You Spent How Much for Bread?

Permissions on file at First Church Middletown CT office

A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on September 4, 2022

Scripture:      Luke 24:28-35 — As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” 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; and he vanished from their sight. 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?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

$4.99 for bread when you could have gone to the factory store and gotten a cheaper loaf for 1.99.

$4.99 for bread when you could have gone to the factory store and gotten a cheaper loaf for 1.99.

The deacon was excoriating her pastor for wasting the church’s money.  The pastor should have gone to the factory store and gotten it on sale – their cheapest loaf that week was $1.99.  You know that loaf – the bread is white and puffy, flavorless and less than 24 hours from total staleness. Instead the pastor had gone to a bakery and gotten a loaf of something dark, like rye or pumpernickel, sturdy, tasty and nutritious.

I’ve got to say, this is something I’ve never experienced… getting chewed out by the deacons for purchasing expensive bread… and – never having heard it before – it really hit me.  

It’s not that I’ve not heard concerns about the expense of communion supplies, though usually it’s around the grape juice.  The thing about grape juice is that mostly, we can’t use a whole bottle on Communion Sunday, no one likes it enough to take the bottle home, and it doesn’t keep for a month.  It doesn’t ferment either…. it just gets undrinkable.  Well, we’re Yankees; the whole idea of a new bottle of grape juice every month can make us grumpy. 

But this complaint wasn’t a Yankee whine about wasting the rest of the bread.  The leftover bread cubes had an ultimate destination – depending on which deacon took it home.  One deacon made bread pudding; another made croutons – in fact, you could say there was a quiet contest among the deacons to come up with the most interesting way to use the bread. 

The complaint was one that said the bread the pastor bought was too fancy for the occasion.  Think about that.  We’re going to shared bread and cup with Jesus Christ, and the deacon thought the bread was too expensive.  And think about this – the deacon, in the course of the conversation about Communion, about the core, the center act of our worship, tore down her pastor and made that person feel like dirt.  

Communion is the time in our service when we are closest to Christ.  Like those folks along the Emmaus Road, it is in the eating and sharing that we recognize Christ in our midst.  

The story from Luke happens just a day or two after the Resurrection, as two of Jesus’ followers are on their way home.  They’re joined on the journey by a stranger, and in their conversations, the stranger has a way of telling the story that makes sense to them… clicks with their heads, their thought processes.  But it’s not until they sit down to eat, that they realize this is not just some random meaningless connection, but that they’ve been talking with Jesus, that it is Jesus who sits with them… and when that recognition hits them, they beg him to stay… with the begging, he disappears.

Much of our faith is about how we’re to live with others – how to be kind, why it’s essential to work for justice, what it means to be merciful.  But this story, and the others about eating with Jesus, are about a different part of being Christian.  These stories are about where our strength comes from, how it is that we can continue to be kind when others are mean, or hold our tempers when the world yells obscenities at us.  These stories, and especially this one, are about spending time with Jesus.

Now, I’m not talking about the historical Jesus, as if he is literally sitting at our Communion table, probably wearing a t-shirt and sweats.  I don’t know, maybe for me it’s all about getting lost in stuff like what’s he wearing, how long is his beard, who does he look like, what does he look like… that all makes a real physical presence so unlikely and even unwelcome.  All that aside, I believe that Jesus is with us each time we celebrate Communion, and he’s here not so we can admire his hair cut, but so that we can receive some of the strength he gives to all who follow his way.

The Jesus who welcomes us to this table is that person we encounter when we read this story of Emmaus, and imagine ourselves, maybe in one of the rest areas on the New Jersey Turnpike, actually meeting someone at lunch, having a conversation that made our picture of our world shift into focus.  Because when we read about him, when we imagine ourselves in conversation with him, we are carried away to where he is.  

Have you ever had one of those life-changing conversations, maybe over a cup of coffee at a bookstore, or during a baseball game… this is that kind of place and time.  Rachel Held Evans once wrote  The church is not a group of people who believe all the same things; the church is a group of people caught up in the same story, with Jesus at the center.  That’s what I’m talking about…. this isn’t an encounter with a list of things we have to believe, this is a meeting of all different ways to live out the same goal.  This is like, but better than, the lunch I had last week with classmates from our time together at seminary.  We’ve been meeting for lunch two or three times a year ever since our graduations – through marriages and divorces, through children born, adopted, grown and now grandchildren, through various kinds of ministries… and sitting at table with Jesus is even better.

It’s easy to miss all that.  It’s way too easy to think of Communion as just one more thing to do.  It’s too easy to think, this bread’s too expensive, after all it’s not a real meal.  And in this post-COVID time with our little pre-packaged sanitary, gluten-free offerings, it’s even easier to count the cost of the package and worry about money instead of what’s really important.  Isn’t that just like life, though?

How often is it that we focus on what something’s going to cost, when cost isn’t that important, and lose sight of what it’s supposed to bring.  How often do we find ourselves worrying about being like everyone else, when the real goal of our lives is to be like Jesus?  How often do we worry about the right clothes, or the right car, or the right kind of grass in our lawn, when what’s really important is how welcoming our home is, or being the person who reaches out to the lonely, or sends cards to the sick.

Today, Jesus invites us to this table as a way of helping us re-calibrate our priorities in this new season.  Come to this table today, not to save money or to spend it, but to be with companions.  Come to this table, not to be seen as a Christian, but to live as one.  Come to this table today to eat with Jesus, and to learn to live with love, joy, justice.  Come because here you are welcomed with love everlasting.

Amen.

© 2022, Virginia H. Child

Author: tobelieveistocare

I am an interim pastor in the United Church of Christ, having served as a settled pastor for over thirty years. I play classical mandolin and share my home with a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

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