How does the Christian table meal shape us as individuals and as the church? Why is bread at the center of Jesus’ meal? What does this have to do with feeding a spiritually and physically hungry world?
Glenn Packiam, associate senior pastor and Anglican Priest serving at New Life Church, Colorado Springs, has written a book with pastorally accessible, theologically robust, psychologically sensitive, and socially compassionate answers to those questions.
Blessed, Broken, Given: How Your Story Becomes Sacred in the Hands of Jesus is an easy to read and yet insightful book by an experienced pastor who isn’t afraid to tell his own stories of blessing, brokenness, and giving.
He begins by sharing his story of growing up in Malaysia and of his experience as a child of parents who eventually became church planters. Using the Malaysian love of food as a metaphor, he tells the story of his own parent’s conversion to Christ and subsequent journeys of ministry and service.
Packiam defines sacramental theology as that which “invites us to see the visible as a sign of the invisible, to believe that the common can be a carrier of the holy.” Therefore, the whole earth is filled with his glory, including ordinary things like bread.
But he doesn’t get bogged down in doctrinal definitions. After his brief explanations, he goes on to use great illustrations, imagery and stories to help us understand. He takes us on a journey through Scripture, telling stories along the way. This is a delightful and refreshing journey.
The book is divided into three parts. Blessed, Broken, and Given, based on the pattern of Jesus’ practice found in the Gospels, and in Paul’s teaching on the eucharist.
In “Blessed,” Packiam wants us to move away from the notion that being blessed by God means we have done some great thing, in order that God will make everything work out the way we want it. Instead, to be blessed by God is “to be who we were originally created to be.” We are given a name by God, we are gathered at his holy table of fellowship, and we rehearse our blessedness. Taking on biblical and personal journeys, he paints a beautiful picture of mundane bread and ordinary lives that shine with the presence of Christ.
Here Packiam tells the story of how New Life Church decided to root itself in a long-standing, sacred tradition, which began with weekly communion. It was here that the community realized that table was connecting them with the past and present, through the bread of Christ.
A beautiful aspect of this book is how Packiam keeps gently bringing us back to God’s love for others. God doesn’t just love me (but he does love me!). He also loves those around me. Each section of this book quietly returns us to how what we are experiencing in the bread of life will turn our hearts and hands toward others. “And so the church-that community formed by the givenness of Christ-comes to be the people that are given for one another, and for the sake of the world.”
In “Broken,” Packiam helps us see that our “in our brokenness, we are beloved.” He surveys the Biblical and pastoral again, but here he also delves into the psychological. Resisting the urge that many of us pastors feel to provide uninformed psychological advice, Packiam’s thoughts seem instead to be rooted in a strong awareness of healthy emotional life and a holistic approach.
Packiam reminds us that our brokenness is nowhere better summed up in the eucharist than when we hear the words of Christ, “This is my body which is broken for you.” God himself is broken for us, and with us. We are not alone in our sin and our suffering.
And again we are reminded that we are not the only broken ones. The church can be a healing presence in a broken world when God “makes the broken become blessed.” When you confess your sins, receiving God’s healing presence and forgiveness, your “brokenness can open you up to the grace of God. And your brokenness can open you up to others.”
Finally, “in Jesus’ hands, we become given.” As our affirmation and love come from him, and we are blessed by freedom from shame, we are ready to be given “for the life of the world.”
Packiam tells the story of the Church at Carthage and Bishop Cyprian in the second century. When the plague came they served the sick and dying, rather than flee like everyone else. And they served even their enemies. They gave themselves, as they had received.
This flowed from the table. Breaking bread together was central to their lives. “These were people who had been formed by the breaking of bread. So when the time came for them to allow their lives to be given like broken bread for one another, and even for their enemies, they had been prepared.”
Radical hospitality happens when Christians see God’s blessing in their lives, accept and receive healing for their brokenness, and then freely give what they have received.
Packiam points to the recent tradition in this country of cultural hostility that has replaced the early church’s radical hospitality. The breaking of the bread helps us move away from the culture-war posturing and dividing the world into enemies and friends. It calls to us to give and serve, like the early church did, as people given to the world by Christ.
Who is this book for?
This little book is a great reader for any Christian who wants to reflect on sacramental theology through the simple means of contemplating the bread. It is a great introduction to sacramental theology for those new to it, and it would serve well as a way to introduce non-believers to some core Christian beliefs and practices. I would have preferred him to have mentioned the wine/blood, at least in passing. But his contemplation of the bread remains excellent.
The narrative format of the book, and biblical content, would lend itself well to study groups. It isn’t intended to be an in depth survey of sacramental theology, but it does prime the pump and get the reader moving in some great directions should they want to explore further historical or theological study.
I enjoyed reading it as well. I felt I got to know Glenn through his transparency, and I look forward to checking out some of his other books.
Blessed, Broken, Given: How Your Story Becomes Sacred in the Hands of Jesus by Glenn Peckiam is currently available for pre-order.