“So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”
Yesterday, your vestry met for retreat. I’ll admit that when my alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. yesterday morning, I was not feeling enthused, but when it crawled into bed last night, I was still feeling the euphoria.
The Rev. Canon Charles Robinson was our facilitator for a session on vestry leadership and responsibilities; he presented questions that helped us explore our mutual ministry as delegated leaders of the Church of the Advent. We worked hard through the morning; then we celebrated the Holy Eucharist together; and then we shared a meal; and then we worked so more.
I think we would all agree that sharing Eucharist and sharing the noonday meal was just as important to our sense of community and call and commitment to the mission and ministry of the Church of the Advent as was our discussion and decision making.
Perhaps you can remember a time that a meal was profoundly important in recognizing the presence of Christ – equally physical as spiritual – a warm loaf of bread for a grieving neighbor, a meaty sandwich for the homeless, comfort food for a child home from college – food, not just for the body, but even more so for the soul – food that articulates the presence of Christ.
I will never forget the left over cashew chicken from a nearby Chinese restaurant that Roland brought me in the hospital on my first day of being allowed solid food following an emergency Caesarian. The dish was so cold that the oil had coagulated; but to the amazement of my visitors, I ate it with great abandon, and have never forgotten its depth of nourishment. I was physically starved and emotionally spent, and this cold cashew chicken fed my soul.
Jesus talked a lot about food and shared important soul time at table; mealtime was clearly a holy time. The hospitality associated with sharing a meal has been significant for the people of God since the beginning of humanity. The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle that all four Gospel writers include in their Gospel accounts. Jesus was eating at the home of one of the Pharisees when the unnamed woman bathed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.
Jesus was accused of sharing meals with sinners. This violation is far more complex than local clergy being seen sharing a draft and a sandwich at the local beer hall. Food for the faithful Jew is governed by all sorts of regulations – what foods can be eaten, how they are to be prepared, when they can be eaten, and with whom. For Jesus to eat with someone outside his faith tradition would be a violation of a myriad of dietary decrees. But, it was obvious that Jesus was eager to share a meal with anyone willing to join him for that experience. Sharing a meal was and is about so much more than physical need.
Even after the Resurrection, we read of Jesus eating fish on the beach with his disciples. Jesus highlights the importance of being physically fed; in so doing he emphasizes the intermeshing of physical and spiritual food.
Time and again this message is reinforced in the Gospel accounts. We know, in fact, that in Jesus’ last evening with his disciples, the main focus was their meal together. This is the meal in which we re-participate each time we share the Holy Eucharist– the meal we share in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, and not simply as a memorial, but as true participants – true members of that group of burdened and confused disciples on that night before the crucifixion.
In this morning’s Gospel lesson, we read again of Jesus sharing a meal – but not just an ordinary meal; this meal has the clearest of connections with the Holy Eucharist – the meal that we are instructed to continue in the memory of our Lord each time we come together for worship.
As we read from Luke’s Gospel account, “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”
In the same way, as specifically instructed and demonstrated by Jesus Christ our Lord, we take the bread; we bless the bread; we break the bread; and, most importantly, we share the bread. And, as we share this holy meal in communion with one another, our eyes are opened and we recognize the very real presence of Jesus Christ our Lord. Our receiving of the Holy Communion is not intended to be an individual experience; it is a sharing in communion as one Body of Christ.
When I am asked the meaning of the Holy Communion, I refer to our prayer of thanksgiving that sums up the need, the blessing, and the purpose of the Holy Communion. Let’s look together at that prayer.
As our Vestry gathered in communion to share this holy food we received [Rite I: God’s grace to continue in holy fellowship, to do good works that our Lord has prepared us to do through the Church of the Advent.] Rite II: the strength and courage to continue to love and serve through the Church of the Advent as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord – as members incorporate/living members of the Body of Christ.
“At the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”