The Power of a Shared Meal

Or, Why I Need Communion

The Power of a Shared Meal

By Beth Demme

I love sitting down at a table with people and sharing a meal. Whether it’s a holiday meal with the family that has loved me my entire life, or an evening out with new friends, I always enjoy “breaking bread” with people.

“Breaking bread” has a special meaning in Christianity. If you are (or ever have been) a church person, it probably draws your mind to images of Communion (or Eucharist or The Lord’s Supper, depending on your tradition).

Churches handle Communion in diverse ways.

Some churches offer it weekly, or monthly, or quarterly. Some churches, like mine, offer an open table—anyone who wants to receive Communion can. Other churches ask that you check with the pastor or priest beforehand.

Sometimes Communion is the focal point of the service and there is a lot of formality and fanfare, while other times it’s an almost private moment at the end of the service. Personally, I’ve been drawn to different methods in different seasons of my life. Currently, I favor the more personal and intimate approach.

We don’t always think of Communion as a meal, maybe because it’s just a piece of bread or wafer and a splash of juice or wine, but it is a meal—the kind that nourishes us spiritually and physically.

Sharing a meal was an integral part of Jesus’ ministry. In fact, it is one way he revealed himself to people, and it is one way he continues to do so today.

Church folks know the story of the night Jesus was betrayed. We know that on that night he shared a meal with his disciples. He held some bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat. This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus did the same thing with the cup, saying it was his blood poured out for us and we should drink from it as a way to remember the new covenant between God and humanity. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Church folks know this part of scripture because it’s usually recited in some form as part of the Communion ceremony. What we may not always remember is that the shared meal was important to Jesus after resurrection as well.

After the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus appeared to two disciples as they walked to a place called Emmaus. (Luke 24:13-35) They didn’t realize it was Jesus … until he broke bread with them. (Luke 24:30-31) Those two disciples immediately went back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples about what they experienced. When they did, Jesus appeared to all of them. (Luke 24:36)

Jesus offered them peace, but they were too gobsmacked to let his peace settle on them. They were “startled,” “terrified,” “frightened,” and “doubts arose in their hearts.” (Luke 24:37-39) Jesus didn’t retreat. Instead, he offered them more of himself. He invited them to touch his hands and his feet.

The disciples were simultaneously filled with joy and disbelief—it was a too-good-to-be-true moment.

At that point, what did Jesus do? He asked to share a meal with them! “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.” (Luke 24:41-42)

Later, Jesus was represented in art by the ICTHUS, a fish. ICTHUS meant fish, but it was also an acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” It also reminds us of this post-resurrection meal (and the fact that many of the disciples were fishermen, and that Jesus fed 5000 with loaves and fishes, and … well, you get the idea).

In the catacombs of Rome, you can see art like this where Communion includes a fish, symbolic of Jesus.

Communion is, for me, more than an act of remembrance. John Wesley called it a means of grace—it opens my heart and allows me to see Jesus in new ways.

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I need Jesus to be revealed to me. Like the disciples in Jerusalem who were startled, terrified, frightened, and doubt-filled, I need to share a meal of Jesus, and with Jesus, in order for God’s peace to settle on me.

Let us break bread together, my friends.

What about you? Do you look forward to Communion, or do you feel disconnected from it? How often does your church offer Communion and how is it shared? Tell me about it in the comments, in an email, or on Facebook.


More Like This From Beth:

Why I Love Doubting Thomas

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Why I Love Doubting Thomas

By Beth Demme

When you hear the story of “Doubting Thomas” do you think of him as a failure or do you feel an affinity for him? If you don’t know the details of his story, pause for a minute and read how he got his nickname at John 20:19-31.

On the one hand, I feel compelled to argue for a new nickname for Thomas. After all, Peter denied Jesus three times (John 18) but we don’t call him “Denying Peter.” Peter also sank after trying to walk on water with Jesus (Matthew 14:22-33), but we don’t call him “Sinking Peter.” Maybe instead of calling him Doubting Thomas, we would do better to call him Believing Thomas or Faithful Thomas or Fruitful Thomas or Just-Like-Me Thomas.

On the other hand, I think we should embrace the nickname “Doubting Thomas” and celebrate it! We should celebrate that Thomas had doubts, and celebrate how Jesus responded.

Why do we make it seem like it’s a bad thing that Thomas doubted? Have you ever had a friend recommend a TV show, a movie, or a book? No matter how detailed and accurate their recommendation is, it’s no substitute for seeing it or reading it for yourself, right?

That’s what really happens to the one we always call “Doubting Thomas.”

Three days after the crucifixion, the resurrected Jesus appears to Thomas’s friends. When Thomas comes back to the house, they can’t wait to tell him about this incredible thing that has happened. Thomas says, “I’ve got to see that for myself!”

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How To Go From Despair to Delight

Mary Magdalene's Easter Experience

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How To Go From Despair to Delight

By Beth Demme

On Easter we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. We celebrated an empty tomb that was full of hope! We celebrated that our relationship with God is restored! Now, as we move into the Easter season (Easter Sunday thru Pentecost), I find myself considering Mary Magdalene. I keep thinking about her transformation in the verses of John 20. Her transformation from despair to delight.

