Communion. It’s one of the few rites that Christians around the world share… remembering the death of Jesus for our sins.
I still remember my very first communion. I was 18, a college freshman, and I’d been a believer for less than three weeks. Every quarter, our campus Christian fellowship gathered the Friday evening before finals week to share bread and wine together. As ignorant as I was, I understood that this was an important occasion, a time for introspection, repentance, and gratitude.
At our informal fellowship meeting, we used red wine and French bread. The first church I attended had quarter-inch crackers and grape juice. Since then, I’ve had communion with tiny bread cubes, huge hunks broken off a steaming loaf, pita bread, Wonder bread, matzo crackers, and saltines, as well as fruit juice of various sorts and wine (with and without alcohol). I don’t normally give much attention to the physical make-up of the elements, considering that the actual type of bread and “wine” used is nowhere as important as what they stand for, but last weekend challenged this view.
Pete and I were in Arizona on a staff retreat with Paraclete, a ministry we partner with. Before leaving Sunday morning, we all shared communion with elements provided by the retreat center.
As the plate was passed around, I discovered that instead of bread, it held quarter-sized flat, round wafers. I’m sure these wafers are familiar to many Christians but I had never encountered them before. They looked very official, and were even imprinted with a cross. But as I put one in my mouth, it dissolved into a gummy mass that stuck to my teeth and resisted my efforts to swallow it. This really bothered me.
Communion bread is supposed to represent the body of Jesus, broken for us, but these wafers were whole. Jesus is the most “real” Person who ever lived, but the wafers were insubstantial—I was reminded of the cornstarch-based packing “peanuts” that dissolve in water. Jesus is our source of abundant life, but the wafers were tasteless. Jesus is the nourishing Bread of life, while the wafers seemed to represent the exact opposite.
When I chew a piece of bread during communion, I’m reminded that Jesus had to lose His life for me. It’s almost as if my teeth are making the holes in his hands, feet, and side. When I swallow the bread, I remember that the Holy Spirit lives inside me. As the bread is digested, it becomes an integral part of who I am, just as my life is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
The tray of tiny cups arrived, and I chose a full one, hoping to wash down the glob of wafer still stuck to my molars. As we drank together, I expected wine, or at least grape juice—so I was startled by a sickly sweet flavor I couldn’t quite place. At first I thought it was some sort of mixed fruit drink. This was a bit alarming, as I’m rather allergic to apples, and even that much juice would have made our twelve hour drive home pretty miserable.
But after asking around, I discovered that no, it was grape Kool-Aid. While relieved that I wouldn’t be suffering an allergic reaction, the idea of Kool-Aid was just as disturbing. Aside from the Jim Jones implications, Kool-Aid is artificial, a cheap imitation of what God has created. I felt it cheapened the precious blood that Jesus shed for me.
Since Sunday, I have given our communion services quite a bit of thought. The first communion occurred at the Last Supper, Jesus celebrating the Passover with His disciples, so He would have used unleavened bread. In a day without refrigeration, grape juice would quickly spoil and/or ferment, so it’s not a surprise that the Bible says the cup contained wine. Yet, for the most part, that isn’t what I’ve been served by the churches I’ve attended. Does it matter what we use for bread and wine? Or does the meaning behind the ritual trump all else?
I readily admit—while I struggled with last week’s wafers and Kool-Aid, they didn’t keep me from remembering Jesus’ death until He comes.
What do you think? How does your church or tradition celebrate communion? What about doing it that way makes it meaningful to you?
I’m inclined to think the Last Supper was a regular family meal, not a religious service. I suspect that any meal “where two or three are gathered in My name” is a communion service.
However, the church I attend most ofter (when I bother to go) serves styrofoam wafers such as you describe and real wine.
John: Matthew, Mark, and Luke all describe the meal as Jesus celebrating the Passover with his disciples. I guess you could call that a family meal, but it is definitely a ceremony as well, which I consider a “religious service” of some sort (loosely defined). I’d be interested in learning more if you have another take on this.
thanks for sharing… that was interesting for me… particularly how you see your bread… here we have the wafers as well. They don’t stick to the roof of my mouth (but maybe I have learned how to eat them! )… recently though I was disturbed that they tasted kind of stale!!! Jesus is definately not stale!!! Here we have wine with the wafers!
We recently celebrated Passover here at our place… the first communion, recorded in the Bible (clearly a family gathering, meal, but definately more than the regular family meal… It was a special celebration which happened only one time a year and the whole house had to be cleaned for this “event”, a remembrance of the escape out of Egypt.. Jesus few comments at the “event” made the meaning of His death so much more clear. He died on the cross as the last sacrificial lamb… the lamb that was needed for the Isreali’s to leave Egypt many years before… the lamb whose blood was painted on the doorposts to let the angel of death know… this house is sacred, you are not to enter here and take our firstborn. This is what Jesus said to the disciples as he shared passover and the first communion with them… and then he said… please continue to do this in remembrance of me…
Jesus is the way to lead us into the promised land… He took the punishment we deserve, on him.
is an interesting synopsis of the Jewish biblical thoughts on passover… .