In preparation for pastoral ministry, I spent time reflecting on the vitality of the sacramental life of the church and the importance of visiting the elderly and shut-ins. One of the practices I have always wanted to incorporate in my ministry, which I had heard that some pastors do, is to share the Lord’s Supper with these folks. After all, as many persons get more aged and fragile and eventually come to a time when they are unable to physically attend and participate in the worshiping life of the church, then that’s when it becomes time for the church to care for those and make their attendance and participation possible in another way.

This is but one key way of making our ministry an Incarnational one. What do I mean? Reflect on these words of the liturgy of The Great Thanksgiving – “…Pour out your Spirit upon us gathered here and on these elements of bread and wine; make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we might be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood…”

The sacraments express the goodness of the physical, created order as God has established these elements of nature (water, bread, and wine) as the means by which God communicates God’s love and grace with us. Just as we were unable to attain eternal life where there will be a heavenly banquet and God took on flesh in Christ’s body to make that possible, so also we ought to take Christ’s body and proclaim his suffering, death, and resurrection with those unable to come and feast with us in the sacrament.

So I shared my desire to do this practice with the churches, and they were all for it! They gave me names of people who have been unable to attend, especially those members in rehabilitation facilities or nursing homes. I began practicing this last month and have found myself blessed beyond measure in the experiences of sharing the church’s sacramental life with them. Let me tell you why…

On one visit as I was going through the liturgy and began to serve an elderly gentleman, he raised his hands and began to cry. As he partook of the elements of the Supper and tears were streaming down his face, all he could say was, “Praise God!” I got choked up in that moment and became a witness to one who was indwelt by the Holy Spirit and had dedicated decades of his life to the kingdom of God in Christ’s church.

This is what Carrie put above the cabinets in our kitchen at the parsonage. I love it and a few of the people in the churches have said how much they like this. We hope our home is a place in which bread is regularly broken and our lives and stories are shared.

But beyond these moments of the actual partaking of the broken bread, I’ve been able to “break bread” with them on another level; that when one “breaks bread,” she is sharing some asset or possession of hers with you. This other way I’ve broken bread with the folks I’ve visited is through sharing stories and lives. And though I may have shared a couple of my own stories with them, I’m more interested in hearing theirs. Stories from a man with Parkinson’s who served as a fighter pilot in 3 wars (WWII, Korean, Vietnam), who, after his first wife passed away, rejoined with his high school sweetheart who was also widowed and learned the joy of marriage once again. Stories from a 97-year-old lady who was reading Scripture as I walked in and she began to share with me about the lessons she learned of having a good work ethic, building a loving home, and the pride she had in her children’s lives, one of whom was a United Methodist pastor in a neighboring state. Stories from a man, whose wife attends church regularly and visits him, who decades ago lived a handful of miles away from my hometown working for a few years before making his way back to Camden, and has known the joys of married life for 70 years.

I encouraged the people at my churches to visit just one person a month to “break bread” in this way. To ask to hear one story of their upbringing, of their travels, of their children’s livelihood, of lessons they’ve learned somewhere along the way; and maybe every once in a while, share a bit of their own stories and there will have been an experience of mutual blessing in this “breaking of bread.”

Caring for and visiting those who cannot care for themselves…this is (part of) what it means to be the body of Christ. “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matt. 25:35-36)