Broken Bread and Wine Outpoured

These thoughts are ‘raw’ and unprocessed - and as I begin to write I’m not entirely sure where they’ll take us… They began to come to me during the night and still feel incomplete.

Last evening we were invited to a meal by a friend, together with several other friends. The food was delicious, and the company more so. Some of us have known each other for a lot more years than we care to remember, though we’ve seen too little of each other during the years of the pandemic. It was good to catch up. As well as that though, I think I learnt spiritual lessons - or, at the very least, was reminded of things I had known but perhaps forgotten.

Holy Communion, the Eucharist, Mass - call it what you will - is a rather formal church ritual. In many churches it can only be performed by an ‘ordained priest’, and it is hedged around with many rules and regulations to keep it ‘pure’ and ‘holy’. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it hugely - there’s something very powerful about the ritual, and the form of words used. And there’s something powerful about it being essentially the same, wherever you are and whatever interpretation you place upon the words and symbols. In my case, the examples I think of are a small baptist church in Carnoustie, Angus; my own church in Lancaster; the sumptuous surroundings of the Roman Catholic church in the monastery in Rome at which we sometimes stay. In each of those places, although beliefs around the meaning of the ritual are quite different, somehow the same thoughts are brought to mind, and the same mental picture is painted. It’s very special, however it’s celebrated.

And yet, there’s something about the ‘formality’ of the occasion which, to my way of thinking, loses something. When we look at the accounts of the last supper in the gospels (the basis of which is, actually, a Jewish Seder meal, let us not forget), we see an event which in that Jewish way, manages to combine formality and informality, pathos and humour, planning and spontaneity, personal and impersonal, humanity and divinity, all rolled into one. The Eucharist, by contrast, does a very good job of the divinity, impersonality, planning, pathos and formality, but quite deliberately, removes all the rest in the interest of being ‘proper’ and ‘reverent’. And what we’re left with is, in some ways, quite ‘dry’ and ‘unreal’ - it’s somehow totally removed from ‘ordinary life’ - not least by, in most cases, being performed in a building which is designed, mostly around that single, artificial, purpose and which also seems designed to remove the possibility of personal connection with one another, other than in a peculiarly stilted, formal, way.

I think we need events like last night. They ‘redress the balance’. There’s all the informality, humour, spontaneity, and so on which is missing from the communion service…

And yet, somehow, when the company is right, the sense of the divine presence at such an event can be very strong. And there’s something inherently sacred about shared food and the conversation surrounding it. Jesus said

“…where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20

and I think that’s true, especially, of shared mealtimes. There’s something very blessed about eating together; we should do it more often than we do.

There is something very meaningful about being fed - it is life-affirming, in away almost nothing else is - effectively the person feeding you is saying ‘I love you and I want you to live' in a very tangible way. As someone who does virtually all the cooking at home (which I’m almost always happy to do), it’s a very powerful symbol… As well as being a nice rest, and a complete change. One of the party (we’ve done this before a few times in the past, with a ‘similar but different’ crowd), always takes it upon himself to help - serving drinks and the like. He’s a senior churchman, as well as being definitely not the youngest there, so you might expect him to sit and be waited upon, but no - he ‘rolls his sleeves up’ and gets on with it, in a very natural manner. In a way, it’s embarrassing - but that’s my problem - the feeling that, if he’s helping, I ‘ought to’ too… But, actually, I make myself sit, and appreciate what he’s doing. It’s humbling as well as being a huge blessing to just be able to sit and enjoy. I suspect that, if foot-washing was a thing in our culture, he’d probably insist on doing it - and it would feel ‘right’ and ‘normal’ that he did. There’s something artlessly Christlike about him - which is both a blessing and a challenge.

I totally ‘get’ the symbolism of the bread and wine - the ‘elements’ of the communion service - and yet in fact they were, and are, so humble, so ordinary. They were staples of the time and place - bread and wine were ‘to hand’ for Jesus to use. But somehow, in the communion service we strip them of their mundanity. I think it’s worth bearing that in mind when we eat, particularly when we eat together, that he chose things that were readily available, and consumed at most meals.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:26-28

What are the staples of your diet?

Could you, when you eat and drink them, imbue them with that same symbolism - that when you eat them you remember Christ, His life, His death and the extraordinary ‘I want you to live’ blessing of the ‘meal’ He served? So that then, as I suspect He intended,you remember Him

‘...whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup...’ 1 Corinthians 11:26

God bless you.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022