Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples.
“Can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD.
She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
A brief disclaimer by way of testimony. This past Sunday our family—my parents, my brother, and I—sat side-by-side in worship for the first time in years. There was no significance to this; it was a pragmatic decision based on my midday flight out of Tampa and concerns about Super Bowl traffic. My brother’s church is closer to the airport, so it made sense to worship there. The experience became all the lovelier by it being First Sunday, allowing our family to take Communion together. As the elements were distributed, the pastor’s remarks opened new meaning in the Lord’s Supper I’d not heard and will never forget. Normally I avoid replicating messages here I’ve heard elsewhere. But this one merits repeating for its eloquent timeliness. The pastor’s observation about breaking bread turned my thoughts to other Biblical accounts of breakage and what they might tell us.
After acknowledging the bread’s prophetic import as the body of Christ, the pastor encouraged us also to think of it as a metaphor for God’s work in our lives. Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples. God does the same thing when we avail ourselves to Him. He takes us, blesses us, breaks us, and returns our lives to live for His glory. The breaking is crucial because it removes passions and propensities bearing no resemblance to our Maker. It forces us to reconcile our lives to His image, to become the beings He created us to be. Breaking deconstructs our personalities—attitudes and habits we adopt for survival and success—to clear away debris that hinders full expression of God’s presence in us. What’s more, the pastor said, it’s a repetitive process. When turmoil incites us to doubt God’s providence, He takes our problems, blesses them, breaks them, and returns them to us to manage according to His plan and will.
Jeremiah 18 gives us a powerful description of how this works. God sends the prophet to a pottery and says He’ll speak to him there. Jeremiah watches the potter at the wheel, but as the pot takes shape, the potter sees flaws that mar its beauty and usefulness. “So the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him,” Jeremiah notes and God underscores the message: “Can I not do with you as this potter does? You’re like clay in My hand.” God is creativity in its purest, highest form. He brooks no interest in churning out cookie-cutter saints. He molds each of us so every life is fashioned in His image, yet no two lives look the same or serve the same purpose. As He shapes us, however, our clay often resists His touch. It’s stubbornly imperfect, and when flaws surface, He doesn’t gloss over them. He breaks us down and begins again. This requires our patience and trust because transitions from one shape to another give no sign of what we’ll become. It’s vital we know we’re in His hands. Breaking down always improves us. The Potter never fails to reshape our lives for the better.
As God breaks and reshapes us, it’s our job to break open. In Mark 14, a woman comes to Jesus with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume. She breaks it open and pours the perfume on Christ’s head. The audacity of her adoration outrages some onlookers. They harshly rebuke her for wasting such a valuable asset on worship when she could have sold the perfume and given her profits to the poor. “Leave her alone,” Jesus tells them. “She’s done a beautiful thing by anointing my body in anticipation of my burial.” In other words, she’s attuned to God’s will and focused on the big picture. Each of us possesses valuable assets—talents and capabilities we could easily convert for personal gain and channel into good works. But the woman’s example teaches us the beauty of breaking open in service to God. Our boldness in doing so will rankle some for not conforming to their standards. So be it. “She did what she could,” Jesus says in the woman’s defense—not to imply others could do better than she, but suggesting her gesture was unique to her. By acting in expectancy, she foreshadowed the women who first witnessed the risen Christ after going to the tomb to anoint His body. We likewise should break open in anticipation of the day when others like us will meet the living Savior face to face.
This brings us full circle. Paul’s instructions for the Communion sacrament conclude with this: “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11.26) In this sense, breaking bread, breaking down, and breaking open are all of a piece. They testify of Christ’s consummate sacrifice of love and point to the power of His resurrection. Breakage demands humility and submission. Yet without it we’ll never rise triumphantly to new life.
Breakage brings triumph.
(Tomorrow: Whaddya Know?)