“IT'S IN THE BREAD”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
June 4, 2023
Luke 24:30-35 NRSV
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
It’s in the bread… what? Well, usually flour. It might be whole wheat, it might be sourdough. Sometimes it’s gluten-free. Sometimes there is baking powder, salt, but there are all kinds of bread and so there can be all kinds of other ingredients. There might be molasses and raisins. There might be bananas mushed up. There might be butter or oil. But most of the time there is a whole lot of other things in the bread that can’t be measured with a spoon or a cup, or tasted with the physical taste buds of our tongues. A lot of times there is love in the bread. Sometimes it is memories.
One of my favorite childhood memories is my mother’s biscuits. Always loaded up with butter and honey. When the pandemic hit and we were all forced into Zoom-land I was trying to come up with “content” for our church folks. We were doing a weeknight “event.” Sometimes it was a Bible Study, sometimes something else, and so one of the first weeks I decided to do a “cooking show.” You know, like the ones on TV. I remember as a kid trying to figure out how they could put those dishes in the oven and five minutes later after a few commercials take it out completely cooked. At that time naïve was my middle name, and I didn’t realize they had one in a second oven already cooked. So I wanted to recreate that magic. My mother’s biscuits are the definition of simple. Flour, milk, and cooking oil, into the oven at 450 and 10 minutes later a mouthful of deliciousness - covered in butter and honey. The deliciousness was in the bread, and in the honey and butter, of course. I think there was something spiritual about that too. The memory of mom, the smell of bread baking, all those things are more than rational kinds of experiences.
The episode we read this morning, called the “Road to Emmaus” story, has that same flavor of something spiritual beyond the rational explanation of 2 cups flour, a third of a cup of oil and two-thirds cup of milk. I mean, as much as we “rational” types want to find a rational explanation for everything, including things spiritual and emotional, some things speak truth at a spiritual level that don’t demand or even need rational explanation.
Rev. Samuel Zumwalt, [“In the Breaking of the Bread,” theologie.uzh.ch, April 10, 2005,] tells the story of a “retired seminary professor who [while] a chaplain in the U.S. Navy [had the] opportunity to … meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. This “Patriarch” was … the titular leader of Greek Orthodoxy. The Chaplain asked how the Orthodox described the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The patriarch replied that he didn’t understand the question. Two more times the Chaplain asked his question using slightly different words. Only after the third question did the patriarch’s eyes brighten with understanding. His response was something like: “Ah, now I see what you are asking. Isn’t that just like you westerners? You want to define everything while we simply stand in awe of the mystery.”
I didn’t read the whole passage but if you remember the story, it tells of 2 disciples walking on the road to Emmaus later in the day of Christ’s resurrection, Easter Sunday. A man joins them as they are walking and he apparently hasn’t heard about the arrest, conviction, and execution of Jesus nor of his resurrection. The story tells us this unknown traveler then gives these two disciples a Biblical history lesson on why all this is a fulfillment of prophecy. As they near the town of Emmaus it is near evening and the two disciples ask the stranger to stay and eat with them. In the meal the stranger reenacts what we call the Last Supper of Christ with the disciples. The tag line tells us that when the stranger broke the bread they suddenly recognize him as the Risen Christ.
I think that is the invitation in this passage, to “stand in awe of the mystery.” The story of two disciples encounter with the Risen Christ invites us to move beyond some questions. We rational types might want to ask, why they didn’t recognize Jesus right away, or want an explanation of how he suddenly “disappeared” before their very eyes. Instead, let’s accept the invitation to enter into this story spiritually, even mystically. You and I are invited to meet the Risen Christ [ whether we believe in resurrection as something too irrational to believe or not ]. I suspect any such meeting would happen in surprising moments, places, and experiences.
Perhaps the most surprising place we might meet the Risen Christ is in broken places. The Scripture tells us that they recognized the Risen Christ in the breaking of the bread. I hear that as a mystical, spiritual kind of statement that defies any rational explanation, really. But I think there is a message for us there if we listen and reflect on it from beyond a rational perspective. Being broken - lives, hearts, hopes, dreams, marriages, careers, can break like glass. Some break like cheap McDonald’s souvenir freebie glasses and we are over it, and others like the shattering of a priceless Tiffany lamp shade and our lives taste differently. Some broken things reveal more than they ever did in their wholeness. And sometimes it is in our brokenness that we meet the Risen Christ.
If our window on the world demands clarity, rational thought, logical proof, and sound reasons then living today can be tremendously difficult. From the machinations of government to the foolishness of some forms of organized religion to why in the world people on the highway don’t put cruise control on and do a steady speed, there is so much that is not rational. It mystifies those of us who prefer rationality! But life often presents us with experiences that reveal our window on the world is not as clear as we would like it to be. John Hiatt, in his song, “That’s My Window on the World,” has these lyrics:
A broken promise I kept too long, a greasy shade and a curtain drawn
A broken glass and a heart gone wrong, that’s my window on the world
A cup of coffee and a shaky hand, waking up in a foreign land
Trying to act like I got something planned, that’s my window on the world.
Whatever our window on the world, I take heart in this passage of Scripture because it tells me I can discover the Risen Christ being revealed in broken places, in broken bread, in spiritual and mystical experiences beyond rational explanation.
One more point struck me as I sat and thought about that experience of those disciples on the road to Emmaus that first Easter afternoon. They remain unnamed. We are told the names of the 12 first disciples, and even some of the woman, Mary and Mary the mother of Jesus, for example. But these two disciples on the road to Emmaus remain unnamed throughout history. I find that gives me a mystical tingle. It makes me think that you and I don’t have to be famous disciples, or noteworthy followers of Jesus, or saints named and given special holy days by which we are remembered. You and I may discover Christ’s presence in something as simple as broken bread. Maybe in a time in our lives where we are broken by troubles. Maybe we will suddenly sense him when we enter into the broken life of someone else. Maybe as simple a time as those two nameless disciples walking as friends during a difficult time of grief. Where might you discover Christ walking with you? Hard to imagine for us rational types, I know. But there it is.
The Good News is as tasty as butter and honey on a hot biscuit. AND – it is for everyone, even those not present at the Resurrection. And God’s love is present for everyone. Those who want to limit God’s love to their kind are wrong. And that is why this church is important. That is why this church must survive and thrive, because we are the only church telling people the truth. God does not love only some people. Where do we taste that love? It’s in the bread. Where will you find that love? It’s in the bread.
And this table is for everyone to get a taste, a glimpse, a hope of the sweetness of heaven’s table. You are welcome at this table because God loves you, and you, and you, and me! And we are welcome at this table because sometime, somewhere in the broken mess of life we may suddenly get a taste or a smell or a heart skip moment of holy presence. At least enough to keep going, to keep the faith. It may happen in as simple a moment as the breaking of bread. So let’s get to it. Let’s break some bread together. AMEN.