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Shared Bread and Cup

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All around the world, people place a symbolic significance on the act of eating together.

A shared meal is considered a sign of friendship. When you first started dating, you usually went out to eat either in an expensive restaurant or a fastfood. When two firms decide to merge, they usually seal the deal with a dinner. One of the functions of a wedding reception, with all food and drinks, is to draw the bride’s and groom’s families together. And the solidarity of survivors after death is symbolized by sharing a meal at the wake.

The word “companionship” is formed from two Latin roots: cum, meaning “together,” and panis, meaning “bread.”

For human beings, companionship means “breading together.” I am glad that we have a lot of companionships, a lot of “breading together” at Silliman Church. Ask our young people or the CWA, and they will tell you it is true.

Jesus himself spent a lot of time sharing bread with others. There was the marriage feast at Cana, dinner with the Pharisees, dinners with sinners, feeding the 5,000, meals at Mary and Martha’s, and a broiled fish breakfast at the lakeside.

Shared bread has a way of breaking down barriers and bringing people together. No one understood this better than Jesus. And no meal has greater power to unite people than the Supper of Our Lord.

According to St. Paul in his letter to the Christians in Corinth, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (verse 26)

October 2nd is World Communion Sunday. Up to two billion Christians could receive the sacrament.

Christians in the Democratic Republic of Congo left their homes for places of worship to see their pastors take bread in their hands and declare, “This is my body.” In the Church of the Holy Resurrection in Jerusalem, one can hear the words, “This is my body.” In Saint Paul’s Church in London, a hush fell across the congregation as the pastor declared, “This is my body.” In thatched-roof mission stations across the islands of the Pacific, and in churches across the Philippines will be uttered, “This is my body.”

They will come from various traditions and diverse cultures. Some will walk to church, while others will ride a bus or train or a motorcab, and still others will drive in cars. All have one thing in common: we are followers of Jesus Christ.

The Christ who appears to us at Holy Communion is not the Triumphant Lord but the Suffering Servant. Here, God is neither a picture of success nor a portrait of prosperity, but someone despised and rejected by others, a man of constant sorrow, one well-acquainted with grief. Standing somewhere in the shadow, you will find Jesus. And you will know him by the nail prints in his hand.

And around the table, some are hurting, some are in broken relationships, some are experiencing physical ailments, others are grieving.

But there are some who are celebrating because they have been healed from their sicknesses, or their broken relationships have been restored.

Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth had to do with divisions. When they were taking the Lord’s Supper, some were excluded, while others got drunk. Paul was not about to condone such behavior, so he said, “I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.”

Even on World Communion Sunday, we know there are some people who are not welcome at many tables of Communion around the world.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the man named Sam who died and went to heaven. St. Peter met him to give him a guided tour of the heavenly mansion. As they were walking down one of the main corridors, Sam heard Gothic chants coming from within one of the rooms. St. Peter explained that behind that door were the Catholics, Lutherans, and Episcopalians — because they like liturgical worship. As they came to another door, Sam heard lots of hand-clapping and foot-stomping. St. Peter explained that in the room were the Churches of God, the Pentecostal Holiness, and the charismatics — because they like high emotion in their worship.

When they reached the end of the corridor, they came to a room which was set off by itself. From that door, not a sound came. Sam was just about to ask who was in there when St. Peter put his finger to his lips, and told him not to make a sound because in that room were those who think they were the only ones saved, and the only ones invited to the heavenly mansion.

Unfortunately, there are still Christian groups today that still think they have a corner on salvation — that if you are not a member of their church, you will have no place in heaven.

Many times I have heard comments like “I stopped going to Silliman Church because I cannot feel the spirit there.” Or “People who go to Silliman Church do not have the Holy Spirit with them.”

And because of such closed-minded beliefs, because of such spiritual snobbery, those Christians will have little to do with the likes of you and me. They will not even share Holy Communion with us at the Lord’s Table. Now that’s sad when the Lord’s Supper becomes a symbol of division.

The next time you judge another as unworthy, think how unworthy you and I are of the sacrifice Christ made for us. If it is difficult to love people who are not like us, imagine a holy God giving up His Son for unholy humanity. I hope it causes you to think of what Christ did for us on Calvary. It’s a shame when followers of Christ cannot be united in Holy Communion.

Perhaps the world’s most telling symbol of our brokenness and our failure to recognize Jesus as the Christ is a church building.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem was built over the traditional site of Calvary and the Garden of Resurrection. It stands today only because some ugly steel scaffolding supports the walls. The day we visited it, there were a lot of tourists there.

However, I found it to be one of the most depressing places in the world. The Church is jointly owned by the Abyssinians, the Armenians, the Copts, the Greek Orthodox, the Syrian Orthodox, and the Roman Catholics. If you go inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, you can hear the priests saying their masses separately.

I was told that the priests of these various traditions hardly speak to one another. Each communion preserves its own chapel, conducts its own ceremonies, and no agreement can be reached about the repair of the church building.

To make matters even more ludicrous, the keys to the building have been entrusted to a Muslim family, who answers the call of Allah five times a day by praying on the front steps.

Nowhere in all the world is there a more vivid symbol of the brokenness of Christ’s Body, and the brokenness of a world that has chosen to reject the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Other times, our broken relationships are much more personal. I had served in a church before where two brothers did not speak to each other because of a land dispute. There was a family where the father would not talk with his daughter because she married a man he did not like.

Henry Nouwen once said, “The men and women who love me, and are very close to me are also the ones who wound me.”

Thus today, we come to Communion with confession on our lips, “We have erred and strayed from God’s ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray.”

Remember that the One who invites us to the table is the One who was broken for us. My friends, around the world millions and millions of Christians are gathered around the Lord’s table to listen to the words that our Lord said to you and to me, “This is my body that is for you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

According to one hymn, “here at this table, we see the Lord face to face. Here we touch and handle things unseen. Here we grasp a hand that gives eternal grace. And here we bring all our weariness.”

He came into this world of sin and death, sorrow and suffering, for one purpose: “to lift us up.” And now he calls us into a partnership. We are partners with Him, and with believers all over this world, seeking to lift others to the throne of grace as well.

Whether we realize it or not, when we share in the Supper of the Lord, particularly on a world-wide Communion Sunday, we are doing something radical. We are part of a fellowship without frontiers. We are participating in and witnessing the New Creation in Jesus Christ.

Yes, this world is still torn apart by racial, social, economic, and political divisions. However, the body of Christ was broken for us, that your brokenness and mine may be redeemed for the glory of God, and the good of others.

Let us bring our brokenness, and place it under God’s blessing. God uses broken things. God uses broken soil to produce crops, broken clouds to give us rain, broken grain to give us bread, and broken bread to give us strength.

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Author’s email: [email protected]


 

 

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