There is Jesus, the Lamb of God, at his Last Supper. The Passover table has a roast lamb as its centrepiece, but Jesus takes a piece of bread and says ‘this is my body’. Why? Why not the Lamb?
Given the obvious link with the Passover Lamb there must be something even more important or significant about bread.
Listen to the sermon or read a sort of summary …
In Mark’s account of the Last Supper Jesus ‘took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, and gave it to them’. Does that sound familiar? It should do, Mark has made sure that we know it’s important by repeating it …
When Jesus fed five thousand men (OK so Mark is not PC) he ‘ blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people’ and when Jesus fed four thousand people, ‘he took the seven loaves, gave thanks to God, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the crowd’.
This is what Jesus did; he fed hungry people. So at the Last Supper the disciples recognised a distinctive act of Jesus (just as Mr and Mrs Cleopas did on the road to Emmaus) but Jesus now adds new meaning, ‘this is my body’. All the time I (he says) have been feeding the hungry people I have been giving my very self, he says. What is more, in the context of the passion narrative, he is saying ‘I won’t stop even when they break my body for doing it’.
Now there’s an important strand of theology that says ‘Jesus did it so that we don’t have to’ but we can too easily and comfortably read it in here. In effect we think ‘Jesus broke the bread and gave it for us and so all we have to do is receive it’. Err, no, at least not here, that is not Mark’s take on things.
So, for example Jesus never says ‘I am going to be crucified so that you don’t have to’, what he said was ‘I’m going to be crucified and you are going to follow and take up your cross’. Mark 8:34. In Mark, Jesus walks the way of salvation and we follow.
What Jesus did not say was ‘remember that I did this for you’, what he did say was ‘Do this …’
Week by week we come to church, listen to ‘Jesus’ saying ‘Do this …‘ as the bread is broken and we go up and just receive it …
OK, so we didn’t get it this week, maybe next time … but the same thing happens.
To ‘Do this in remembrance’ of Jesus is to copy his actions, to take bread and give it to hungry people. Jesus wants us to remember him, not only by receiving the bread he offers to us, but by giving ourselves to hungry people. We break our bread and say ‘this is me, given for you’.
So why bread and not lamb – perhaps precisely because he does not want to focus on the uniqueness of his sacrifice on the cross, but he does want to be remembered by disciples in the way that they give their own lives for the hungry of the world – whatever that hunger is.
Perhaps, more prosaically, because when he had previously fed hungry people he fed them bread not lamb, so it would not have worked.
So to Sunday’s gospel … ‘when did we see you hungry and feed you’ … ‘whatever you did to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did for (or perhaps in memory of) me’.
Week by week we watched, but then the penny dropped;
the remembrance really begins with ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord’.