In the Breaking of Bread

An Easter Sermon

Two disciples were on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a seven mile walk. Jerusalem was behind them. They thought the story was over—and it hadn’t ended as they thought it would. As they walked they talked, and repeated to one another the things that Jesus had said and done, trying to make sense of their experience.

And then a stranger joined them. It was Jesus, but they didn’t realize it. Luke says, “Their eyes were kept from recognizing them.” He asked what they were discussing. They told him about Jesus, and what happened. They told of their fear and discouragement. They told of the stories of his resurrection—and their doubts.

He scolded them gently. “Don’t you know what the prophets said? That the Messiah must suffer all these things before entering his glory?” And then he led them through a Bible study, explaining it all.

Jesus was with them, but they didn’t recognize him. He was opening the Word to them, and explaining it, but still they didn’t recognize him. He was risen from the dead, but they still had not experienced it themselves, and so they didn’t believe.

They arrived at Emmaus, and he acted as if he was going further, but they said, “Stay with us, for it is evening.” He did not force himself on them. He didn’t overwhelm them. He waited for their invitation, and then went in with them.

And then, verse 30, we come to the climax of this story: “he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.”

And at that moment they forgot about the meal, they forgot about their exhaustion, they forgot about their despair and their fear—and they immediately ran back the seven miles to Jerusalem. “The Lord is risen!” said the other disciples when they entered, and they joyfully replied, “We know!” And, verse 35, “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

But let’s stay with that moment when the bread was broken.

Before that point Jesus was with them, but they didn’t see him. He was opening the Word to them, and explaining it, but still they didn’t recognize him. It was only in the breaking of the bread that it all came together, and they saw Jesus in their midst, and the word he had spoken to them made sense. It was only then that they knew that he was risen indeed—and they had to tell others.

“He took bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to them.”

There’s only one other place in the Gospels that uses this language.

It is in the Last Supper, right before Jesus said, “Take and eat. This is my body given for you. This is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this for the remembrance of me.”

Here they come together again, and he leads by example, and gets them doing what he told them to do. He takes bread and blesses it and breaks it and gives it … and then they see him.

Let’s go over it again. It bears repeating. They had read the Bible. But it wasn’t enough. They had heard others say that they had seen the risen Lord. But it wasn’t enough. Only when they broke the bread did they see and know.

We gather now to do that same thing. To do as Jesus told us to do. To take bread and bless it and break it and share it.

Will we see the risen Jesus?

Do we expect to see the risen Jesus?

Sadly, I think often the answer is “no.” Too often, we take this meal for granted. We do it only four times a year—a tradition we got not from the Bible but from the rarity in which our early pastors were able to visit churches, That has become for us a Tradition with a capitol T. One of those things that we dare not change because “We’ve always done it that way.” And even then that is too much for some people. They demonstrate it by staying away in many churches. Maybe they think it unimportant. Maybe they find it difficult. Maybe they think it silly. I don’t know. Maybe they suppose they’ll stay home and read the Bible and that will be enough.

But these disciples had the Bible. They had read it. And they still didn’t see Jesus until he revealed himself when they were together, in the breaking of the bread.

Now they see him. And the promise is there that we will see him, too. For what did he say? He held up the bread and said, “This is my body.” He held up the cup and said, “This is my blood.” The promise is there of what we will receive from him: “the forgiveness of sins.”

These words are repeated by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as they tell the story of the Last Supper. Paul repeats them in 1 Corinthians 11. We repeat them each time we break this bread. But do we know what we are saying? Do we believe his promise?

Other churches have argued much about the Lord’s Supper and what it means. I want to take you through what Scripture says, and let Scripture speak to you on its own. There are two other passages we need to consider. 1 Corinthians 10, and John 6. First we’ll look at 1 Corinthians 10. We’ll look at what Paul says about the Lord’s Supper.

Let’s start with 1 Corinthians 10:16

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”

The word translated “communion” here is “koinonia.” It can also mean fellowship or participation. Paul’s meaning is plain: When we drink the cup, we share together in the blood of Christ. When we break the bread, we share together in the body of Christ.

And it does something to us. Verse 17. “We being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” The act of eating and drinking, of sharing in the body and blood of Christ, makes us one with him – it unites us to him first, and then to one another.

This is what Jesus himself had said in John chapter 6.  John begins by saying, verse 4, that the Passover was near. Jesus sees a crowd of 5000, and asks Philip where they will get enough bread. But John says Jesus already knew what he was going to do. They find a little boy who has five barley loaves and a couple of fish. And Jesus took the bread, verse 11, “and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down.” And 5000 were filled.

The next day, the people come looking for another miracle. They want bread from heaven. And he says, you have it and you don’t even see it. Verse 35, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”

And verse 51, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

And they scoff, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

He responds, verse 53,

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.”

Scholars have long wondered why John doesn’t talk about the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Oh, he has a story of the last supper, but he says nothing about what they ate or what Jesus said over the food. Instead, John’s focus in John 13 is on Jesus’ washing of their feet. John wants to say, “This is what love does. Love humbles itself. Love becomes a servant. Love washes feet. Love gives up everything for the beloved.” And Jesus will do that. He will give himself up as a lamb. John says he was killed on the preparation day of the Passover. John says the priests didn’t go into Pilate’s hall because they didn’t want to defile themselves, they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. John has Jesus die as the Passover lamb.

