It’s just a piece of bread, but it’s the best Christmas gift of all. Ezra just doesn’t know it yet. It doesn’t help that our five-year-old grandson is the only grandchild on both sides of the family. He is bombarded with gifts everywhere he goes and eagerly accepts the challenge. On Christmas morning he finds his gifts, puts them all in one place, and rips into them with gusto.
In our family we open gifts one at a time, respectfully waiting our turn and relishing the creativity and generosity of the gift-giver. Of course, Ezra wants to open his all at once, hardly even looking at what he receives before moving on to the next gift. After all is said and done, Ezra receives many more gifts than the rest of us. Yet half an hour later he breaks for a picture, then retreats to a corner with his “tablet” and plays the old familiar video games. The new toys and gifts are untouched.
I suppose that’s typical of all children, at least those who come from families with the means to provide multiple gifts for their children. We all want to give good gifts to our children. Jesus would agree, as he instructs his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)
Is it any coincidence that the gifts to which Jesus refers are bread and fish, two staples of life in Jesus’ day that are also symbols of the Christian faith? It’s always just a piece of bread, but the best gift I receive every year is the sacrament of holy communion on Christmas Eve.
The vast majority of churches welcome more guests on Christmas Eve than at any other time of the year. That’s because most people, even if they are not practicing Christians, have an intuitive sense of the mystery and holiness of Christmas Eve. They come to worship open to an encounter with the sacred, vulnerable, secretly hoping to be transformed. What better means to connect with the divine than a piece of bread, the body of Christ, the symbol of life abundant?
Communion is offered to all, no exceptions. Anyone who wishes to experience the grace and love of God is welcome. Children are also included in the circle of God’s love. For those who cannot come forward, we go to them with the sacrament. All bread is gluten-free so that the table is truly inclusive.
“The table is ready. The gifts of God for the people of God.” Hundreds of souls stream forward, often coming as large family units, each one asking, knocking, searching for their true self, seeking the only gift that matters, a piece of bread.
At times I can hardly see straight, my eyes wet with tears. Yet we look each other in the eye, each one, and smile. “This is the bread of life and the cup of salvation, given to you by the One who loves you.”
“Sorry.” The first piece falls into the cup. “It’s OK. Please take another.” A reminder that our God is a God of second chances.
“Thanks be to God.”
Someone from the Catholic tradition attempts to drink from the cup.
“Please pray for my mother.”
“Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again in glory.”
The eyes are seeking. Faces are expectants. Spirits are ready to say “yes” to God’s gift of grace. I walk out into the congregation to serve those who cannot come forward. I am met with radiant smiles and hearts full of hope and faith. “This is the bread of life and the cup of salvation, given to you by the One who loves you.”
One woman peers deep into my soul as I serve her. Her granddaughter gently and lovingly helps. She is unable to speak because of dementia, but her eyes are bright and her spirit is intact. The tears come again. I cannot speak. The weary world rejoices. God brings new life to each one.
Christ has come in a piece of gluten-free bread, a reminder that the best gifts have nothing to do with things. We give because of the One who loves us.
- A kind note, a homemade loaf of bread, the laughter of the whole family together, even if it is for less than 24 hours
- Remembering my mother’s Christmas cookies and what a great baker and cook she was
- Reconnecting with a dear friend after losing contact for years
- The opportunity to make year-end contributions that will shelter the homeless, rebuild lives in the Philippines, support seminary education, and reach out with the good news to those who are yearning for the invitation to know Christ
We’ve shipped all of Ezra’s toys down to Florida, and when we see him this winter we’ll find out what happened to all of his gifts. I look forward to helping Ezra put together his Lego Coast Guard Patrol Ship and wondering together at the marvels of the universe with his telescope. I hope that each gift will stimulate Ezra’s imagination, encourage him in learning to read, and develop his skills for reasoning, problem solving.
Most of all, I hope to encourage Ezra to get to know the gifts of the One who loves him far greater than even his parents or grandparents do. It’s all found in just a simple piece of bread, given to us by the One who loves us, broken so that we ourselves can become the broken body of Christ for the world in 2014.