Maybe you, or someone you know, really needs that kind of transformation right now. For Mary, it happens when Jesus calls her by name. It happens when she understands God really knows her, and cares for her.

In John 20, we find Mary in the wake of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. It is pre-dawn, with its literal and metaphorical darkness. Mary wants to feel close to Jesus in the wake of his death and to pay respect to her fallen friend, teacher, and leader. Just like we might do in the days following a close friend’s funeral, Mary visits his grave.

As she approaches, she realizes, with horror, that something is amiss. She runs back to the other disciples and says, “they’ve taken Jesus out of the tomb!”

Two disciples immediately run to the tomb and have a look around. They agree that Jesus isn’t there and then head back home. But Mary? Mary lingers.

She stands there weeping.

I imagine her with tears rolling down her face and onto her dress. In my mind’s eye, she’s crying so much that her nose is running and even her headdress is marked by her overflowing tears.

Still crying, she bends over to look at where Jesus’ body should have been. She never intended to look inside the tomb that day, but finding it open, what choice did she have?

Jesus is Missing from the Easter Story

Actually, that's the point. The tomb is empty.

Copyright: sifotography / 123RF Stock Photo

Jesus is Missing from the Easter Story

By Beth Demme

One of the reasons I come to you via email, Facebook, or blog each week is to fulfill my personal mission to help people see the Bible as manageable and meaningful. That means there are times when I have the joy (and challenge?) of sharing something with you that you might not hear in church.

There are Bible study lessons that don’t fit in well with preaching. When a pastor has precious few minutes with you each week, they generally feel they can’t afford to spend those minutes on background and nuance that are better suited to a Bible study. But then in Bible study, the goal is often to cram in as much information and application as possible so, again, nuance is seen as a nuisance.

So, this Easter, you might not hear the Easter story as told in the Gospel of Mark.

It’s an optional reading for those churches following the Revised Common Lectionary, but even still many (including me) will opt for the Easter story as told in the Gospel of John.

Wait a minute? There’s more than one Easter story?

Well … sort of. There is only one Easter story (He IS risen!), but there are four perspectives on this all-important event. Mark’s perspective is the most challenging because it ends on a cliff-hanger. If you open your Bible to Mark chapter 16, you’ll probably see a note after verse 8 explaining that “some of the most ancient [i.e. oldest] authorities” end the book here; others include verse 9, some go all the way through verse 20.

Resurrection Begins Now (And It’s Not Even Easter Yet)

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Resurrection Begins Now (And It’s Not Even Easter Yet)

By Beth Demme

There comes a time towards the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry when he raises a man from the dead, his dear friend Lazarus. The telling of this story always breaks me a little because of the words of Martha, the sister of Lazarus.

Martha is a do-er, a worker, a get-her-hands-dirty-and-serve-others kind of lady. We read about her in Luke 10 when Jesus stops by her house. Martha’s sister, Mary, doesn’t help with the work of hospitality. Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things … Mary has chosen the better part.”

After Lazarus dies Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21) Martha, the do-er, tells Jesus he should have done something.

In response, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He doesn’t say only, “I will bring resurrection and life,” but “I AM the resurrection and the life.” Jesus says to Martha, to you, and to me, “I am YOUR resurrection and YOUR life.”

God brings life to those moments that need resurrection.

When Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here –if only you had been here!—my brother would not have died,” this is every suffering person ever, isn’t it?

God if you had been here this terrible thing would not have happened. A mass shooting in a school, bombs exploding on front porches, planes into towers, an unexpected diagnosis – WHERE are you GOD?

God says, “I AM here. I AM with you.”

Commandments, Contracts, and Covenant

We are in a covenant with God, not a contract.

Covenant Not Contract

Commandments, Contracts, and Covenant

By Beth Demme

It’s tempting to make faith into something legalistic. To make it about rules and obedience. I know this is a temptation because I see how prevalent it is in Christian culture, but also because I see it in myself. Often it’s a marker of a new relationship with God, but I’ve been on my adventure with God for a long time and it still pops up.

When I read thru the 10 Commandments, I’m tempted to read them as pre-requisites to a relationship with God. I couldn’t be more wrong. God gives us these principles to live by because we are already in a relationship. In fact, in Exodus 20, God speaks directly to the Israelites, saying “I am the Lord your God.”

It’s not conditional, “I will be your God only if …”

God has to offer us an unconditional covenant because we don’t really have anything to offer the Creator of all that is, except ourselves. Knowing myself the way I do, this hardly seems like a substantial enough offering. Except it’s all that God wants, to be loved wholeheartedly by you and me.

When I slip into a legalistic mindset, pretending that following rules is a substitute for really giving myself to God heart and soul, I invariably become judgmental of others. I measure myself comparatively and I am reassured that I’m “in” because others are “out.” But none of us perfectly follows the 10 Commandments. This isn’t the purpose of the 10 Commandments anyway!

