"Red Week One": Daily Reflection for Tuesday, October 5, 2015
This is the second entry in a series of daily devotions that I am writing to support my church's October sermon series: "Red: Understanding The Hard Sayings of Jesus."
This past Sunday, I preached a sermon on one of Jesus' most challenging sayings, which I'll paraphrase here: "The only way you are going to have eternal life is if you eat my flesh and drink my blood."
If you'd like to read the entire sermon, you can click HERE. Or you can listen to it by clicking HERE. Or you can watch it by clicking HERE.
Now that you've clicked all over creation, I hope that you're back so I can share some more thoughts on Jesus' strange words, and how the relate to Holy Communion--specifically focusing on the elements of bread and wine (or juice) that are at the center of each celebration of the Lord's Supper.
When I was in seminary, we had a spirited debate in one of my Worship classes regarding the importance of bread, and wine in the Eucharist. The question was raised, "How do you celebrate the Lord's Supper if you have no bread, or no wine? Are bread and wine absolutely mandatory? Is this actually a thing?"
These are the kinds of really important discussions that seminarians spend far too much time pondering and debating. But still, these are good questions that most of us probably don't think about all that much.
There are some Christian communities that insist only unleavened bread can be used for Holy Communion. There are others that insist the wine has to actually be wine--straight up alcoholic wine. At my church we use grape juice, and we use different kinds of bread depending on which service you attend.
Does it really matter if bread and wine are not present in the Eucharist? What if you are poor, and the only bread you have is a tortilla? Or what if you live somewhere where obtaining wine or grape juice is almost impossible--like sub-Saharan Africa?
Some Christian denominations like Catholics and Anglicans have member congregations all over the world, each with different challenges, and local customs. Out of necessity these denominations have had to address this issue, providing alternatives for congregations where the elements of bread and wine are not readily available.
What is interesting, though, is the language that is used in these provisions--language that insists that the alternative elements used in Holy Communion should have deep meaning to the local congregation itself. In other words, even if the "bread" used in communion isn't actually bread, and the "wine" isn't actually wine the elements that replace them should be deeply significant to the people sharing them--in the same way that bread and wine was significant in the early days of the Church, and continues to be in most congregations today.
Bread and wine were essentials in the first century--essentials to life, to shared meals, to community. Bread and wine were already imbedded with deep meaning, long before Jesus instituted the meal his followers would continue to share after he returned to the Father.
In the first century, bread and wine were present at every meal, every gathering, every feast, every community event. They represented life and sustenance. They were signs and symbols of family, connectedness and quite often, as in the case of the Hebrew people, tradition.
These elements continue to hold meaning for most Christians, which is why we still use them. But what we need to understand more deeply is that it matters less what form the elements of Holy Communion take, and matters much more what they represent.
The elements of the Lord's Supper are not only tangible signs and symbols of the body and blood of Christ, they also are signs of life for you and for me, and reminders of the beloved community that we share as Christ's followers.