The word “bread,” in the original languages of the Bible, appears close to 500 times in the Old and New Testaments. It is a prominent symbol, woven throughout Scripture.
Christ, the bread of heaven and the bread of life, was born in Bethlehem which means “house of bread.” Bethlehem was the home of Naomi, who left it when famine struck and settled in Moab. When she returned, her widowed daughter-in-law, Ruth, came with her. In Bethlehem Ruth met and married Boaz. Their son Obed was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David. It was to Bethlehem that Joseph, a descendant of David, and Mary came to be taxed. And it was Bethlehem, the house of bread, where Jesus was born. The bread of angels, born in a stable, his cradle a feeding trough for cattle.
Bread continued to play a role through the gospels. Jesus performed a miracle with bread, feeding thousands on a hillside with one loaf. On the night before his death, he broke bread and offered it to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat. This is my body, broken for you.” After the resurrection, he appeared to two of the twelve on the road to Emmaus, and broke bread with them. Later on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he cooked breakfast for the disciples and broke bread with them a final time, giving this commandment: “Feed my sheep.”
On World Communion Sunday, we celebrate communion as the family of God, where God is both the meal and provider of the meal. Throughout the world, bread is a staple of life. It is eaten in many forms in different countries. It is eaten in 4-star restaurants and in mud huts, cooked in the finest ovens and outdoors over open fires. For communion, it is shared in grand cathedrals and in branch-covered tabernacles.
One way to celebrate our unity and our diversity is to decorate the communion table with breads from across the world. Here are a few suggestions: tortillas or pan dulce (Mexico), ciabatta (Italy), challah (Israel), Chinese steamed buns (China), pita (Lebanon), naan (India), Navajo fry bread (Native American), scones (England), lavash (Armenia), bagel (Poland), brioche (France), lefse (Norway), matzo (Israel), flatbread (Greece), pumpernickel (Germany), rice bread (Japan), soda bread (Ireland).
You might incorporate world music and instruments in the worship service. One appropriate hymn is “In Christ There Is No East or West.” You could also read scriptures such as “I am the bread of life” in different languages. Or you might include prayers from other countries throughout the service. One resource is 1000 World Prayers by Marcus Braybrooke.
I offer the following litany or responsive reading:
Leader: On the night before he died, Christ took bread, gave thanks and broke it, saying “This is my body, given for you. Take, and eat.”
People: We, who are many, are one body. Today we partake of the same loaf.
Leader: For there is one body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
People: There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. We are all one in Christ.
Leader: Christ is the bread that came down from heaven to give life to the world. He died that all may dine at the table, that all who eat may have eternal life. Whoever comes to him will never hunger.
People: Bread of heaven, born into a starving world, we come together to dine at one table, as one family and one body.
May we dwell in unity until that day when we eat at the feast in your kingdom.
All: Thanks be to God.