Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bread and Wine

One of the simplest and greatest pleasures in life is a fresh baked loaf of bread. Oh the joy of ripping off a chewy hunk of warm bread with its earthy smell of wheat. A Great Harvest Bread Company just opened directly across the street from work, so my life will now be more joyful, I'm telling you.

And I do mean joy. The simple pleasure of the table, the sustaining wholesomeness of bread are part of the joy of life. Bread is such a rich symbol of life and pleasure and fullness.

And wine...The fruit of the earth in liquid form. Fruit is ever so lovely and poetic. I believe it's the feminine form of food. Barley and wheat are sensible and stodgy and probably male. But fruit is juicy and red and definitely female. Wine is like fruit in communal form, to be passed and shared and enjoyed with friends.

Really, bread and wine are ripe with import.

And this is why it pains my English major soul that our modern-day observances of taking the wine and the bread in remembrance of Jesus are so stripped of the rich symbolism they ought to be imbued with.

A centimeter square that tastes like cardboard and a doll-cup of kid juice in a hushed room replace the table of friends talking and eating and drinking.

If someone had never witnessed our modern communion in its various forms but read the Bible verses about it, then closed his eyes to picture what it is like, he would most likely not picture the cardboard squares and the plastic cups and the hush. If those who experienced the first communion were suddenly whisked to a modern one, they would be puzzled.

Gathering around a dinner table with friends drinking wine and eating bread was a part of daily life for them. It wasn't something done one Sunday a month or one Sunday a quarter. It was daily, it was communal, it was sustaining. The bread and the wine - they meant something. Jesus asked them to take the most common, albeit enjoyable, daily occurence and do it in remembrance of him.

It taught them that though they might eat bread each day to stay alive, Jesus is their real food - what brings them ultimate life. That though they may drink wine to quench their thirst - Jesus is their real water and wine, what saves them and cleanses them.

But we have divorced the elements from the rich symbolism of food and drink. No one could possibly be sustained or satsified by a centimeter of cardboard. No one could possibly have their thirst quenched by a doll cup of juice.

And of course, then there is community. By asking them to eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of him at a dinner party, Jesus was making it communal - something we do together at a social gathering. Instead we tend to do it in hushed quarters, solemnly, without talking.

Surely, it should be reverent, not getting drunk as some in the early church did, but surely it's not something that should be sequestered to the lofty and lonely cathedral, away from daily life and community.

Though our communion is still meaningful, I can't help but think we are missing so much. So much meaning, so much togetherness, so many reminders. Someday, I wish for a communion revival, an awakening to all our remembrance of Jesus can and should be.
This is a topic I've considered proposing a book about, though it's a dangerous and touchy topic. What do you think?


Jon The Hart said...

I've often thought something similar, they're all eating dinner and he uses the bread and wine as symbols for the very reason that they're commonplace, do this once a month or so in remembrance of me? How about; let your frequent suppers together be a reminder of me? Or, maybe we're both way off base and only during the passover feasts are we to partake... but I tend to think as you thunk.

Greg said...

Have to agree with you Amber. Sadly, I think your assessment of modern day communion practices in many churches (there are some beautiful exceptions) might be extended to the body of Christ, the Church, as we experience it (or don't) as a whole. Again, there are some beautiful exceptions, or microcosms of the "body of Christ, family-like, communal experience" within many churches, but I think for the most part we're missing out on a lot of what you describe in our churches, not only in our communion practices.

Becky said...

I'd DEFINITELY read that book, Amber. You should write it.

sarahbri said...

Oh Amber. Once again you've said what my heart has longed for! And I too would read that book. And recommend it to everyone. And leave it on the desks of my leaders ;)