Knowing Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread

Jesus and the two disciples On the Road to Emmaus, by Duccio, 1308-1311, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena.
Jesus and the two disciples On the Road to Emmaus, by Duccio, 1308-1311, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena.

Two friends walk along the road, speaking quietly to one another. They are hopeless. They are sad. When Jesus was alive, they were full of hope; he would redeem their nation, set them free. But Jesus is dead, and with him, all their hopes.

A stranger appears. “What have you two been talking about?” he asks. The friends look at each other, and then at the stranger. What else would they be talking about? For three days, all that anyone has talked about is the fact that Jesus—the one that was hoped to be the Messiah, the one to redeem Israel—is dead.

“Do you really not know what has been going on around here recently?” they ask.

“Tell me,” says the stranger.

They tell him. Jesus—the prophet who was so powerful, who healed the sick, gave sight to people who were blind, fed thousands of people with just five small loaves and two fish, and who taught everyone about the kingdom of God—is dead.

“We had hoped that he would be the one to redeem us,” they say, “but now he has been dead for three days. Even worse, now there are odd stories about his tomb being empty, and women seeing visions of angels telling them that Jesus is alive again.”

“Well,” said the stranger, “don’t you realize that all of your Scriptures say that the Messiah, the one to redeem Israel, would have to suffer and then enter into glory?”

Far from being a tragic and unexpected turn in the story, this suffering and death–and the transformation of that suffering into glory, that movement from death to life–had to happen, if Jesus was really the Messiah.

They must’ve wanted to hear more from this stranger, because they invite him to stay.

And when the stranger takes bread, gives thanks for it, and breaks it, they suddenly realize: the stranger is Jesus!

Supper at Emmaus, Giovanni and Francesco Cagnola (?), 15th c.
Supper at Emmaus, Giovanni and Francesco Cagnola (?), 15th c.

Jesus, who taught them about the kingdom of God, who healed the sick, who gave sight to the blind, and who fed thousands of people with just five loaves and two fish; this Jesus was now breaking bread and giving it to them. Their eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread. They were blind to who he was, but now they could see. It is a miracle.

And then, suddenly, Jesus is gone.

But he is not really gone. Once they come to understand that he is not dead at all, they realize that he still is the one to redeem all people.

Knowing this, they cannot stay where they are.

Though they’ve been traveling for much of the day, they immediately return to Jerusalem to tell everyone what has happened: Jesus has risen. Jesus is alive again. We recognized him when he shared bread with us.

It’s typical of Luke’s gospel that their transformation in understanding who Jesus is should take place over a meal. It even sounds a bit like the first meal in the Bible, but in reverse. When Eve and Adam eat the fruit, their “eyes are opened”; when these two take the bread that Jesus has broken, their eyes are opened and they recognize him, and the truth and power of his teaching:

“were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” 

The one who redeems us lives, and we want everyone to know. We will make him known as we continue to break bread in his name.

“Eating together was an important aspect of the early church’s
common life—a powerful symbol of unity both with Christ and
with one another. Eating with the poorest, the weakest and the
most vulnerable is an essential aspect of those early Communion
meals.” (Eat With Joy, p. 68)

“As God betstoweth his benefites upon us, let us beware that
wee acknowledge it towardes him, by doing good to our
neighbors whome he offereth unto us, so as wee neither
exempt ourselves from their want, not seclude them from
our abundance, but gently make them partakers with us, as
folke that are linked together in an inseparable bond.” (John Calvin, sermon on Deut. 15)

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The Eating Disorder You Don’t Hear Much About

The thing about a disorder like anorexia is that it eventually makes you look something like what the dominant culture regards as most beautiful, and achieving that ‘look’ becomes more important than, say, staying alive.

And it’s perfectly socially acceptable–for the most part–to tell skinny people how ‘good’ they look. When I was 17 and recovering from major thoracic and spinal surgery, I returned to school fragile and emaciated from the ordeal, only to hear “Oh my God, you lost so much weight–you look so good!!!”

Only a few sane, mature adults registered the appropriate shock and concern at my wasted appearance. Our culture is so sick that we think “sick” looks “so good!!! Anorexics are even praised for their self-discipline.

Image credit here

On the flip side, it’s seldom recognized that many people who are obese are actually suffering from an illness–compulsive eating disorder–that is often moralized as a lack of self-discipline.

It’s the unglamorous eating disorder. Because while thin people are praised, fat people are scorned. There are cries of war against ‘obesity’ from the highest places in the land while the Goddess of Thin gathers more and more worshipers to herself.

One thing I know is that we are all more than we look like; that we all are beautiful, marvelous, and perfect even in our brokenness because we are made by a God who is beautiful, marvelous, perfect, and who became broken like us to redeem that brokenness.

It would be better for all of us if we could stop keeping score–my disorder’s prettier than yours!–and give grace to one another. A great place to do that is in the breaking of bread, together.

Continue reading The Eating Disorder You Don’t Hear Much About

Teaching Children about the Bread of Life

I had a question from a reader last week that I wanted to share with you:

“How you have trained your children to appreciate the table and to see food as more than just physical sustenance?”

And here is my response–

I think the most important thing with my kids has been more “show, don’t tell.” It’s important to me that we say grace over a meal, thanking God for it, that we set the table decently even if we’re just eating pizza (we live in NY, after all! Pizza is artisanal, heavenly food around here!), that we wait for one another to begin eating, etc.

