Breaking Bread

You are made for communion, for deep fellowship with other people. This communion is most heavenly and intense in the church. The fellowship we have with the Father, Son and Spirit and other Christians is symbolized and strengthened by the sacrament of communion, the LORD’s supper. This is the defining act of Christian community. It reminds us of how we were brought into God’s family: through the broken body of Jesus and his blood poured out for us.  It binds us together as a multi-cultural, global community, not by gender, race, economics, sexuality, politics or any other cultural marker. A few years ago, my son Julian shared his experience of “breaking bread” that he had in Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS). Here is what he wrote:

When many of us hear the word “communion” we might instantly associate it with the Last Supper, or an event that occurs at the end of a church service. Communion is the Christian sacrament in which bread and wine are consumed as symbols of Christ’s body and blood and the realization of the spiritual union that exists between Christ and the communicant. While growing up in IPS, I experienced communion in a new way. 

First, a little context. Currently there are 28,767 kindergarten through 12th grade students enrolled in IPS for the 2016-2107 academic year. Of those 28,767 students, 18,637 of them are on free meals. A further 1,000 students are on reduced lunches which cost 40¢. Free and reduced breakfast and lunch provide for almost 70% of IPS students the only guaranteed meals they will eat that day. During winter, spring, and summer breaks those meals disappear. Hunger was serious problem that many of my friends dealt with daily. In the 7th grade at Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet Middle School and High School I became aware of this problem. I noticed that whenever one of my friends brought a snack to school whether it was a pack of Skittles or a small bag of Doritos, any nearby acquaintance or friend would descend on the snack-bearing individual, engulfing him before pleading for anything from a handful of the desired snack to the leftover crumbs lining the bottom of a bag of Doritos. As an inquisitive young guy trying to adapt to an environment that was drastically different from anything I had ever experienced before, I turned to my best friends for answers.

My two best friends and I had been tight since the first day of 6th grade. We all played on the Middle School basketball team together. We all played the saxophone and sat next to each other in band. Every day we ate lunch together. After a while my two black best friends decided that it was time for me to become enlightened about African American life, culture. The first thing they lectured me on? Breaking Bread. Breaking bread means sharing whatever food you have with any friend that asks for it. Breaking bread means making sure your boys are taken care of. Breaking bread means making sure everyone is eating. These were kids that were hungry, sometimes there was no food for them when they went home. My friends explained this to me. For us, it was a way of life, a code. Breaking bread for us meant taking care of our friends. Sharing what we had because we knew when people in our crew came at us saying “break some bread bro” they needed to be cared for.

Everybody knew there would be times when they were hungry, so everybody shared what they had, every time, because they knew the act would always be reciprocated. Breaking “bread” didn’t just cover chips, candy bars, cookies, granola bars, or any other food. I learned how to waterfall. Elevating a bottle above your mouth so the liquid would “waterfall” down into your mouth. We did this so everybody could get a sip without anybody touching the lid of the container and spreading germs. On days where we had basketball games I would go and buy a couple Powerades from the vending machines with the lunch money that I had saved up over time. Then I would take them and pass them around as we hung out in a classroom before the game. Pretty soon, other teammates started bringing snacks. A banana here, a handful of granola bars there. We shared whatever we had scrounged up. Everytime, without fail. I learned how to break bread.

After 8th grade I transferred to my neighborhood public high school Arsenal Tech. I left behind some of the realest people I knew for another challenging environment. It was hard. I had to gain the respect of a whole new set of teammates, peers, and people that didn’t know what I was about. When basketball season started, every game day, a couple of hours before the game started my teammates and I would go to a subway that was down the block the from the high school. I would get 3 cookies for $1.70 or 12 cookies for $6 and share them amongst my teammates. Even though I had changed schools and these were different individuals, the act of breaking bread meant the same to them as it meant to my friends who had taught me. During those pregame meals we would be sitting around a table, goofing off, telling jokes, sharing food. It was communion, a time of intimate fellowship with my teammates, a time of sharing what we had, no matter the amount of food that was there.

While writing this and remembering these experiences I had with my brothers I thought of Da Vinci’s L’Ultima Cena, The Last Supper. Christ, surrounded by his disciples preparing to break bread with them before he is crucified. And while he did break bread with them and pour out wine for them, there was something else that he was willing, and ultimately, did share with them. He gave himself to the cross so that they, and we might all have a share in everlasting life and be saved. So that we might all be able to taste of Him.

Julian broke bread well. After Tech lost in the sectionals, the last basketball game his senior year, his friend Donteau Jr., the firstborn son of my friend, Donteau Sr., and he hugged. Tears streamed from their eyes. They knew their playing days were over. Donteau said to Julian, “You’re my f***ing n******.” These words, though coarse, expressed solidarity.  Julian was his brother. When you break bread with friends, the needy, the broken even strangers, it is an act of communion. It is imitating Christ who shared his body, his blood with us. 

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