Taken, Blessed, Broken, Shared

St. John’s United Methodist Church of Baltimore
Rev. Jackson H. Day, Pastor
Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 3, 2022[1]

         Dark clouds and conflicts are on our horizon.  As we follow the Christian year, Lent is nearing its climax.  Next Sunday is Palm Sunday and then Holy Week, Christ’s Crucifixion and Easter.  In our contemporary world, the joy of spring flowers is blemished by the daily news of war crimes in Ukraine.

         In this morning’s Gospel lesson,[2] against the backdrop of Jesus’ impending death, a conflict erupts between Judas, the soon to be disgraced disciple, and Mary, who may be one of the wealthy financiers of the Jesus movement.  Mary gives Jesus a gift, anointing Jesus’ feet with a perfumed ointment and wiping his feet with her hair.  Her gift is expensive both in commercial and personal cost.  Judas complains the funds could have gone to help the poor.  Jesus, reminding those gathered that he soon expects to die, says it was purchased for his burial.

         Gifts bring life.  Jesus may have pictured Mary’s gift in relation to his death, but gifts bring life when they are gifts of ourselves.

         Later that week, it was Jesus’ turn to give a gift.  He did it at another meal – the Last Supper.  Jesus’ gift is the gift we celebrate in Communion.  It is a gift in which Jesus gives us his life – and in the process, gives us our own.  So I want to spend a few minutes sharing how important Communion is to me.  

         For some Christians, Communion is primarily a solemn and sad memorial service – a time to remember Jesus’ death on the cross.  For evangelicals, it’s about Christ’s sacrifice to obtain for us the gift of forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life.  For progressives, it’s about the horror inflicted on a good and ethical man by political and religious leadership focused on their own survival, and the price God pays for social justice.  

         But there at the Last Supper, Jesus gave a gift that tied together the simple sequence of bread at the meal with the pattern of Christ’s own life – a pattern that can transform our own lives when we make that pattern our own.

         In describing that first Lord’s Supper, Luke brings us great treasure in simple words. “Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying “This is my body which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”[3]  Luke’s words report four actions in the story of the bread – Jesus took it; he blessed it by giving thanks for it; he broke it, and he shared it.  

         These are also the four significant actions in Jesus’ own story.  Jesus was taken when he heard God’s call, he was blessed in baptism at the River Jordan, he was broken on the cross, and his life has been shared with humanity for 2000 years.

         What happens to the bread and cup before us follows the same pattern: taken, blessed, broken, shared.  And the point of it is the call to make Christ’s story our own, the call that we too participate in that same profound pattern of life.  


         And so let us look at these four words:  Taken, Blessed, Broken, Shared.

         Taken.  Bread is taken.  Jesus was taken when he heard God’s call.  We find ourselves taken when life events take place over which we have no control.  We are taken when we are born, thrown into a life we did not choose.  My Vietnam veteran friends remember receiving their draft notice as a moment they were taken.  Ukraine was taken on February 24th – they can recover their lost territory and rebuild their lost buildings, but their life as a country was fundamentally changed forever on that day.  Taken. 

         One writer uses the word “chosen” rather than “taken” when referring to our lives.  “Like the bread taken by Jesus, we are chosen by God, selected for a unique role to play in God’s story. And as we recognize that we have been chosen, so also we recognize the chosen-ness of all people.[4]  But no matter how wonderful the One who has chosen us, and no matter how wonderful the role for which we are chosen – it is still something beyond our control.  Isaiah 43[5]  is one of the lectionary lessons we didn’t read this morning.  It contains the phrase, “I am about to do a new thing.”  Whenever God does a new thing, we are taken into a new world, a new life.  Taken.  


         Blessed.  When Jesus takes bread, Jesus blesses it.  Four times in the Gospel, Jesus took bread, broke it, blessed it, and gave it to his disciples.

         How do you bless something?  One of the highlights of my life was participating with a group of war veteran ministers who conducted spiritual healing retreats for veterans and their significant others.  We were ecumenical both in leadership and participants.  At the end of one retreat a member approached the Catholic priest veteran to ask for a blessing.  Then, not wanting to display favoritism, he came to the Protestant leaders to ask for a blessing as well.

         Well, I’m not accustomed to giving blessings, what do I do?  Is there some formula? “I bless you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?”  My mind was spinning.  If I were Jewish, I would bless God instead: “Blessed art thou, O lord our God, who brings forth bread from the earth.”  Then my mind reminded me of the times we gather around the table, from ordinary meals to Holy Communion:  we bless something by thanking God who provided it, because that creates a right relationship with it.  And so I thanked God for the veteran and his life and the healing he was experiencing from the trauma of war.  