Our failures aren’t meant to distance us from God. They reveal to us our need for God. [Twitter Link]

What does God do about the fact that we don’t follow the 10 Commandments well? Here it’s important to understand the difference between a contract and a covenant. I think when people talk about the 10 Commandments as a basis for punishment they miss the fundamental difference between a covenant and a contract.

Praying and Waiting

A Biblical Hero’s Lesson In How NOT To Do It

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Praying and Waiting
A Biblical Hero’s Lesson In How NOT To Do It

By Beth Demme

Are you good at praying … and then waiting? I spend a good amount of time praying, even listening, but I’m terrible at waiting! Abraham, the patriarch of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths was also not good at waiting for God’s promises to come true.

Things start out well. God tells Abraham to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house and go to a location that is “to be determined.” (Genesis 12:1) Abraham, and his wife Sarah, left everything, including the safety and security of their clan—the clan Abraham would, by rights, have ruled one day—for an unknown future with God. (Genesis 12:4)

When Abraham and Sarah arrived in a place called Canaan, quite far from their homeland, God told Abraham to raise his eyes and look around, “for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.” (Genesis 13:14-15) God also told Abraham his offspring would be “like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring can also be counted.” (Genesis 16)

That’s a lot of descendants!

Time goes by, life happens, but Abraham and Sarah have no children. Abraham starts to worry about whether or not this promise from God is really going to come true. He doesn’t see how he will have a lot of descendants if he can’t even have one child. Abraham asks God, “what will you give me, for I continue childless… you have given me no offspring.” (Genesis 15:2-3)

I can relate to Abraham. I know I’m supposed to believe and trust, but … waiting makes it hard.

Waiting creates an opportunity for doubt to creep in. I find myself wondering if perhaps I misunderstood God’s promises.

God reassures Abraham. God invites Abraham to look at the stars in the night sky and says, “count the stars if you are able … so shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15:5) At this point, the Bible says, Abraham “believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

Abraham had tremendous faith, but like other biblical heroes, he was human.

After God reassured Abraham, he and Sarah, as faithful as they were, took matters into their own hands. Sarah tells Abraham to go make a baby with another woman, Hagar, a slave. (Genesis 16) It works! Abraham gets an heir, whom he names Ishmael (Genesis 16:15).

The Reality of Lent

#ParklandShooting

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The Reality of Lent, #ParklandShooting

By Beth Demme

On Ash Wednesday 2018, fourteen teenagers and three coaches were savagely murdered in a shooting spree at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. We, as a country, have a routine after a massacre like this. It’s a routine I don’t much care for. We break into sides, camps, parties, teams, tribes, or whatever word you would choose. The point is, we divide.

In our idealized version of our American self, we are the “United” States of America. We are joined together by common ideals and goals, a shared history and a shared purpose. When there is an outside threat we do band together and stand as one nation under God. When, however, the threat is from within our collective self, we stand divided, each of us doing what we think is right. (See Judges 21:25.)

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I need to say it, to confess it. Every time there is a tragedy, I seem to find a way to insulate my heart from it.

From Columbine to the Aurora theater shooting, to Sandy Hook Elementary School, to Pulse nightclub, to the Las Vegas shooting, to the Charleston, South Carolina and Southerland, Texas church shootings, and all those in between, I found a way to put it over there somewhere.

But this one, the Parkland, Florida school shooting? I can’t insulate my heart for some reason. Maybe it’s because the school reminds me so much of my son’s high school and the teenagers who died remind me so much of his friends. Perhaps it’s because we know people who lost friends that day. Probably, it’s that the Holy Spirit finally has me where I need to be.

In the wake of the tragedy, the students of Parkland are making their voices heard. Their grief is giving birth to a movement. As this blog posts, they are here in the Florida capital where I live. Today my husband will miss work and my teenagers will miss school as they venture down to the Capitol to join with those students, pleading with lawmakers to notice them, to see their pain, and to not brush it aside—to not put it over there somewhere, as I have so often done.

The rally at the Florida Capitol isn’t just about seeing democracy in action, it’s about trying to find one’s voice in the wilderness.

It’s about feeling too small to fight something powerful and destructive, but deciding to try anyway.

Happy Va-LENT-ine’s Day

February 14th is Doubly Special This Year

Happy Va LENT ine's Day

Happy Va-LENT-ine’s Day

By Beth Demme

Happy February 14th! It’s Valentine’s Day, but this year it also happens to be Ash Wednesday, aka the beginning of Lent. So this year we are celebrating Va-LENT-ine’s Day!

Maybe you’ve been in and around church your whole life and you know all about Lent. Perhaps your Lenten practices are simply another cog in the well-oiled machinery that IS your Spiritual Life. Or, maybe you’re new to the idea and you are curious about why people are burning palms, walking around with dirty foreheads, and talking very piously about sacrificing chocolate. Hopefully you didn’t lavish your Valentine with “The World’s Biggest Chocolate Heart” only to discover that said Valentine is on a chocolate fast from now thru April 1. (Side note: I am not giving up chocolate. Feel free to re-direct all Valentine’s chocolate to me.)

No matter how well-oiled your Spiritual Life is, or isn’t, sometimes it’s a good idea to revisit the basics of something that happens over and over again, like Lent.