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The Breaking of the Bread

Written by Emily Essex, posted on Friday, September 14, 2018

Breaking of the BreadThis is a story about hands.

Or rather, this is a story about the stories our hands have to tell.

Most of us have two of them, and we rely on them every day in almost everything that we do. Our hands are at the forefront of our everyday lives: we gesture with them when we get excitable, we fiddle with them when we get nervous or bored, and we use them to complete just about every task in the working day.

What if these hands could talk? Oh, the stories they would tell.

This fascination with hands began for me at a service of Choral Eucharist one Sunday morning, and in particular the part of the service known as the Breaking of the Bread. Taking place just before we receive communion, the Breaking of the Bread expresses something profound about the nature of our identities as Christians, bound together by sharing in that broken bread.

This summer I have been privileged to act as Subdeacon (one of the three ministers at the altar during the Sunday Eucharist) and to see up-close the powerful ritual at the heart of our Sunday service.

At the communion rail, people from all different backgrounds and with all variety of stories and experiences stretch out their hands to receive the sacrament: the one bread, the body of Christ, in which we all share. People have told me before that their most precious memories of the Eucharist are found in filling those waiting hands with the sacraments of life, and in these recent encounters I have been struck myself by how our hands reflect so much of our identities.

And what, I ask myself, of my own hands?

Well, at the moment they are covered in dust because I’ve just finished tidying the Cathedral; my nails are short because I bite them when I’m nervous; there’s a scar on the back of one hand from a fight with a row of chairs just before Christmas and another from an attempt at roller-skating as a child.

Sherlock Holmes would probably be able to tell all sorts of secrets about me just from looking at my hands. But even without the science of deduction what struck me was just how much of our stories are reflected in our hands. I may not be able to read those stories like the proverbial open book, but I can see them there. And I am reminded of the importance of asking: of not being afraid to connect with people by asking about who they are.

But there is something else that my reflection on hands has reminded me of. This bread that we share in is one which must be broken: Christ’s body, broken for us. It’s an important thing to remember.

Because when I look at my hands I can read another set of stories. You might see them too.

These same hands that type at the keyboard have endured the strain of self-defence.

These hands have known tears and anger, have clutched at grazed knees and sprained ankles, have knotted and unknotted in anxiety and grief. They have punched the air, hi-fived, and rehearsed the ‘cool’ secret handshakes I made up with my siblings, but they have also trembled and faltered and bled.

These hands have scribbled exam scripts in desperation and punched walls in frustration. These hands have pushed people away.

These hands are still fairly new, but they belong to someone who already knows how it feels to be broken.

But here at this moment, the bread just consecrated and us gearing up to receive, my brokenness is not the breaking that matters. Because Christ is broken for all of us. Christ died and rose again and every day in this place we remember that when we break bread at Holy Communion. My brokenness loses its sting because in Christ’s brokenness I am made whole again - not just in myself, but made whole with all of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

That one smooth circle of bread is broken into pieces that they may be shared out between us, and our one perfect God becomes flesh and is broken that we all might be drawn into a shared one-ness with God.

It is so easy to stop listening to the words that we hear most often. It is especially easy to do so in the moments when we feel our own sense of brokenness the deepest. But we have to try to keep listening. Because no matter how deep the wounds are and no matter how thoroughly the fractures run through us there is hope for our salvation in that gift that Christ gives us at the Eucharist: the gift of Himself.

“We break this bread to share in the body of Christ.” We too were broken, and now we are becoming One.



Our blog posts are written by a range of writers and reflect their personal views. Publication should not necessarily be read as endorsement by the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church.