         We don’t need words or formulas to recognize when we have been blessed. Good experiences.  Grace beyond what we deserve.  People around us.  Food to eat.  Shelter.  Hope for tomorrow.  Milestones – births, graduations, marriages, anniversaries.  Life is not ONLY a blessing, but all of us have received some blessing at some time, and it calls for our thanksgiving.  We are blessed.  


         Broken.  Bread is broken.  Christ is broken upon the cross.  And we….we hurt.  We hurt when we stub our toe or break an arm.  We hurt when we’re the last one chosen when school teams select their players.  We hurt when people call us names.  We hurt when people let us down.  We hurt when we feel demeaned because of the color of our skin or our sexual orientation or the side of the tracks or the side of the world we grew up on.  Children disappoint us, spouses are unfaithful, friends stop being friends.  We get fired from our jobs.  War comes to us; things are broken and loved ones are killed.  We get sent to war and come home changed.  Life breaks us in a million ways.  If you are like others, you will be hurt.  You will be wounded.  You will even at times feel abandoned by God.

         In the other lectionary reading that we didn’t read this morning, St. Paul says he has suffered the loss of all things.[6]

         As a congregation we have felt broken at times.  We have expressed disappointment when things didn’t work out.  We have experienced pain and rejection.  It could be useful if part of our project to write a history of St. Johns includes a trauma history – not to wallow in misery, but to better understand where we’ve been what we’ve learned, what healing has been done, and what healing yet remains.  

         When I graduated from college, there was a musical playing in Greenwich Village, New York, called “the Fantasticks.”  I still remember one line from that musical: “Without a hurt, the heart is hollow.”


         Shared.  After the bread is broken, it is shared.  After Christ was crucified on the cross, Christ became a source of life for humanity.  And we?  Bread is shared, Christ is shared – and we can be, too.  Every time we share in Holy Communion, we affirm that this must be the pattern for our lives as well.  Taken, Blessed, Broken, Shared.

         One writer used the word “given.” “Like the bread given by Jesus, we also are given. Each of our lives is a gift to those close to us: family, friends, those we serve, as well as to people we will never know. God has given us each one of us as a sacred gift to the world.”[7]


         For the bread, the sequence is simple.  You take, you bless, you break, you share.  You do it all and you do it in the right order.  But making it part of our lives is a bit more complicated. Communion reminds us of the things that can impair our lives.  We can resist being taken.  We may be unwilling to be blessed.  We may be bitter at being broken.  We may experience being shared as being pulled apart.  And we may do it out of order.

         In this morning’s Gospel, Judas wanted to sell Mary’s precious ointment and give it to the poor – going straight from taking to sharing without blessing or brokenness.

         Some stop at blessed.  A lot of religion does that.  “Look what Christ did for me.“  Thanks.  Stop.  They fall apart when brokenness comes and never get to “shared.” 

         Some try to go direct to shared, and the result is burn out.  They need to go back to “blessed.”

         Some stop at broken.  But brokenness can be transformed.  I had the privilege of celebrating communion at the ordination of a friend in the United Church of Christ, and I spoke of these things.  I told her that “to the extent that you can offer up your pain and your wounds as a gift to God they will be a gift to others. Connect with God’s pain, and you will connect with God’s people. You will be shared. You will be a source of healing for others. You will be shared. You will be a source of life for others. You will be shared. You will be a bridge to God for others.“


         In that Upper Room the night before he was crucified, Jesus shared bread and wine.  He in essence was saying, I give you my self.  But if we can adopt the same pattern for our lives, Christ has given us OUR lives as well.

Then we can sing the words in this morning’s psalm:[8]  Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy; those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”

Taken, blessed, broken, shared. It’s what happens to the bread and the cup. It happened to the life of Christ. It can happen to you.  Out of the good Fridays of your life, many will share your Easters. 

[1] Lectionary:  Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8

[2] John 12:1-8

12:1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

12:2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.

12:3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

12:4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,

12:5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”

12:6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

12:7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.

12:8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

[3] Luke 22:19.  

[4] Ed Giganti.  Prayer Service – Taken, Blessed, Broken, and Given, Health Progress:  Journal of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, July-August 2002.  

[5] Isaiah 43:16-21

43:16 Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters,

43:17 who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:

43:18 Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.

43:19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

43:20 The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,

43:21 the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

[6] Philippians 3:4b-14

3:4b If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:

3:5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;

3:6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

3:7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.

3:8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.

3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,

3:11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

3:13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,

3:14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

[7] Ed Giganti.  Prayer Service – Taken, Blessed, Broken, and Given, Health Progress:  Journal of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, July-August 2002.  

[8] Psalm 126

126:1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

126:2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

126:3 The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

126:4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

126:5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

126:6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.