February 28, 2018 Wednesday in Lent 2

 

Acts 2:41–47

The Rev’d Dr. Jeffrey S. F. Nelson+

In the name of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Amen.

My grandmothers were both wives of dairy farmers in Northeastern Wisconsin. One of the prerequisites of being the spouse of a farmer, it seems, was possessing the ability to cook, for food was needed throughout the day for all who worked on the farms: my grandfathers, of course, but also hired hands, cousins who were being raised by my grandparents, and various others who would wander in and out of the farm throughout the year, including me. Many of you are likely familiar with the rhythm of meals on farms and ranches: a large breakfast, a meal about mid-morning that was misnamed “a little lunch” (sandwiches, relishes, and of course, pie, either served in the field or in the kitchen if the help was close enough to come to the house for their break), dinner (a large lunch), a mid-afternoon snack as generous as the “little lunch” in the morning, and, of course, supper. The food was always home-cooked and plenteous because it had to fuel people who worked physically hard on the land. A staple of each of these meals was bread, and it is the bread I remember so well.

Both grandmothers made bread from scratch, loaves and loaves of bread weekly. I loved being at my mother’s mother’s house when she made bread, because right out of the oven, we would get a warm slice with butter and sugar on it. It was to me a slice of heaven. In fact, bread is a food staple in most cultures around the world. The types of bread may vary depending on the culture—whole wheat, white, pumpernickel, rye, baguette, boule, brioche, pain ordinaire, challah, matzo, pita, soda bread, scone—but bread is a core food in many cultures around the world. Is it any wonder then that bread became the center of the sacramental meal Jesus instituted on the night before he died? Depending on the Gospel account one is reading, the meal was likely a Passover meal in which bread figures prominently because it figured, and figures prominently still, in Jewish culture. Is it any wonder, then, that in the post-resurrection Church, among the things new converts to the faith did besides devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles, fellowship with one another (that is, learning to love one another), and prayer was the breaking of the bread. In the early church, when they gathered, the whole community would share a meal together as a sign of their love and unity, and out of this meal, bread—the central food of the meal—would be set aside for a celebration of Eucharist (Holy Communion) in which the presence of Christ would be celebrated among them.

Bread, Christ’s body given for the life of the world, unifies us around our Lord. The Didache, an ancient catechetical manual, said it beautifully, using the imagery of the harvest:

For as the broken loaf was once scattered over the mountains and then was gathered to become one, so may your church be gathered together into your kingdom from the very ends of the earth. (Didache 9.4)

Or, as the contemporary and beloved hymn, now so much a part of our liturgies, put it:

As the grains of wheat once scattered on the hill were gathered into one to become our bread; So may all your people from all the ends of earth, be gathered into one in you.

But our celebrations of Eucharist are not meant to nourish us only, but to nourish us for a purpose. In our reading for today, we are told that the ancient Christians held all things in common; those with means sold their possessions and distributed the proceeds to those who were in need; and then they all, rich and poor, gathered in their homes and shared a meal with one another, breaking bread so that all may be fed. At the end of our liturgy each Sunday, we are charged to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Those words remind us that we have been fed with the bread of life for a purpose: to go and serve those in need, just as the farm workers on my grandparents’ farms were fed to go and work the farm. For this reason, before each meeting of the Vestry (our Congregation Council), we celebrate the Holy Eucharist: to be nourished for the work given the Vestry to do; but also, to remind us of our unity in Christ. Knowing that we are brothers and sisters gathered in unity around our Lord’s Table makes it harder to be disagreeable with one another even if we disagree on the best way forward in our work as a Vestry.

Bread feeds us as it feeds the world; bread unites us, as it unites the world; bread nourishes us for the work we have been given to do as it did the people working my grandparents’ farms. And so we gather each week as the people of God to learn from the apostles’ teaching, to be in fellowship with one another, to pray for the world, and to break bread, which feeds, unites, and nourishes us to go back into the world to love and serve the Lord. Amen.

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