Bread from Heaven, III: Take, Bless, Break, Give
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”—Mark 14:22
On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, the disciples said to Jesus, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?”
He sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city. A man carrying a water jar will meet you. Follow him. Wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks, “Where is my guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?”’ He will show you a large room upstairs already furnished. Prepare for us there.”
The disciples left, came into the city, found everything just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
That evening, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. During the meal, Jesus said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me—someone eating with me.”
Deeply saddened, they asked him, one by one, “It’s not me, is it?”
Jesus answered, “It’s one of the Twelve, one who is dipping bread with me into this bowl. The Human One goes to his death just as it is written about him. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Human One! It would have been better for him if he had never been born.”
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”
He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. I assure you that I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way in God’s kingdom.”
After singing songs of praise, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
The Beatles’ album Abbey Road, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. One critic claimed, “the Beatles are like bread” as she reflected on their message of unity, peace, and everyone belonging together. She intensified their significance further saying “the Beatles are like oxygen.” In other words: the Beatles are critical. Necessary for human life. John Lennon did say the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, so maybe this bread comment is just par for the course: whatever is pivotal and life-changing about the Beatles remains part of the conversation even now, 50 years later.
For 2,000 years people have been saying the same thing about Jesus: Jesus is like bread. Jesus is the bread of life.
You can read about it in half a dozen ancient texts, and the story you just heard from Mark isn’t quite the oldest. Paul’s writing to the people of Corinth is probably older than Mark’s retelling of Jesus’ story, but Mark is the oldest of the gospels. He was writing for a community of people who knew the sons of the men who carried Jesus’ cross: only a generation removed from Jesus—like writing about John Lennon today, really.
Mark was writing to a community that needed the courage to live for God’s love even when that meant persecution and threat. We don’t know much about who wrote the Gospel of Mark, up to and including if the authors name was Mark. We don’t know if the author was a man or a woman, we don’t know where the author was born, we don’t know where the author was when they were writing about Jesus, we just don’t know. We typically call the author Mark just to keep things from being confusing.
What we do know is that Mark’s original audience would have likely heard the entire Gospel of Mark all in one sitting—or at least over the course of a day, maybe two—more like binge watching a Netflix series than watching a three minute clip of the movie (what we just did was more like watching the three minute clip of a film…just reading a few verses at a time).
If you’ve got about 70 minutes this week, read the whole Gospel of Mark, just to see what it’s like: I know some of our wilderness hikers were challenged to do the same. It’s the shortest gospel. You’ll probably watch more than 70 minutes of Netflix this week, so 70 minutes isn’t that risky of a time commitment.
Binge-read a book of the bible: why not?
So to set the scene (since you probably didn’t binge watch the beginning of Mark before you got here this morning): our story comes at the end. Jesus knows it’s almost the end for him. He knows the powers-that-be are upset. Jesus is preaching a message of hope that is more countercultural than the religious or governmental leaders can really handle.
Heal the sick.
Eat with people.
Feed the poor.
Give power to the powerless.
Let love win.
In a world where these things weren’t (and still aren’t) happening, they were simple but treasonous messages of hope. So Jesus knew. He knew he’d be killed. He would sacrifice his own life for the sake of this message: nothing can separate you from God’s love. Everyone was in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration—it was Times Square on New Year’s Eve, the Redline before a Cubs World Series game, Kenilworth Union on Christmas Eve.
Everyone’s family was in town. The hotels were full. Everyone had called the caterer months in advance to host their holiday dinners. There were people to be fed. Emotions were high. Family drama was at full scale. No one had one extra inch of elbow room. Stress levels were through the roof. Scholars say that outdoor ovens popped up all over Jerusalem like quote, “mushrooms after the rain.” Baking bread mattered. Bread matters. Bread mattered, then in Jesus’ day, and bread matters now.
Reading our own world through the lens of bread reminds us that bread is critical. In Sudan it began with bread. In December people took to the street to protest the rising price of bread, which led to a military takeover, which is only now just beginning to be resolved. In Zimbabwe protests began this month because soaring bread and fuel shortages have caused most citizens to plunge deep into poverty. And halfway across the globe, in an attempt to prevent that kind of economic collapse in Argentina, the president eliminated tax on bread to provide relief to the poor.
Bread displaces people too. Four million Venezuelans fled their country in recent years to escape bread shortage—1.4 million Venezuelans landed in Colombia, as your high school youth learned intimately when they served in Bogota on their mission trip this summer. And this month the 24,000 Venezuelan migrant babies who were born in Colombia because of this bread shortage were given Colombian citizenship. The Colombian president said: “today Colombia gives this message to the world: to those who want to use xenophobia for political goals, we take the path of fraternity.”
Bread continues to matter. It stands at the center of our global migration crisis. Bread stands at the center of peaceful protests that turn violent. Bread stands at the center of economic free fall that sends food secure families to the breadlines. But any bread crisis in 2019 is really a crisis of ethics: today famine and food shortage has more to do with unjust rulers than it does with a lack of bread. There is enough food to go around, if only those with power make it possible.
Bread matters so much that it’s at the core of how we understand who God is. I’m not sure how I missed this before, but the word LORD literally means “bread-keeper.” If we pray, “Lord, hear our prayer,” we are really saying, “Bread-keeper, hear our prayer.” It shouldn’t be surprising really. We pray each week this prayer as well: “give us this day our daily bread.”
