the language of the liturgy we are using today. These words show how much Jesus used what he was taught as a child and how he showed us that these words continue to hold that strong relationship of Christians throughout the ages, even before the time of Christ when the Israelites were awaiting the arrival of the Messiah.
At a time when we need comfort, we can return to these words, these actions and the promises found in the communion liturgy. There may not be the aroma of freshly baked bread filling the sanctuary, but we have the bread and the wine rich with tradition. We know that this is a time for us to renew our covenant with God. We know that God is with us and that because of the new covenant, God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that we can have eternal life.
Thank you, God, for your sacrifice so that we can live. As we renew our covenant through communion, let us find comfort in the words, in the bread and the wine. Let us know that this connects us to the history of our Christian family now and forever. –Amen