That’s why John doesn’t have the disciples eat the Passover the night Jesus is betrayed. He is the lamb, and the lamb has to be slain.

But let me ask you something. After the Passover lamb was slain, what was done with it? It was eaten.

The Passover didn’t do any good if the lamb was merely killed.

The Passover didn’t do any good if the lamb’s blood was merely sprinkled.

The lamb had to be eaten. That’s how the sacrifice became yours. That’s how you were joined to it. By eating the lamb with unleavened bread and a cup of wine.

And that’s what John says here in chapter 6. It is almost Passover—a key point. John says that Israel of old had manna. Israel had a lamb. We have Jesus. He is the lamb of God. He is our bread. He is what we eat. And Jesus says, “If you don’t – well, you don’t have any part of me.” Unless you gnaw on my flesh—the literal sense of the Greek—unless you drink my blood, you have nothing to do with me.

Some say John has nothing to say about the Lord’s Supper other than the foot washing. But I think the reason he focused on the footwashing in chapter 13 was because he had already talked about Jesus and the Passover and his body and his blood and the bread and all that here, in chapter 6. And he says it is essential. This is how you have fellowship with me. It isn’t an intellectual thing. It isn’t a rationalistic thing. It is taking bread and thanking God and breaking bread and sharing it. This is where we have the fellowship with Christ that gives eternal life.

Some then shook their heads and said, “This is weird.” Some today want to rationalize it and say, “Well he really means if you have faith in me.” But faith isn’t an abstraction. Faith isn’t naïve optimism. Faith isn’t an intellectual exercise. Faith means grasping onto God’s word and not letting go. Faith means grabbing hold of bread and wine and eating and drinking, believing that God’s promise is sure. Faith means seeing him in our midst when our senses see only bread and wine.

With that in mind we can go back to 1 Corinthians 10. Paul is talking about how eating the bread and drinking the cup joins you to Christ. He uses this as a warning against idolatry. He says, if you eat the food offered to an idol, you join yourself to that idol. And if you eat of the bread and cup of Christ, you join yourself to him. And you can’t do both. Verse 21, “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.” Christ is exclusive. He would have us entirely to himself. He wants to be joined to us and us to him.

And in chapter 11 Paul turns to focus on how if we are joined to Christ we are joined to one another, too. 1 Corinthians 11:10—he says I hear there are divisions among you, and I’m inclined to believe it. You are divided at the Lord’s table, between rich and poor, between those with food and those without. He tells the story of the Last Supper, and then he says, verse 27:

Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

They think they are eating a normal meal. They think it is all just a symbol. They think it doesn’t matter how they eat it. Or whether they eat it. Or with whom that eat it. They are only concerned about themselves. That is the point.

And Paul uses these very harsh words to shake them out of their complacency—don’t take this lightly. Don’t think this is a game. You are standing on holy ground. Christ is here. This bread is his body, this cup is his blood, and you had better examine yourselves before you eat it. Confess your sins and reconcile to one another before you come into his presence. Open your eyes, and see him in this bread and this wine—and in the brothers and sisters who share the cup and the bread with you.

So there are two important parts to the Lord’s Supper. One is that we meet Jesus here. We share the joy the disciples experienced when they first encountered him risen from the dead. We know that he is true to his word, that “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” And, “where two or three of you are gathered together in my name, there am I in your midst.”

The second part is that we meet each other here. We are joined to one another as we are joined to Christ. We can’t have Christ and reject his people. It can never be just “me and Jesus.” It can never be me alone in the woods without the church, without the Bible, without the Lord’s Supper. Christianity is not an individualistic religion. You shall love the Lord your God … and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

And so we have some soul searching to do. A little earlier, in 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul spoke specifically of the Passover. And that’s what the Lord’s Supper is. It is the Christian Passover.

Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Jews prepare for Passover by getting rid of all the leaven, or chametz, in the house. They search for it with a candle and a feather, to make sure they get rid of every crumb. Paul says that’s how we need to prepare to share in our Passover lamb, by getting rid of all the leaven in our lives. By confessing our sins.

That’s what we will do now. We will kneel, and have a prayer of confession. Then we will separate, and wash each other’s feet. You remember that Peter first didn’t want to be washed. Then, when Jesus insisted, he said, wash me all over! And Jesus said, If you’ve washed already, I just have to do your feet. If you are baptized, you don’t need to get baptized again and again. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. We are raised to new life but we stumble and fall. Our feet get dirty. We need to confess. We need to hear again the words of forgiveness. “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That’s what the footwashing is about. A chance to examine ourselves. A chance for cleansing.

And then we will come back here, to break the bread. Don’t let that text about eating and drinking unworthily scare you. If you confess your sins to him—and to those you have wronged—he forgives you. You are worthy. He invites you. He embraces you in love. The risen Christ is here, eager for your fellowship. The one who is unworthy is the one who won’t admit his sin, or won’t confess it, or won’t ask for forgiveness. The one who thinks he’s OK without Christ. Without baptism. Without the bread and the wine. Without the brothers and sisters in the pew.

Hear now his invitation. Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.