The Bread Man
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.
That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
And should we be surprised at the method of revelation?
“He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” After all, we’re talking about the bread man here. That’s Jesus, you know—the bread man. He was born in the City of David, called Bethlehem, which literally means “House of Bread.”
Throughout his ministry he regularly gathered with people around their tables for meals. With Pharisees, disciples, Martha and Mary, Mary and Lazarus—given the opportunity, he would eat with anyone. One of the great criticisms his opponents had of him was that “He ate and drank with sinners.” Not that anyone was free from sin, but Jesus sometimes seemed to go out of his way to eat with well-known, notorious sinners and tax collectors like Zacchaeus.
Then there were the times that he gathered with crowds—feeding 5000 men plus women and children on one occasion, and 4,000 on another. John tells the story about the marriage feast where they ran out of wine, and Jesus made more wine so the party could continue.
Today’s story from Luke’s gospel supposedly occurred on Easter evening. Just three days before, on Thursday night, Jesus had had his Last Supper with the disciples before his arrest and crucifixion the next day. He took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to his friends and said, “Take and eat this in remembrance of me.” And then he took a cup of wine, blessed it, and said, “This is my blood of the new covenant.”
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus met Jesus as they walked and talked with him. But it was only when he was at the supper table with them in the inn, when he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them, that their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.
So they ran back to Jerusalem and found the disciples gathered together in the upper room with the doors locked . . . presumably the same room where they had had the last supper . . . “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
Later that same evening Jesus came through the locked door as they were eating and appeared to the ten. A week later, this time with Thomas, Jesus came to them again as they were sharing supper.
St. John reports yet another encounter with the risen Christ at the Sea of Galilee where Jesus prepared a breakfast of bread and grilled fish, and then instructed Peter to “feed my sheep.”
Jesus the Bread man, the supper man, the dinner man . . . always showing up when there is food being served. We have a son like that . . . rarely sure where he is or what he’s doing . . . but put a meal on the table . . . . In fact, it’s become a family joke . . . his car pulls up to the curb in front of the house, and someone will call out, “Must be dinner time, Louie’s here!”
It seemed to the disciples that whenever they broke bread together, Jesus would be present. And that’s still our Eucharistic expectation. When we, the Body of Christ, come together and share the Bread and wine of Holy Communion, we believe that Christ is really present in our hearts and minds.
But let’s not get too carried away, making the Eucharistic bread and wine into something too precious, like I experienced when I attended an Orthodox Eucharist in Sablino, Russia. As in all Eastern Orthodox churches there’s an iconostasis—a screen decorated with icons that divides the sanctuary from the nave. Only the priest, deacons and male acolytes are permitted behind the screen where the altar is located and the elements of bread and wine are blessed, out of sight of the congregation. The elements are brought out from behind the screen when it is time to share the Communion with the people.
On the occasion that I was in attendance, a child jiggled the chalice as it was being served to him, and some wine spilled on the floor. Immediately, two deacons dropped to the floor and licked up the wine, followed by an elaborate ritual of washing the floor and then drinking the holy water that had been used in the washing.
One of the authors of our current Book of Common Prayer, liturgical scholar The Rev. Dr. Massey Shepherd, was once asked by a seminary student what should be done if any of the bread or wine was spilled on the floor. He said that it should be picked up or wiped up, but it didn’t need to be consumed. Then he went on to say, “If Jesus can figure out how to get into that bread and wine, then he can figure out how to get out of it.”
More importantly, if we make the Eucharistic meal to be too precious, too sacred, too removed from everyday life, then we risk losing the connection between the meal we have together around the holy table and all the other meals we share.
We humans beings focus our connections around food. Celebrations like weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays usually involve meals. Even in times of grief, we often gather and eat—comforting one another with casseroles, baked goods, and other gifts of food. We connect over coffee and coffee hours, tea, beer, or glasses of wine.
The sacred meal of the Holy Eucharist—where we affirm and celebrate our connection with God and one another—is intended to remind us that all of our meals with others are sacred.
On Maundy Thursday, Jesus gathered with his disciples in a room to observe the Passover. It was there that The Bread Man instituted the Lord’s Supper, taking bread, blessing and breaking it, and giving it to his disciples.
Three days later, in a public inn in the town of Emmaus with Cleopas and another disciple, when Jesus “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.”
May your every meal be one of blessing. May you find times and places to break bread with others. And may you recognize and honor in those times the presence of the Holy One, the Bread man of Galilee.