Breaking Bread: Cookies and Juice

It is Wednesday evening and for some small church ministers, it is a day, not to be feared, but to dread.  Wednesday is one of those dreadful days because a lesson must be delivered to the half dozen faithful people, the songs sung might sound like a solo and possibly the complaining will flow like Niagara Falls.  If your church is like our church we desperately need a transformation to take place.  The question is, How do we bring about this transformation?

Develop a New Paradigm of Thinking

Before we explore what it means to develop a new paradigm of thinking, I invite you to re-live one experience our congregation encountered as a new paradigm of thinking was studied. 

With continuing determination and much explaining our Wednesday nights at the building are canceled for the summer and we are venturing out into the community to put our faith into practice.  We admit, that after forty years of Wednesday services in the church building, it is a leap of faith wondering if we will succeed or fail at the idea of being the presence of Christ in our community.  For forty years we have felt comfortable learning about the God who gives us salvation.  Now we begin to feel uncomfortable as we try to be the presence of Christ in a city that is filled with teenagers being stabbed, a high rate of homelessness, and a growing rate of drug addiction.

This particular Wednesday we are invited to enter a long-term care facility and minister to those who have little or no contact with the outside world.  We arrive and the residents are wheeled down to the waiting room.  Some are coherent enough to shake our hands and say hi; some are strapped into their wheelchairs for their own safety and others are complaining because they have to listen to a group of people sing.  Before us sit individuals suffering from schizophrenia, a blind person, several with Alzheimer’s, and not a few mentally challenged individuals.  I look at our own group and I see the look of hesitancy on their faces and the thoughts running through their mind as to what has the minister got us into.

We cautiously make our way around the group when Jane, a resident, yells out, “I know you from somewhere.”  I play along.  Oh, I cannot remember where we have met, could you remind me please?”  We met at a meeting the other night!”  Jane then turns and tells my wife that she is going to pray for a miracle.  And I think to myself, please, if only a miracle could happen now.

We gather in a contorted circle and we are about to sing some old hymns.  Jane is standing directly behind us praying in one of those voices where she thinks she is whispering but is actually talking so that everyone can hear her.  It seems that the residents are not paying any attention to her, so neither do we.  We start singing “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,” and without missing a beat, Jane sings along with us.  I think something happened, a miracle – maybe, maybe not, but something has taken place; for a few brief moments, once again Jane is able to see Jesus.

Earlier in the day I sat in my office thanking God that the transition is being made from meeting in a church building to being the presence of Christ in a broken community.  I read the passage from Matthew 25 where Jesus is separating the sheep from the goats and how he said to his sheep, “Come you who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, gave water to the thirsty, and visited the sick and imprisoned.”  Now that I am inside the long-term care facility I once again whispered a quick prayer thanking God that our community of faith is learning to be the presence of Christ.

We Join Christ Who Is Already There

Towards the end of the evening an event takes place and a realization dawns upon us that we are not simply the presence of Christ and thus bringing Christ to the long-term care facility, but that Christ is already there.  In fact, our community of faith realizes that these residents are the physical representation of Christ himself.  This moment takes place when we drink juice and eat cookies together at the end of the evening. 

We have finished singing and a few of the coherent ones say thanks and the cart full of juice and cookies is wheeled into the middle.  It is at this moment the story of the two men walking on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) is seen in a new light.  Two followers of Jesus are walking along the dirt road talking and contemplating the events that have taken place outside of Jerusalem.  One might describe these men as confused, frightened, wondering what to believe and what the future might bring when suddenly Jesus appears and begins walking with them.  For some reason though these two followers are not able to recognize Jesus, even after he teaches them that the Christ must suffer, die and then rise again on the third day.  It is not until they are gathered around the table and Jesus takes the bread, breaks it, and gives it to them that they recognize who was walking along the road with them and now who is sitting at the table next to them.

It was at this moment when our church watched the residents of the long-term care facility break their cookies and drink their juice that we saw Jesus in front of us and not some person struggling with Alzheimer’s.  We realized that we had it all wrong.  We realized that we were not bringing Christ by being the presence of Christ but that Christ was already there before us ministering to the residents of the long-term care facility.  Unless we recognize that Jesus is already there and active – that he got there ahead of us then we will always be like the two men walking along the road to Emmaus, blind and ignorant of what is standing beside us.  As Greg Paul says, “My capacity to be the presence of Christ in the world is dependent upon my willingness to see his presence also” (Greg Paul, God in the Alley, Waterbook Press, 2001, 21.)[1]

For forty years our community of faith has met inside the building, opening up scripture, lifting up prayers, singing songs of praise.   As we do this we question why our neighborhoods are being ruined by young men stabbing one another, why the homeless man breaks into the bakery down the street, and what the police are doing to stop the out-of-control drug problems.  Now as we are venturing outside of our building and into the community we are having our eyes opened by seeing that Christ is not simply found inside the building, but can be found in the most unexpected places. 

Did You See the New Paradigm at Work?

By being invited to re-live the experience were we able to see the new paradigm at work?  The old paradigm was the idea that we had to have Bible study inside the building because it was necessary to impart Bible knowledge to one another as we studied God’s word.  A new paradigm is the idea that Bible knowledge is put into service outside of the church building.  And what we discovered is that Christ is not simply found in knowledge of the Bible, but rather can also be found in serving others.  And more importantly, we also discovered that we must have eyes to see Christ at work.

For many years we have believed that we do the work of Christ, we extend or build the kingdom of God, we are the ones who take Christ to the world.  But as we learned, we don’t take Christ to the world, Christ is already here.  We don’t take Christ to the nursing home, Christ is already there ministering – we join the work of Christ. 

May God grant us the eyes to see His presence in the world and when are eyes are opened, may we then be the presence of Christ to this broken and hurting world.

Nathan Pickard

Nathan Pickard is the preaching minister for the Newmarket Church of Christ, Newmarket, Ontario. 

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Published in: on October 31, 2006 at 11:46 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Blogging Buddy

    Nathan Pickard, minister of the Newmarket Church of Christ, is now blogging. I have become acquainted with Nathan since his return to Ontario a couple of years ago after completing university in Abilene, Texas (ACU). He has become both a colleague and …


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