Scripture | Luke 24:13-35 | John 21:1-14
Have you ever noticed how many of the stories about Jesus center around food? Like how he ate with sinners, and was criticized for it; or when he invited himself to the home of Zaccheus, the tax collector nobody liked; or the way he made the Passover Feast a way of remembering him, in the breaking of bread… It shouldn’t surprise us that after the resurrection, Jesus shows up again in the breaking of bread.
And remember all those stories of abundance? Like the wedding at Cana, when Jesus turned all that water into wine, six huge stone containers of it; or when he was teaching by the lake, and five fish and two loaves of bread became enough to feed an army? … This story isn’t all that different, is it? Even after the resurrection, it’s an abundance again – 153 fish – which the Gospel writer seems at pains to record.
On the first Sunday after Easter we often hear one of these stories of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Sometimes it’s the Road to Emmaus, or one of the stories from the Gospel of John. But I’ve never read the stories side-by-side before. When I did, what popped out right away was the food. Jesus shows up when there’s food.
It’s no wonder that whenever we share bread together, we look for the risen Lord among us.
That’s why every Christian tradition has some form of communion. Some call it the Lord’s Supper; others call it the Eucharist. From the Jehovah’s Witnesses to the Catholics, from the Greek Orthodox to the Southern Baptists and even the Mormons all celebrate some form of this ritual. It’s part and parcel of who we are as Christians. It means something a little different from place to place, but at its heart it tells the same story: it’s one of the main ways we remember Christ, and encounter him - in the breaking of the bread.
Now, I know that some of us grew up Presbyterian, and others come from a different faith tradition, and for some this whole thing is new. And some have shared with me how confusing it is to understand what all this is supposed to mean, and why it’s different from place to place. So let me say just a few words about those differences.
It all goes back to the Last Supper, when Jesus said, “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.” During the Reformation, theologians started debating what Jesus meant by “is”. Was he being literal, or figurative? The Catholic and Orthodox traditions go with literal - that the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Christ. It happens through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the priest to consecrate the sacrifice at the altar. It’s a re-enactment of the sacrifice of Jesus, his body broken, his blood shed. With that kind of literal understanding, when you receive communion, you are taking in Christ’s body, and are one with Christ.
At the other end of the spectrum are Christians who believe the bread and wine don’t change – they’re just bread and wine – and we share this supper to remember Jesus, just as he told us to. It’s kind of like how you remember your beloved Grandma at Thanksgiving when you have her cornbread stuffing. It’s not that she’s literally there with you, but the ritual is a way to bring her memory back and tell some stories about her. It’s table fellowship. No altars for sacrifice, just a table for sharing.
Presbyterians are somewhere in between. We don’t have altars, either, only a table. And we don’t believe the bread and wine change into anything different. Well, most of the time it’s juice, not wine, but that’s a story for another day. But even though the substance doesn’t change, we do believe Jesus is here – and not just in our memories. Jesus is here as the host at the table, just like he was at the last supper.
What does it mean that Jesus is host? Think about a time you’ve gone to someone else’s house for dinner. Think about the effort they put into it – the food they chose to serve, and how the fragrances greeted you when you came to the door; how warmly they welcomed you, how glad they were to see you; how they sat you next to someone you didn’t know before, but had so much in common with; how the wine flowed and the conversation lingered… Remember the pleasure, and the warmth, and the laughter? Think about how you felt about your host. Grateful, I imagine.
Times like those fill a special need for us. We feel like we belong, like we’re cared for. The food is delicious and life is good. We’ve been treated to something special. We feel special.
I was thinking about all this yesterday when I was leading the memorial service for Dottie Stinson. Many of you never knew Dottie; she was 95 years old and hadn’t been able to get to church for a long time. But back in her heyday she was a force to be reckoned with. One of the things she was known for was the dinners she helped put on. She, and Erma Rutledge, and a hundred other women of the church used to put on church suppers to raise money for Presbyterian Women’s mission work. (Raise your hands if you were part of those.) Who knows how many dinners they put on, or how much money they raised.
But I do know this – those dinners knit together a community. They brought people together in a way nothing else could. Kind of like our Easter brunch last Sunday – what better way to celebrate the risen Lord! Jesus knew the power of breaking bread together, the simple power of sharing food, sharing wine, sharing table-talk and fellowship. It knits together a community like nothing else does.
I think that’s what Jesus wants for us here, when we come to this table. Now I know it may seem like play-acting, especially when we use little bits of bread and tiny little sips of juice. But it’s meant to be so much more…
- It’s meant to remind us of Jesus, and his incredible love for us…
- It’s meant to remind us of the resurrection, and the sheer miracle that death could not hold him…
- It’s meant to remind us that he’s here, with us, now – not just a distant memory from a time long, long ago, and not just a promise of the future when we’ll feast with him in his kingdom in glory…
You know, we’re not all that different from his disciples after that first Easter morning. We’re like the disciples walking along the road, trying to make sense of things that happen in this world, things that don’t make any sense, that make our hearts heavy. Or we’re like the disciples at the lakeshore, back to the daily grind, doing what we’ve always done, wondering why we’re not getting anywhere….
Then Jesus shows up. In the midst of our day-to-day ordinary lives, or our confusion, or our need, he shows up. Oh, we still might not recognize him, still might not get it, still might not understand; I mean, we still don’t expect him, do we? … Until he takes that bread, and lifts it up, and offers it to us again… and we remember what he told us… and our eyes are opened and we know him.
And when that happens, we know we belong. That we’re cared for. That we are special to him. So beloved that he would die for us, and rise again, and live with us forever. And we will always be welcome at his table, this table of grace...
Rev. Karen Chakoian