Communion Bread

A few months ago, one of the ladies asked me if I could help with communion, setting it up three or four times a year. I would be replacing a woman  who had been showing signs of dementia.

I had my first turn this last week. One of the ladies showed me where the supplies were kept — the chalices and plates, the pretty linens, and a six-pack of bottles of grape juice.

It seemed pretty straight-forward.

Until I asked about the bread.

“You can get any bread,” the woman told me.

“Any bread?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter.”

It mattered to me.

I angsted over communion bread all week. I couldn’t get just any old bread. This was the body of Christ, for crying out loud.

Our church offers communion by intinction. The pastor tears a chunk off the loaf of bread (yeast bread) and offers it to the communicant, who then dips it in the chalice.

I know that some churches use matzoh, or unleavened bread, because that’s what Jesus would have used during His last Passover supper. Others use leavened bread, a reminder of new life and a new covenant. Some churches use wafers and believe in transsubstantiation.

Some churches use individual cups. Others use chalices. Some churches use wine. Others use juice.

Some celebrate the Eucharist weekly, others monthly, and still others yearly.

However it’s done, all Christians unite in this mystery that goes beyond time and space and a morsel and a taste of juice.

The body of Christ broken for you.

The blood of Christ shed for you.

I struggled with what to bring for the communion bread. I prayed about it. I wrestled with in my heart. I looked at bread at the grocery store and at the local bakery. Then I prayed some more.

Finally, I decided to try to make the bread. I pictured myself kneading the dough and praying for the people in our congregation.

I got a recipe from another church, but it didn’t call for kneading. I messaged the woman who sent me the recipe — “Do I really not knead it? Just punch it down?”

She answered, “I think the mixing is enough. I never kneaded it. Yes, just punch it down. No worries.”

“This is an act of faith for me,” I told her, “in more ways than one.”

Before I removed the baked bread from the pan, I laid my hands on the loaf and prayed, “O Lord, please be honored with this bread. Bless the people who partake of it.”

I brought the bread to church in a brown paper bag. I didn’t want anyone to know that I had made it. Bud helped me set everything up on the altar.

The moment in the service came when Pastor Tom lifted the bread for all to see.

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you,” he said, as he broke the loaf in half.

As luckfateGodcoincidencechance would have it, Pastor Tom asked me to stand beside him for communion and hold the chalice.

I watched him tear off chunk after chunk of bread. I tried to focus on my words — “The blood of Christ shed for you” but the bread was so distracting. The pieces got larger and larger.

One woman laughed as she received a piece so large that she had to tear it in half to dip in the chalice.

I laughed, too. It was comical.

After the service, she came up front to talk with the pastor.

“You got your whole lunch there,” I said to her, nodding towards the communion trays.

Tom said, “I was trying to pull off small pieces but I couldn’t!”

She said, “You were very generous, pastor.”

Tom said, “No, God is very generous.”

We all agreed.

Isn’t that the crux of communion — a God so generous that He gave His son.

The woman said, “I didn’t mind. That bread was so good!”

The bread wasn’t perfect — but then, neither am I.

And God honored the bread.

Generously.

 

 

 

 

Communion again

IMG_5903[1]I was the first in line for communion.

When the teen server tore off a piece of bread and handed it to me, she looked at me and paused.

I waited for the words — “This is the Bread of Life.” Or, “the Body of Christ broken for you.”  Which would she say?

She hesitated and then her face broke out into a big smile. “Hi,” she said. She had forgotten what she was supposed to say and simply greeted me.

I laughed and took the bread to dip into the challis.

The little girl beside her lifted the cup to me and said, in a tiny voice, “The cup of blessing.”

I dipped my bread and went back to my seat, still smiling.

Sometimes, in the somberness of the occasion, we forget that it was like a family meal in that upper room so long ago. I’m sure there was a clatter of dishes and hubbub of voices while everyone dined, reclining at the table.

  • Peter objecting to Jesus washing his feet.
  • Peter motioning for John to ask Jesus a question.
  • John asking Jesus Peter’s question.
  • Jesus dipping the bread and handing it to Judas.
  • Judas leaving.
  • Peter’s exchange with Jesus.
  • Thomas’s exchange with Jesus.
  • Philip’s exchange with Jesus.

Comings, goings, actions, conversations — all in the course of one meal.

Quiet introspection played no part.

Listening to Jesus did.

Sometimes, in the ceremony and formality of communion at church, we miss the human connection — and that’s what Jesus did on earth, connect with us in a very human way.

“Hi.”

Communion amazes me every time.

Communion

Communion is a joyful time at our church.

For so many years, I was used to a different way of celebrating communion.  A somber, sober way.  A stay-in-your-seat kind of way.  A contemplative, inward-looking way.

Not that those are bad things.  Communion — eating the bread and drinking the cup — shows forth the Lord’s death until He comes again.  Death is a somber, sober thing.  It calls for contemplation and looking inward.

IMG_2808[1]At our church though, we walk to the front and receive the bread, a chunk torn from a small white loaf, with the words, “This is the Bread of Life.”  Next, we dip our bread into the challis and hear “This is the Cup of Blessing.” The bread, now soggy with grape juice, must be eaten immediately, unless it is so large that it takes several bites.  Children love this.

At first, I was critical of this method.  I mean, really, everyone knows Jesus didn’t use leavened bread, I would scoff to myself.  But the reality is that Jesus also didn’t serve wine in cute little cups that could be used later for VBS crafts.  No, modern communion only recalls that Last Supper; it doesn’t replicate it.  And that attention to the outward details is exactly the pit into which the Pharisees fell.  What’s important is what’s going on in the heart.  More precisely, for me, in my heart.

Once I set my inward Pharisee aside, I could laugh and enjoy communion.  It’s a little chaotic. Children grin broadly and sometimes laugh when they are handed a large piece of bread.  More than once bread has fallen into the challis.  One parishioner’s guiding eye dog, not always in harness, but still in church, sniffs the floor hopefully for a few crumbs.

Yesterday, I went forward for communion.  The pastor said, “This the Bread of Life,” and tore a piece from the loaf.  I looked up into eyes that were warm and tender.  This was someone who knows me and loves me.  The young acolyte lifted the challis for me.  His little voice was timid and sweet as he said, “The Cup of Blessing.”

Afterwards, as I sat in my seat, I thought about that last supper Jesus shared with His disciples.  I’m sure He looked them in the eye and smiled at them as He gave them the bread.  Maybe it was a little messy sharing the cup.  I know for certain, though, that the love was palpable.

It reminded me of something Frederick Buechner once wrote about a communion experience.  I’ll leave you with that.

… I was receiving communion in an Episcopal church early one morning.  The priest was an acquaintance of mine, and I could hear him moving along the rail from person to person as I knelt there waiting for my turn.  The body of Christ, he said, the bread of heaven.  The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.  When he got to me he put in another word.  The word was my name, “The body of Christ, Freddy, the bread of heaven.”

…There was nothing extraordinary about the priest knowing my name — I knew he knew it — and there was nothing extraordinary about him using it in the service because he evidently did that sort of thing quite often.  But the effect on me was extraordinary.

… For the first time in my life, maybe, it struck me that when Jesus picked up the bread at his last meal and said, “This is my body which is for you,” he was doing it not just in a ritual way for humankind in general, but in an unthinkably personal way for every particular man or woman or child who ever existed or someday would exist.  Most unthinkable of all, maybe he was doing it for me.  At that holiest of feasts we are known not just by our official name but by the names people use who have known us the longest and most intimately.

from Spiritual Quests:  The Art and Craft of Religious Writing,
edited by William Zinsser

Food for thought the next time you partake in communion.