Known In the Breaking of the Bread

Known in the Breaking of the Bread
X ROAD TO EMMAUS WOMAN Bible scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan both believe that the story of two disciples meeting the Risen Christ on the Road to Emmaus is the most authentic of all the resurrection stories. The empty tomb they argue was probably created to try to silence the critics who alleged that Jesus’ followers had stolen the body, or that what the disciples claimed to have experienced Jesus alive among them was inauthentic and unreliable. But what believers down through the ages have proclaimed is that Jesus is alive and among us in the breaking of the bread, eating at the sharing table. When hungry people are fed, and when hierarchies are abandoned, and people gather at the table to eat together regardless of age, ethnicity, family structure, gender identity and expression, mental and physical ability, nationality, political ideology, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and spiritual belief, Jesus is alive and well among us.
X WOMEN LEADERS IN THE EARLY CHURCH<a Another important detail of the story was only one of the disciples who was walking on the Road to Emmaus was named. How come? How did one of the first people to experience the risen Christ become lost to history? John Dominic Crossan provides an answer. The unnamed disciple was a woman. Jesus welcomed women as followers. He invited them to join the teaching circle and eat at the Sharing Table. The early church continued Jesus’ practice of allowing women opportunities for leadership and ministry. The prominence of women in the entourage of Jesus was one more reason traditional Judaism was scandalized by the followers of the way. In one of the genuine letters of Paul, the Letter to the Romans, women were described as apostles and deacons – Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, Julia, Olympas. Lydia was the founder, benefactress and leader of the church in Philippi. Not until the second century almost eighty years after the time of Jesus did the male leaders of the church begin to put women in their place. They sold out Jesus’ acceptance of gender equality in order to gain wider acceptance within the patriarchal Roman Empire. And then finally in the third and fourth centuries in an attempt to court the favor of the Empire, the church became more hierarchical in its leadership. We begin to see Bishops as rulers instead of servants.
X RADICALLY EGALITARIAN The community of followers Jesus left behind was radically egalitarian for the First Century. Women were recognized as teachers and ministers. The picture here is a restored fresco from the early church showing women presiding at the eucharist. Wealth was shared. Decisions were made by discussion and consensus. They also left room for disagreement and diversity – Jews should continue to keep the kosher dietary regulations, gentiles were free to follow their own conscience. When the Jerusalem Church chose a person to replace Judas, who had committed suicide, they nominated two people who had followed Jesus around Galilee. Then lots were drawn to make the final selection. They believed that drawing lots opened the process to the Holy Spirit, and prevented electioneering and the politicizing of their community.
X CHOOSING LEADERS BY LOT Many Mennonite churches still select their leaders by lot. When a congregation needs to choose a new leader, they collect nominations from the people. Individuals who receive seven or more nominations are then asked if they would serve if they were chosen. The nomination process usually narrows the field of candidates to four or five people. The Mennonite Bishop then visits the congregation and leads the people in a prayer service. The Bishop then places four or five copies of the Bible on the communion table. Inside one of the Bibles a book mark has been hidden. While the congregation sings a hymn the candidates are invited to come forward to pick up one of the Bibles. The person who finds the book mark inside his/her Bible has been chosen as the new leader. Leaving a selection process open to the movement of the Holy Spirit by drawing lots seems like a novel concept to us. But drawing lots can insure a rotation of leadership, and a community can avoid the divisiveness that can accompany contested elections.
X RADICAL INCLUSION 2 Jesus intended for his followers to practice radical inclusion forming an egalitarian community of faith. The poor were invited to eat with the rich. Women exercised authority with men and shared in the ministry of the community. The central act of worship of the followers of Jesus became the community meal, for in the symbolism of egalitarian table fellowship they recognized the Christ alive and well among them.
X EMPTY RITUAL When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, people rushed to join the Church, because in order to hold a government job or receive a government contract, you had to be a member of the church. Large basilicas had to be built to hold all the people attending worship. During this period it was no longer practical to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a communal meal. Instead, the Eucharist became a ceremony – often an empty ritual. Fewer and fewer people came to know the Christ in the breaking of the bread, because the Lord’s Supper had been taken out of its original context as a communal meal.
X THATS THE DEVIL COMING OUT I’m reminded of one fellow minister who shared the experience of his second communion. He was sitting in front of a couple of older members of the church as the elements were passed. After the drinking of the wine, you could hear several people coughing as the wine sort of stuck in their throats – wasn’t a very good vintage. And the young man over heard one of the elders say to the other, “That’s the devil coming out.”
X CHILDREN IN WORSHIPWhen the sense of community is lost in the breaking of the bread we often miss the presence of the Christ. I find this is particularly true for children in worship. A four-year-old was in church when the wine and communion wafers were passed out. He was very interested in this, and started to help himself as the elements were passed. His mother leaned over and told him that he was not old enough to partake in the Communion.
Later, when the collection plate came by, he ignored it. His mother again leaned over and tried to coax the nickel out of him. He steadfastly refused, stating, “If I can’t eat, I’m not paying.”
To make sure children don’t believe they are being excluded, I have offered them the choice between the wine and the wafer or a cookie. If a child chooses the wine and wafer rather than the cookie, then they are ready to join in the Lord’s Supper. If a child chooses the cookie they still get to eat with everyone else – inclusion is the key.
X CIRCLE OF COMMUNIONIf we are going to take seriously egalitarian inclusion, and a communal context for the breaking of the bread, I think forming a circle for communion when we share the Lord’s Supper in the sanctuary is helpful. Also providing gluten free crackers or Rice Chex is an important gesture of inclusiveness. Holding hands looking into one another’s eyes rather than the backs of people’s heads can help us to discern the presence of the Body of Christ in the sharing of the bread and the cup.
X FOOD EVERYONE CAN EAT Another experiment we have tried on Thursday nights has been putting communion back into the context of a communal meal at the Sharing Table. We try to make sure there is food everyone can eat, gluten free, vegetarian – something for everyone. Anyone who shows up is fed. We pray with and for each other, and we share communion. I think a mid-week meal including the Lord’s Supper is more appropriate than trying to hold a potluck supper every Sunday with communion.
X WELCOMING VISITORSSunday morning is public worship, when we welcome visitors. Malcolm Clark was sharing on the retreat that in the church he and Mannay had attended in Birmingham the members were reminded that Sunday morning was not about them, it was for the purpose of introducing guests to the gospel. I know that concept may sound alien to some of us, but this is not our church. This is God’s church – the church of Jesus Christ and our purpose is to help others who presently do not have a connection with the divine to find a spiritual community of faith. Our acceptance, our diversity at United Church are strengths we can offer as we seek to share the fellowship of Christ with others. Yes, each of us can seek to be fed by the community of faith, but we have been called not to sit in the shade of the congregation’s love and nurture we have been called in order to be sent out to others as ambassadors of Christ. We have been saved from trivial life, because God has important work for us to do.
X COME FOLLOW ME Jesus didn’t say to his disciples, “Come follow me and I will take care of you.” He said, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Come follow me and I will give you tasks worthy of a life purpose. Come follow me and together we will change the world. Come follow me, and you will know me in the breaking of the bread.


One Comment on “Known In the Breaking of the Bread”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s