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When You Touch Bread
June 4, 1978

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

JOHN 6:47-58

An unknown author has written. 

Be gentle 

when you touch bread, 

Let it not lie uncared for, unwanted. 

So often bread is taken for granted. 

There is so much beauty 

in bread, 

beauty of sun and soil 

beauty of patient toil, 

winds and rain have caressed it. 

Christ often blessed it. 

Be gentle, 

when you touch bread. 

There is a great mystery in bread. Bread begins in death in a very mysterious way. We plant a seed, we bury a seed—oat or wheat, rye. We put it under the ground and very mysteriously, it seems to die but in that death it begins to sprout, to change form.  A hidden power breaks the tomb, new life surges before our eyes. New life shoots out of that seed and it grows. With the help of the sun, the rain and the soil, and with the skill of the farmer, the reaper, the processor, the seed is turned into flour. Emily kneads it and makes bread for every Communion. 

Be gentle when you touch bread. There's more to bread than just meets the eye. As the poet says, “So often bread is taken for granted.” Like we take life for granted. So often we just eat to fill our physical need. We take common, ordinary experiences of everyday life for granted and we miss the mystery. We miss the wonder, the majesty in the miracle of bread. Remember, realize, rejoice, be gentle when you touch bread. 

But there's even more to the mystery. Be gentle when you touch bread for Christ blessed bread. The poet said, “Beauty of sun and soil beauty of patient toil. Winds and rains have caressed it. Christ often blessed it.” When darkness faced Jesus, when the crisis came upon Jesus, when he knew that tomorrow was going to bring him pain, agony, and even death, when a dark, sad hour faced Jesus, what did he do? He called together his friends. He reached out to his friends. They came together and what did they do? They ate. The Son of God ate. The Son of God took bread and wine and they ate. Eating can be so much more than just filling our faces like we do at our house to get on with the next event. Eating can be so much more, eating can be a time of fellowship. Eating can be the occasion for sharing. When a family gathers around the table and talk, share and unload, eating can be a time of mutual strengthening. Eating can be a time of celebrating, of great rejoicing. Eating can be a feast. It can be a marvelous opportunity for fellowship not only with one another, but with God. For Christ met his dark hour in the company of his friends, taking the bread and blessing it. He said, “Eat it in remembrance of me.” Remembering is more than just something conscious. Remembering in the Bible is an act by which the person we remember is present. And today on behalf of Christ and in his place, we bless this bread as he blessed it. We touch it gently and we eat it. 

There is even more to the mystery. Not only is there the mystery of bread itself, not only is there the mystery that Christ blessed it, and took an everyday, common occurrence, an everyday experience, and turned it into the means by which God speaks to us, but even more. This bread can be transformed, can be changed. The Roman Catholic Church believes in transubstantiation, that this substance of bread and wine is transformed when the words of blessing and prayer is said over them, into the actual blood and body of the Lord Jesus. In the act of breaking bread, Jesus again is sacrificing his life for you and for me. We Protestants don't go quite that far, but neither do we stand at the other end and say, “Well, it's just a nice Memorial.” We believe that in the act of the breaking of bread, when the prayers are said over the bread and in the company of the faithful, something happens. Christ is present in the breaking, the touching and the eating of the bread. Christ is present in a way in which he is not present in any other way. We call that a means of grace. The forgiving experience of God can be ours through the eating of this bread. 

Jesus even went further. In our gospel lesson today, he said, “I am the living bread and when you eat of me, when you feed on me, you will never hunger again. And when you feed on my flesh, I will give you eternal life.” The life that I give you, the nourishment that I give you is for eternity. This bread can become the living bread, the very presence of Jesus Christ for us. That's a mystery that is beyond our comprehension and our understanding. But those who believe, those who step out on faith, those that will be open to the possibility, for centuries those people have found that in the eating of the bread, and in the drinking of the juice, they have found power, a hidden power, that breaks away the case and allows the seed of the bread to grow. 

The power of God breaks us loose. As Jesus brought new life into the world through his death, in the act of breaking the bread and pouring the juice, we symbolize the breaking of Jesus’ body and the pouring of his life out for us. In the act of touching, eating and drinking, we can discover the power of God in a new, unique and powerful way—the forgiving, redeeming, reconciling power of God. 

Be gentle when you touch bread. May you come today with expectancy. May you come today in joy. May you come open for the mystery of the possibility of the presence of Christ is here in this bread.

© 1978 Douglas I. Norris