Bread Broken for Broken Hearts

Every Sunday, it’s the communion line that gets to me. The rest of worship keeps me a comfortable distance from the people, veritably fenced off by the altar rail, hemmed in by the stone pulpit walls. I can see the congregation and they can see me, but we Lutherans like to sit at least six pews from the front, just in case the service goes over an hour and we need to dine-and-dash at the Lord’s Supper.

But at communion, the people and I are in close proximity, both to each other and to the divine. It’s unnerving, and whether I am trying to find it or not, there is always a moment where I’m undone by this intimacy. Yesterday, for example, I handed a wafer to the developmentally disabled man who’d been banned from church by his case worker last fall because he kept calling me to ask me out. He was back yesterday, with a friend, and he took the wafer from me timidly, as if he wasn’t sure the forgiveness it offered applied between us.

Yesterday also, a woman came through the line crying. It happens almost every week, looking into the eyes of God’s people, that I see fresh tears. And yesterday, there were many tears because I’d just preached about the mystery of God’s plan and the life of the 6 week old child we’d buried last week. My own eyes sprung up with living water as I handed her the wafer, and choked out the words “the body of Christ, given for you”. After worship, she shared that the two bodies found this weekend are her son’s in-laws. “I thought I was okay until you started preaching,” she said.

Isn’t that the best thing that church teaches us? That we are not okay out in the world on our own, even if we are determined to make it seem to others like we are. We need each other, and we need hope and love without conditions. We might make it through the rote words of confession at the beginning of church without plumbing our own sinfulness, but we cannot get through the communion line without our hearts breaking wide open.

When we stand eye to eye with the pastor or a lay leader, and hear again the unlikely offer of Jesus’ body and blood “for you”, there’s no escape. We are stuck in the horrifying knowledge of our unworthiness, even as we are handed the free pass of God’s grace. If we are lucky, it will be an intinction Sunday where we can return to our seats before anyone notices we’ve been flayed by this simple meal.

It never gets old, this part of worship, because for every piece of bread we break in Jesus’ name there is a corresponding broken heart needing its nourishment. For every sip of wine taken from the dripping cup, there is a bleeding heart which is staunched by the firmness of God’s hands. This is why Jesus told us to “do this” every time we gather, to remember that we are fully known and fully loved.

This is why I love communion even when it hurts.

3 responses to “Bread Broken for Broken Hearts”

  1. Pastor Collette, let me first thank you for quite possibly the best sermon I have ever heard. Not because of some great use of words, or perfect delivery, but because it was authentic and moving. Sometimes I feel like people think that as Christians we will will never see difficult things. You brought that message home yesterday. I really appreciate your willingness to be vulnerable with the congregation.

    Sometimes I think we just come to church out of ritual. Sometimes we do it just to feel good. For me, I come to hear what God is saying to me and the church as a whole. Am I going the right direction, have I done the best I can. Most times, I fail miserably on both accounts. Many days, I want to give up and roll into a ball on the floor.

    For many years of my life I did not participate in traditional communion services outside of the church that I have been attending. I always was afraid that it was being taken for granted and I didn’t want to come under condemnation for being too casual and making sure that I had come before the throne properly. Since joining Bethlehem 2 years ago, I have come to the same conclusion that you speak of above. Yes, communion can be a ritual that gets taken for granted, but I have experienced a change in how I perceive this part of our service. Yes , we do it a lot, but you know what, I NEED IT! It really humbles me to understand that without God, I can do nothing. No works, offerings, or any good intentions can make me good enough. So every weekend that we have communion, I go forward, I admit to myself and to God that I have failed and stand on his love, grace, and forgiveness. It also helps me to not be so demanding on those around me when I realize that I have been shown forgiveness, and will continue to be shown forgiveness, even though I am a believer that falls constantly.

    Thank you for your commitment to hearing from God and telling us what he is telling you, even if it is difficult. To be honest, messages like yesterday’s message are so powerful because they hit all of us where we live. It doesn’t surprise me that God uses our weaknesses, sufferings, and difficult times in such a powerful way. I guess it is because we come to a point where we don’t have the answers, don’t know what to do, and most times, don’t know how to go on. That puts right where God wants us so we can do his work.

    Thank you.

    • Thanks, Tim, and I’m glad that my vulnerability in preaching is appreciated. I’m also glad that communion as a regular practice is feeding you the way it feeds me. Also, this is the first comment of your I’ve seen. You indicated a couple weeks ago that you’ve made others, but I don’t know where they went because I never saw them.

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