I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church; and by that, I mean I was baptized when I was 11, and I attended church with one of my school friends and her family, usually on Saturday nights after we all went to confession. My parents were cultural Catholics, and never stepped food inside a church except for my baptism. In my neighborhood, you were either Roman Catholic or you were Jewish… at least that’s how I remember it. I really loved going to church with my friends… I loved the music, the people, the pretty statues… I loved everything about it.
I attended mass during my early years in the Navy, and somewhere along the way I stopped going to church altogether at least for a while. I had tried other churches with friends, but nothing seemed to fit, and I really couldn’t tell you why, at least not at the time. I learned about the Episcopal church in a history class; when my professor said it was sort of like the Catholic church in it’s worship, but that there was no Pope, I went home and looked for the nearest Episcopal church in the yellow pages. That next Sunday, I went to the Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego… It didn’t take more than a few minutes to realize that I was home… in the bulletin, it said that anyone who was baptized could receive communion at the altar. I hadn’t received in years, so I was all in… it wasn’t until the bread was placed in my hands and the chalice presented to me, that I finally understood what had been missing for me at those other churches; it was the sacrament of Eucharist; it was the words, “the body of Christ, the bread of heaven; the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation”… words that I needed to hear, bread and wine that I needed to consume; I needed to hear that Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave not just bread, but himself in the actions at the altar. There in that cathedral, surrounded by people I didn’t even know, I felt like I was home; the most important of relationships in my life was now restored, and I vowed that I would never leave again…
We talk a lot about “real presence” in the Eucharist; we say that we believe that Jesus is really, truly, present in the bread and in the wine once the words are said and the elements are blessed. We don’t tend to define what real presence means, but there have been many who have tried; what I believe, are the words that I say when I give the element… the body of Christ, the bread of heaven, the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation… I do not need to define the great mystery of how it happens, I just know that when a priest says the words that Jesus spoke over the bread and wine, that they are both changed; I know that when I consume them, that I am changed… In our gospel today, the disciples on the road recognized Jesus when he took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them… then their eyes were opened and they recognized him. It is the same for us; certainly we meet Jesus in all sorts of places and people; I can remember learning in my catechism class before my baptism how Jesus was “everywhere”… but there is something very different about holding and consuming the bread of life… what I have come to realize, is that there is something very life giving in knowing how the words and actions of the communion prayers are the same actions of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples; and perhaps more importantly, they are also the actions of Jesus’ life… bread is taken by the priest… Jesus, the Son is taken into human life; bread is blessed; Jesus is blessed and his identity made known at his baptism; bread is broken; Jesus is broken on the cross; bread is given; Jesus, by being broken is then given to the world to bring life to the world… and when we gather again to celebrate this life giving event again… we too will be taken, blessed, broken and given; we too are brought into the 4 fold action of Jesus so that we might be his hands and feet in the world… Neither bread, nor Jesus, nor any of us can be shared until we are broken… and it is in our brokenness that we find wholeness and healing… because Jesus was broken and shared first… and he came through the other side, with the wounds of his brokenness showing, but no longer dead… risen to life with God the Father, and with us….
I grieve this time of separation from you and from the sacrament that is so vitally important to us; I hope that we will soon be together to celebrate again. I pray that our eyes will be opened, and we will recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.