For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”1 Corinthians 11:23-24
The Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. It is such a simple act, but one that is at the heart of why we are here today. We who follow Jesus are to be bread for the world – bread that is taken, blessed, broken, and given. These four words describe what it means to be a Christian.
It was Henri Nouwen who helped me to see that, in his book, “The Life of the Beloved.” And so, in our time together, I simply want to share some thoughts about this, inspired by his book.
The Christian life, Nouwen reminds us, begins with acknowledging that we are taken. That might sound strange. But Nouwen encourages us to think of another word for taken: chosen. We are God’s chosen ones. From all eternity, we are unique and we have been chosen by God. This does not mean that others are not chosen. But simply that we have been chosen by God, for a special and unique purpose, and we realize it. We know that we have been chosen by God.
As Lutherans, we might even use a different word. Rather than taken or chosen, we might use called. As Martin Luther reminds us in his Small Catechism: “The Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in the true faith.”
We have been taken, chosen, or called, and made holy – literally, set apart – for a specific vocation, a unique task, which no one else can accomplish but us. Pretty amazing, isn’t it? Each of us has been uniquely created by God, and chosen to share God’s love in a way that only we can do.
But we are not just chosen. We are also blessed. When Jesus took the bread, he blessed it. I still remember as a young father reading a parenting book on the power of blessing – on the importance of blessing our children. And I still believe that to be true. Otherwise, children struggle their whole lives to gain their parents’ blessing. It is one of the most important things we can do for our children, simply to give them our blessing, over and over again, as they make their way through this world. My children are grown now, but it’s no less true, and no less important, to bless them. And that is just what our Father in heaven chooses to do for us.
Blessing others is one of the most important things we can do as Christians. But it starts with receiving the gift of a blessing. So how do we receive that gift? Nouwen offers two concrete suggestions.
First of all, prayer. Prayer is a way of listening to, and for, the blessing. Listening to God’s Word, listening to His blessing, has a way of changing how we go about our day. It has a way of making us instruments of our Lord’s peace. It has a way of leading us to love one another, as Jesus commands us tonight. Knowing we are blessed, we almost can’t help but be a blessing for others. And that happens through prayer.
Second, though, Nouwen suggests that we can receive this gift through the cultivation of presence. What does he mean by that? Well, he simply means paying attention to the blessings that come to us, day after day, year after year. Not taking them for granted, not being so preoccupied that we miss them altogether. But being aware of the blessings as we are given them; and being thankful for them. And, again, this has a way of leading us toward being a blessing for others.
After Jesus takes the bread and blesses it, he breaks it. What does it mean for us to be broken? Well, it starts with facing our own brokenness, and others’ brokenness, with open eyes. We live in a broken world, and we are broken, too. There simply is no way to be in this world without experiencing brokenness. Whether it is physical, or emotional, or relational, it is real and unavoidable. So how do we respond to it? Nouwen suggests two ways: befriending it, and putting it under the blessing. And I couldn’t agree with him more.
The first step is to face our brokenness, even to befriend it. Not to run from it, but to embrace it. “The great secret of the spiritual life,” Nouwen writes, “is that everything we live, be it gladness or sadness, joy or pain, health or illness, can all be part of the journey toward the full realization of our humanity.”
It is another way of saying, as Paul does in Romans (8:28), that all things can work together for the good for those who love God. Even our brokenness.
How is that so? It becomes so by embracing our brokenness, but also by putting it under the blessing. By seeing God’s presence in the midst of this brokenness, by feeling the embrace of God’s love, shown by Jesus on the cross, and by receiving the peace which only he can give, even as we live with whatever that brokenness is for us.
As Christians, we are taken, blessed, and broken. And then, finally, we are given. And it is in the giving, Nouwen writes, that it becomes clear that we are chosen, blessed and broken, not simply for our own sakes, but for the sake of others, for the sake of the world. And the best and most striking example of this for us is Jesus himself. We can see, in Jesus, an amazing example of one who was chosen, blessed, broken and given, for us and for our world.
In Jesus’ baptism, for example, we learn of his being chosen and blessed by his heavenly Father. Coming out of the water, Jesus heard his Father say: “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” There is God the Father showing us how to bless our children. Before Jesus begins his public ministry on earth, he has already received this beautiful blessing.
Jesus himself was chosen, and then blessed. And then, we acknowledge this week especially, he was broken. Jesus was broken for us, in painful ways that we wish were not necessary. After sharing this meal with his disciples, he was betrayed by his disciple and friend, Judas. Broken by this betrayal. And then, broken after he was arrested, not only by the whip and crown of thorns, but by all the other disciples deserting him. And, then, most painfully, he was broken on the cross, even feeling abandoned by the Father who had chosen and blessed him. But all of that was so that he could be given for us, so that he himself could give himself to us, as food for our faith and for our lives. So that he could love us, and serve us, and be with us forever. So that he could choose us, and bless us.
Jesus himself, we remember this day, was taken, blessed, broken, and given. For us. So that we, too, could come to see that we are chosen, blessed, broken and given to others. As we come to the table this day, to receive the bread taken, blessed, broken and given to us, the very body of Christ given to us, may we then go out into to the world, to be bread for others, to be the body of Christ that we are, for the sake of the world that God so loves. To the glory of God. Amen.