(Walk over to the Communion Table. Pick up the bread and break off a piece. Eat it. Pick up the chalice. Pour the juice into the cup. Walk back to the pulpit)
It has often been said,
If it walks like a duck,
And quakes like a duck,
It must be a duck.
Therefore logically it would follow,
If it taste like bread,
And it pours like grape juice,
It must be rather ordinary.
Such is the dilemma of one who comes to the table with a mind and heart haunted by the cruelness of this world. How does she overcome being blindsided by death? Why is he expected to imagine the mystery of God amidst the unpleasantness of life? When one’s eyes are closed to the possibility of the presence of God, the bread and the wine are only what they seem; nourishment for a moment.
Two men were headed home at the end of the Passover celebration. What had “passed over” them was the dream of a lifetime. Three days before, the angel of death slew the sacrificial lamb. Their infant hopes for the dawn of a new age lay dead at the foot of the cross. They had heard wild rumors of a resurrection but suspected it was just the active imaginations of bereaved women. These disciples would not be fooled again. Too long they had believed in a dream, but their dream seemed the opening act to a nightmare. Three years had been wasted. Now they only wanted to return home and recover what was left of their wounded lives.
Along this road of broken dreams, the incarnation of their holiest wish appeared beside them. But his identity was obscured by their broken hearts. They viewed the visitor as just another fellow traveler headed home from the week-end festivities. How often, in times of distress, have we failed to feel the presence of God? Who among us hasn’t desired a three day limit on any physical or spiritual pain? But the ache lingers, sometimes causing us to lose our taste for God, making the bread and wine ordinary.
The two disciples were so self-absorbed by grief they could not recognize the very One they mourned. They told the stranger, “We had so hoped Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, but we were wrong. Now he is dead and we will listen to no more lies. We will not be tricked by anymore illusions. We just want to go home and start over again.”
At this point it becomes obvious Jesus had skipped the required course on pastoral care. He yells at the two men, “You idiots, have you completely forgotten what you were taught? The Messiah is not the one who wins the power struggle. He is the one who loses it. The Messiah is not the undefeated champion; he is the broken one who comes into his glory with the wounds still visible.” And then Jesus said the strangest thing. “You were invited on this journey not because of your brains or your brawn but because you understand what it means to have been wounded.”
There is a legend in the Talmud in which Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi encountered the great prophet Elijah. The Rabbi eagerly asked, “When will the Messiah come?”
Elijah replied, “Go and ask him yourself.”
“Where is he?” asked the Rabbi.
“He is sitting at the gates of the city.”
“How shall I know him?”
“He is sitting among the poor, binding his wounds, one at a time, waiting for the moment when he is needed.”
I suspect the Rabbi was as confused as the two travelers on the way to Emmaus. How can our brokenness become the vehicle by which others are healed?
Bewildered, yet intrigued, the two disciples asked the stranger to spend the night with them. The three sat to share a meal. Jesus, the guest, asked if he might serve as host. He took the bread, broke it, and held it out to them. In the breaking of the bread, perhaps they recognize the wounds in his hands. In the pouring of the wine perhaps they recognized the brokenness of his heart. But in the midst of each other’s brokenness, the disciples recognize their Lord.
John Leith wrote, “Revelation overcomes the incongruities between what life is and what life ought to be.” Our blindness does not keep God from coming to us. Our brokenness does not exclude us from the grace of God. In fact it would seem that Jesus prefers working with broken people, and with broken dreams, in a broken world.
The Gospel of Luke introduces us to Jesus by quoting Isaiah 61. “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, give sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free.” How appropriate that one of the last acts by Jesus in the Luke’s gospel was to break bread and offer it to those who were broken.
This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, shed for you. If these are just words, then the bread and wine remain ordinary.
But if those words are inspired by the one who was broken for our sake then those words can inspire us to read a Psalm with someone who is dying, or tell the truth to someone who asked for it, or end a quarrel with words of forgiveness, or write a note that restores hope, or listen to the same old story when a family member tells it for the hundredth time or a child tells it for the first time.
This is my body,
Broken for you.
This is my blood,
Shed for you
When seen in the light of God’s grace.
When spoken to one whose life is shattered.
Which inspire and heal.
Come to the table,
And know our Lord in the breaking of the bread.
Then go from the table,
And work to overcome, “the incongruities
Between what life is,
And what life ought to be.”