“And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said,
‘This is my body…'”
1 Corinthians 11:17-26
This is my body, this is my blood: these 8 words are from the earliest record we have of the words of Jesus. They are the heart of the sacrament. You can change or take away all the other words of the liturgy, and leave only these 8, and you will still have the sacrament—these “words of institution.” In the liturgy for the Lord’s Supper, these words are always followed by what is called “The Fraction”—the breaking of the bread. I am sure you have noticed that sometimes the bread is not so easy to break. Every loaf is different–sometimes tough, or crumbly, or doughy. It rarely tears very neatly–often messy, one half too big, the other too little. I’ll tell you a secret: many pastors like to pre-cut the loaf on the bottom so that when the Fraction comes, the bread will tear smoothly, as if along an invisible dotted line, as if by magic. In fact, when I assisted our District Superintendent Thursday night during the communion at the Charge Conference, I saw that this was precisely what he had done. When the Fraction came, the bread just miraculously popped apart into 2 equal halves! Voila!
I suppose we could do that here, except it sorta seems like cheating to me. For life is not like that. Life is messy. Sometimes tough. Often inconsistent. Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” True, but life is also like a loaf of bread! You never know how it’s going to break. You only know that it will break. As resilient as life is, it is also so breakable. In Leonard Bernstein’s famous Mass, the title of the song that comes at the Fraction is simply “Things Get Broken.” “I never noticed, “says the song, “how easily things get broken.” Yes, they do, don’t they?
The world gets broken—torn, lives fractured, by war, violence, hatred, prejudice. Cities get broken. know I don’t need to tell anyone who lives in New Orleans how broken a city can be. Churches get broken. Anyone who has been here the last 10 years knows how broken a church can be—this sacred space a hard-hat area for more than 3 years.
But I don’t just mean church buildings. On this World Communion Sunday, we must confess how broken is the body, so fractured we Christians cannot even take communion at the same table. While on vacation last summer, I worshiped in church of another tradition where I was not permitted to receive communion because I am Methodist, nor would I have been allowed to serve because I am a woman, a church in which my ordination is not worth the paper on which it is printed. How is it that I can serve communion and baptize babies under this roof, then walk out these doors, into another church and suddenly cannot even receive communion, let alone serve it, unless the Body of Christ is broken?
The church in Corinth was broken. Read Paul’s entire letter to the Corinthians and see how that congregation was fractured by quarreling factions in the body. And nowhere was it more divisive than at the Lord’s Table. The rich were arriving early, sitting like elite cliques, gorging themselves, drinking to the point of drunkenness, leaving only the scraps for the poor. How could they act that way at the Lord’s Table—the One who cared most for the least, the last, the lost– at the Lord’s Supper—the most inclusive meal in the world? When Paul learned of this kind of divisive behavior, it broke his heart.
People get broken. Do not be deluded by anyone’s apparent perfection! Everyone bleeds somewhere, is broken somewhere, has scars somewhere. Even someone like Paul D’Arcy who recently led a workshop at our church. One looks at her and sees a successful author, counselor, retreat leader, spiritual director, beautiful both inside and out. But she opened the retreat by rolling back the clock, and telling her story: “I had a perfect life,” she remembered, “I was ‘manager of the universe’”—with a wonderful husband Roy, a precious daughter Sarah, a successful career, happily pregnant with her 2nd child, when it happened. One day, returning from a short road trip, only 20 miles from home, their car was struck by a drunk driver, and both her husband and her daughter killed instantly. When she woke up in the hospital and learned that she alone had survived, she wanted her life to end. She asked, “Were we always so fragile?” Yes, as resilient as life is, it is at same time, so fragile. Things get broken.
We try to protect ourselves. As Brené Brown says, “We wake up in the morning and we “armor up” (Brown even shows a slide of a human heart clad in steel plates! ). We armor us to go out into the world to kick some you-know-what, stay safe, not show anyone who we really are”—for fear of getting broken.
WHY I wonder, do things get broken? WHY was life set up this way? Whose idea was this? This side of the grave I may never know the answer to that question! It will certainly be the first question I ask Jesus when I see him. I don’t know why, but I do know when: when things get broken, it opens them up to something inside that can never be broken. It’s like Paul would later tell the Corinthians, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” Our lives are fragile earthen vessels—that is cracked pots. (I think that’s where the term crackpot came from!) But inside those fragile cracked pots, is this splendid treasure, this life that death cannot touch, this unassailable center which is not subject to any of life’s circumstances. But it is not until those pots get cracked that we ever see a glimmer of that unassailable center inside. Which is why Parker Palmer would speak of “the hidden wholeness” within each of us. Which is why Brene Brown would make this amazing claim, “Our capacity for whole-heartedness can never be greater than our capacity for broken-heartedness.” This is what Paula D’Arcy’s discovered when all her hopes and dreams shattered. On Friday night she quoted Hawaiian poet Rashani:
“There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken
a shatteredness out of which blooms the unshatterable…
a fragility out of whose depths emerges strength…
as we break open to the place inside
which is unbreakable and whole.”
Why do you have to crack a nut to get to the meat? Why do you have crack an egg to get to the yolk? Why did Jesus say, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit”? Why did the Leonard Cohen sing, “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
That’s what this table is for. This is what the Fraction is about. This is a place where we can bring our brokenness. This is the place where we meet the One who was himself broken. He is the One who for some reason prefers to use broken things, broken people, to work his purpose out, the One whose own hands and feet bear scars, the One to whom we do not have to be afraid to show our scars.
This is why the words of institution include this critical phrase: “on the same night that he was betrayed.” How amazing that is was on this same night that he gave himself for us! On the same night when looked like everything was shattered, there was this unshatterable center of grace! “This is my body,” he said. I do not think of it as something to armor up, to protect, to defend, to hoard, to hide. I bless it, I break it open, I share it, I give it for you. This cup, my life, I pour it out for you. You do this, he said, you do this, for this is the Way. This is where true life is to be found–in the blessing, the breaking, the pouring, the sharing of our lives–out of which blooms the unshatterable.
Remember that old legend from India about the water bearer who had two large water pots in which he carried water daily from the river to his master’s table? One of the pots was perfect. The other pot had a crack in it. The perfect pot always arrived at the master’s house full to the brim. The cracked pot was always half empty. The cracked pot was ashamed of its broken place. The cracked pot said to the carrier one day, “Why don’t you get rid of me? I come to the end of every single day half-empty.” “Oh no,” said the water bearer, “Haven’t you seen the flowers growing alongside the road where I carry you each day? These are the flowers that I pick to grace the master’s table each day. These are flowers that bloom only on your side of the road. These are the flowers that bloom only because your cracked pot waters them.”
For some reason, God likes to use broken things, broken people, to work out his purpose of love in this world. Your cracked pot, my cracked pot, like his body broken– the Fraction—out of which blooms the unshatterable.