I remember the first time I felt truly guilty during communion. It wasn’t because I’d done something terrible the night before or anything like that… it was simply because this bread tasted so amazing! I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to enjoy communion like that or not. After all, isn’t it supposed to be bland, ritualistic, and holy (by holy I mean punishing)?
My views on communion have really changed since that experience. I think they change about every time I take communion outside of my traditional communion type experience. The last time I recall taking communion at The Bridge we had a large loaf of crusty bread and not a lot of people to distribute it between and I was the first person to get up for my dose. I tore off a massive piece of bread and went back to my seat and spent the next 5 minutes or better eating, chewing, thinking, praying, letting it really get into my heart and changing me. I loved looking at my friends and watching them eat slowly, knowing we were all taking the same sort of journey at the same moment. It just isn’t an experience you can replicate with a small wafer identical in size and shape to a person across a large sanctuary from you.
Communion is not just about sacrifice as I was led to believe from childhood. It’s not just about recalling how horrible you are, how in need of a saviour (which is perfectly true) because you’re rubbish on your own. That kind of stuff really keeps you joined to your past actions and sins even though they’ve been forgotten by God. I’d always have to sift through my day and week to see how naughty I’d been so I could ask forgiveness. And eating that bread and drinking some cheap grape juice never made me feel any better afterwards. It was a futile exercise and it robbed me of the true experience of communion.
Communion is about identity. Identity with Christ and His life and death and resurrection. Identity with His spirit. It’s also about identity with the church, the body of Christ. It’s not a remote and individualistic practice that absolves a person of their personal sins. It knits us together in amazing ways as we all see each other through the eyes of love and sacrifice- things Christ wasn’t called to alone- things that we are each called to on one another’s behalf.
Rob wanted to take communion the other day before a meeting we had. We didn’t have much in the house and we’ve used lots of different things for communion before so just finding something edible and drinkable wasn’t foreign to us. He grabbed a Bourbon biscuit and some water. As we sat and thought about what it was we were doing I realised something- communion is costly. I know exactly what you’re probably thinking right now- “yeah it cost Jesus a heck of a lot, didn’t it?” That’s not really what I mean even if it is true. We all know that and it doesn’t always mean a lot to be truthful; it’s like a cliche (sorry God…).
I was reminded of the little boy who offered his loaves and fish for feeding the crowd. He gave up his lunch! He was so trusting that somehow Jesus would make it work out so that everyone got to enjoy a bit of food that he risked losing it all. On the day that Jesus and the disciples took the last supper the owner of the upper room sacrificed some space for the crew to cook up a mean meal (he practiced hospitality, a subject I’m really getting into and it actually ties into this quite well- note to self: revisit). I seriously doubt they went down to the market to pick up a ready-meal so that means that this meal was quite the effort and was costly (in terms of time, not just money).
So they finally get to the point where Jesus grabs the loaf of bread, err the flatbread as it would’ve been, and does his thing. That bread is the very symbol we refer back to when doing communion. I think about the breads I’ve used in communion- ranging from stale wafers to pretzels to amazingly tasty bread- and yet it’s never cost either myself or the person serving the bread much (a quick dash into the shop to pick up some cheap mass produced bread). Something’s been lost. I have come to realise a couple things in dealing with communion in this:-
1- Jesus picked the most basic and affordable things on the table to institute communion so that everyone regardless of economic status could enjoy the practice. It unites us all across class boundaries and it’s a humbling thing perhaps for the more affluent to get back to the basics. How beautiful. How thoughtful.
2- The bread itself cost something in terms of time and effort to make it (even if they did buy it at the market). Someone had to knead it, mix it, bake it, etc. No modern technology. I’m sure that modern communion wafers are probably somehow blessed by a few reverential words but just the effort of someone getting involved with the bread is a blessing to me.
I’d really like to adopt the practice of baking bread as a community to enjoy together in communion. The imagery of that would be so incredibly rich. And how much more sacred would it be?