I do ask that they don’t say “that’s disgusting!” or similar things about food–it’s important that they recognize that while it’s OK to dislike a food and choose not to eat it, it’s not OK to proclaim it “bad.” And I try not to micro-manage what they eat or don’t eat (from the pre-selected group of things that might be on the table or available for snack.) One of my kids has extremely adventurous tastes, the other is fairly picky. I try to respect that.
The other side of that is that they help us with the gardening (to the extent that they can–they’re little) and so they have respect for the food that comes from the earth and from tiny, little seeds. They know that sun, soil, water, careful gardening, and, ultimately, God, makes food come from the ground.


I wrote more about feeding kids in the following posts–Eating with Children, Ellyn Satter, and What Chefs Feed Their Kids.

What about you? What has/hasn’t worked as you’ve endeavored to eat mindfully and well with children?

Can I ‘eat with joy’ while my neighbor starves? (Part 3)

This week we’ve been considering this question:

Is it better simply not to know about the suffering that takes place due to poverty and hunger a world away?

As we saw in the stories from history–the Russian famine of 1921, the epidemic of cholera in Naples in 1911–knowing has a certain power. Concealment, coverups–orchestrated ignorance–never helps.

But while knowledge is a necessary first step, it is not a final step.

Consider:

Herbert Hoover read about the Russian famine and then implemented relief efforts.

A person who has learned facts about HIV/AIDS must then do something [e.g. safe sex] to prevent its spread.

Mosquito nets really help against malaria, but they don’t protect you unless you use one.

William Kamkwamba learned how to generate electricity from a textbook. And then he worked really hard to make one.

But he probably couldn’t have done it without the textbook. It had to be there first.

So then. What about you? What about me?

I’m pretty sure that knowing the needs of the least of these is itself an act of righteousness. But what can we do?

Four ideas to start with:

1. Get the facts and share the facts

Pretty self explanatory, no? Spend some of your online time reading about events in the majority world, including famines and epidemics of eradicable diseases like malaria and cholera. Tweet about them. Post about them to Facebook. Cultivate a genuine concern for your global neighbors. Consider that your coffee, your chocolate, your coconut, your vanilla come from places of extreme poverty; from the hands of people who likely live on less than $2 US per day.

Sometimes I find that reading blogs from places of extreme poverty has a specificity that shakes me out of the dulling effect of broad-brush profiles of poverty. A number of years ago I discovered Joanne’s ‘Babycatcher’ blog–about her experiences as a midwife in Malawi–and couldn’t forget her intimate, firsthand accounts of the effects of poverty on maternal-fetal health.

2. Remember the poor in your prayers

I really believe that praying for people connects us to them in an intimate way. Pray for the people you read about. It is not for nothing that you have encountered them through their stories. Pray for them.

3. Fast (or something like that)

There are many ways to fast in honor of the poor. Some people are able to fast completely for one day per week, some fast for one meal of each day, some fast from meat on given days–in each case laying aside the money they would have otherwise spent on food to give to hunger relief and sustainable development programs.

When I was young, our youth group did the World Vision 30 hour ‘Famine.’ I think there is something powerful in actually participating–however artificially or symbolically–in the experience of hunger.

For some people, full fasting is not a good idea. If disordered eating is part of your story, fasting is probably not for you.

But there are other ways to ‘fast.’ You can practice voluntary simplicity in your cooking and eating in a way that will not deprive you nutritionally but that will help you feel a solidarity with those for whom simplicity is no choice at all.

(The More with Less cookbook is a great resource for such cooking.)

I believe such things are more than symbolic, even if what you can contribute monetarily is a pittance compared with the size of the problem you hope to address. Eating in solidarity with the hungry can change you.

what one boy did for one pair of shoes...

4. Cultivate gratitude for what you have

And this is related to everything we’ve talked about above. For me, the perfect antidote to greed is gratitude and contentment. Oh, that doesn’t happen easily. But when I find myself lusting after some great shoes or something, I find it helpful to stop and consider the shoes I have already. And how those shoes are perfectly good. And how many people have none. And so on.

Same thing at dinner. Do you realize that what you and I eat on a daily basis would be like a once-a-year feast to many, many people in the developing world?

Give sincere thanks to God for what you have.

Gratitude eradicates greed–and makes room for joy–

for you, and for your neighbor.

What else can we do?

I just want to be at OUR table…

While in the magical disembodied world that is the Internet, I have appeared to be where I always am, in fact, my family and I have been in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for more than a week. We’re getting ready to leave, and while we have had a wonderful time with friends both new and old, we are feeling ready to get back to our home (and our cats.)

(After a stop at the Harrisburg branch of the Appalachian Brewing Company, of course.)

My older son (Aidan, age 6) reminded me of the centrality of the table to what it means to be a family in a home. He’s not much for homesickness, or at least for openly expressing it, but today he asked if we’d be back tonight in time for dinner.

When I said I wasn’t sure, his eyes filled quickly with tears, which he tried to hide, and he bravely said,

“I just really wanted to eat dinner at our table again. I miss our table.

Yes, my son–that longing for the table–our table–is built into you from the beginning. It is a picture of the longing we all have for belonging at a great table with all our beloveds, where we are ourselves are beloved, and where grace and plenty abound.

Aidan and his Grandpa at 'our table.' "Prost!"

That’s why, as the French say, “the table comes first” (when purchasing furniture as newlyweds.)

That’s why, as Robert Farrar Capon says, the table–or board–is one of marriage’s two essential pieces of real estate.

(The other being bed, of course.)

And so we’re headed back to our table.

{Wishing you grace, peace, and love around your table, friends!}