The Lord’s prayer, then, is the Bread-keeper’s prayer. “Bread-keeper, give us this day our daily bread.” Put that way the prayer seems intimate, familiar, and reasonable too. Giving bread seems like something the Bread-keeper can do. “Give us bread, O Bread-keeper.”
Our language about God is wrapped up in our language about bread.
In a similar way, you’ve heard that the more words you have to describe something the more important it is, right? An artist could find 35 ways to describe the shades of yellow that appear in the stained glass windows here in the sanctuary. Christians have as many words for this meal of bread and cup we are talking about today. The Last Supper, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Communion. Eucharist: meaning thanksgiving. Communion: meaning coming together. The Lord’s Supper and the Last Supper: pointing us back to the story, the time in which Jesus gathered his disciples around a table in a borrowed room and took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. Took, blessed, broke, gave.
Took, blessed, broke, gave. There are very few moments in my life that play like a movie where you can almost sense the camera zooming in for the close up, but my ordination service is one of those movie moments. In the back of the sanctuary before the service, my mind can still zoom in on the piece of paper on which was printed, “Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.” The words took, blessed, broke, gave were there in large print, standing out from the rest.
The large print had been copied from Stacey’s notes, a new friend who ended up presiding at our wedding, who had been ordained just a few months before. She knew to remind me to emphasize those important verbs: took, blessed, broke, gave. I would say those words aloud in just a few minutes, while presiding over communion for the first time on the day of my ordination, probably awkwardly.
Now I’ve said them hundreds of times, but again today I wonder what they mean: we all get a chance to wonder what they mean. In fact at Kenilworth Union, our open table welcomes people of all ages, so even the youngest among us who might only be hearing the story for the first time are welcome to join in and wonder about what this meal means: Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. No matter how old we are, no matter how well we know the story, no matter what happened last week or will happen next week, there is a blessing in the bread we share in the name of the one who we call Bread of Life.
Our language about God is wrapped up in our language about bread. And bread continues to matter. Social scientists even say that bread is what made civilization. Before the cultivation of grain we were nomadic. Once we planted and tended wheat, we began staying in one place: we could stay in one place because there were enough calories to stay, and we wanted to stay to take care of that grain we just planted.
Evidence of the first grindstone is at least 8,000 years old and evidence of processing wild grains dates back some 22,000 years. Bread is what it means to be human. Unthinkable numbers of generations have taken bread, blessed it, broken it into enough pieces to share, and given it to one another. You’ve done it too: taken the bread, blessed it, broken it into enough pieces to share, and given it to your dinner guests, your family, your hungry friends on a hike. Took, blessed, broke, gave.
When I serve communion from a big loaf of bread, and you have to tear off the piece of bread yourself, there can be awkwardness—well, no matter how we serve communion, there can be awkwardness. But with the big loaf, sometimes you tear off just the smallest of pieces, and it’s hard to dunk in the cup. Sometimes, you tear off a huge piece and think, “was that too much? Am I taking more than my fair share?”
But then there’s seven year old Zoe at a colleague’s church. For weeks she came to the communion service. The bread was broken. The cup was poured. Prayers were said. The story of Jesus was told. And most people took a small piece of bread to dip into the cup. Some awkwardly tore off a too-small piece. But Zoe tore off a chunk of bread—a huge piece that was sometimes as much as half the loaf. From that huge piece, Zoe would tear off a smaller piece to dip in the cup, eat that piece, and then snack on the rest of her hunk of bread for the rest of the service.
Week after week Zoe did this. She would ask if she could take home leftover communion bread too at the end of service. Finally the pastor felt nudged to ask Zoe about these huge pieces of bread she was tearing off at the communion table, not to reprimand her for taking too much of course, just to find out what it all meant to her.
“You really like the communion bread, don’t you” the pastor asked.
“Ya, I really like the God bread,” Zoe replied.
“The God bread?” she asked, puzzled.
“Well,” Zoe said as she held up the piece of bread she was still nibbling on, “God gives us bread as a gift every week. God does everything for us and gave us Jesus…and even though people killed him, God brought him back for us…and God still gives us this bread!”
She handed her pastor a piece of her bread and added, “I like how you talk about that every week.” That’s about as simple as it gets: take, bless, break, give.
So, the pastor asked, “is that why you take such a large piece of bread, Zoe?”
“Yeah! I mean, this is bread from God—why wouldn’t i want a big piece?”
Bread matters. Jesus sacrificed his own life for the sake of this message: nothing can separate you from God’s love. Who God is for us is wrapped up in the bread that we share with one another. Let us live for the sake of this bread that matters, this one who lays down his life for the sake of this message: nothing can separate you from God’s love. In the name of Jesus, Bread of Life. Amen.
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 Walsh, Declan. "Sudan Erupts in Celebration After Army and Civilians Agree to Share Power." New York Times. August 17, 2019.
 Kingsley, Patrick. "In Zimbabwe, the Water Taps Run Dry and Worsen 'a Nightmare.'" New York Times. July 31, 2019.
 Reuters, "Argentina's Macri Says Sales Tax to Be Eliminated on Some Food Products Until End of Year." New York Times. August 15, 2019.
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