By The Revd Canon James Mustard
In her recent book, For all who hunger – searching for Communion in a Shattered World, Pastor Emily Scott charts the growth of a small congregation she established, before her ordination, in Brooklyn, New York City. It’s a remarkably frank account of her struggle to follow her calling to set up a congregation inspired by the Early Church: no priests or elaborate buildings, just a Bible reading, shared meal and conversation in a shopfront room on the wrong side of town. Throughout she describes the transcendent moments in the most ordinary of encounters (amusingly interpolated with her navigation of the New York online dating scene), all of which are driven by the simple, yet mysterious fellowship of breaking bread. “What can a loaf of bread do?” She writes. “It’s just bread. It can’t satisfy the longing for a world connected, found or redeemed. Or perhaps it can.”
In a previous role, I would regularly meet and interview prospective candidates for ordained ministry. It was unfailingly fascinating to meet with those trying to work out what God was calling them to do. One of my standard questions was to ask them to “Tweet the Gospel”. In the days when Twitter limited its posts to 140 characters, it was a way to guarantee a succinct response.
There were many excellent responses, and no right or wrong answers. “God so loved the world he gave his only son”, “Love the Lord you God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself”, “What does the Lord require but to do justice and love mercy?”, “Do this in remembrance of me.” All stimulating replies.
These days, if I were asked to do the same, I don’t think I’d quote scripture, liturgy or hymns, but simply say “Actions speak louder than words”. For it seems to me that this is at the very heart of the Christian life, at the heart of Jesus’ ministry and at the heart of the Church at its best. If we care about the poor and vulnerable, don’t just say so: do something for them. If we say that Black Lives Matter do something to show it. Don’t just say that you love Diversity and Inclusion unless willing to embrace those who differ from you and be changed by them. In Jesus’ case, his ire is often directed toward those who interpret religious law and tradition in order to protect the interests of one group over another. Ultimately, it takes him to the Cross, an action that speaks so much more profoundly than words that, two thousand years later, we still find new meaning in it. Indeed we can find no better way to express our wonder at what it means for us than to break bread together.
For that enduring mystery and the way it shapes us week-by-week, thanks be to God.