One of the blessings of being the deacon’s wife at Laws Mennonite Church is that I am responsible for the emblems for communion. I don’t so much care for getting the linens ironed and ready — except that our tablecloths were provided for our church by the late Anna Stoltzfus. Anna and her husband, Lewellyn, died in a terrible accident in the autumn of 1988, and I never iron those two identical white, laced edged squares without thinking about her. She and my Sweet Mama had quite a history together, and there is much to remember. I like to iron them up all crisp and fresh just before the communion service.
The bread and the grape juice (we Mennonites don’t do the “wine” thing) are something that I sincerely love to do. Back when we first started, we used regular homemade bread. It was at least something I was good at — soft substantial loaves, all properly done. We tore them apart and shared them with joy. And I made the grape juice in a big old steamer on my kitchen stove, canning jar after jar for my family and always, always, at the back of my mind was the thought of communion and my church family. It warmed my heart to be able to use my hands to make the symbols of Our Lord’s Body, broken for us, and His Blood, shed for us. It has been a sacred trust, and I was humbled yet so, so, glad.
Over the years, we’ve changed how we do things when it comes to the bread. More and more, it felt right to make the switch to unleavened bread, so I searched and experimented and finally came up with a recipe that was theologically “right” and palatable as well. I always made extra, so that there was some to share with the children and even adults after the service. There was never any to take home. I will confess that I have never liked it as much as I do just the regular bread, but it does seem appropriate to use unleavened bread, and the recipe I used had a good flavor, and was easy to chew and swallow.
But now we have some members who are gluten intolerant. I never thought too much about it until one of them said something about just bringing her own gluten free bread and “trading it out” before actually partaking. This just felt uncomfortable to me. What should we, as the body of Christ, the company of believers, do in this situation? It troubled me greatly.
So I started to look for gluten free recipes for unleavened bread. My friend, Emma, told me that I didn’t have to look for special recipes, I should just trade out the flour with gluten free flour and experiment a little, and she thought I could come up with something. And so I’ve been experimenting. We’ve had gluten free unleavened bread for two communions now. And people are kind. Everyone has been supportive. And our gluten intolerant friends kindly take the leftovers off my hands at the end of the service. (I’ve noticed that people don’t clamor for leftovers, though, as they would when the bread was otherwise.)
And I’ve struggled more than a little with this thing. I really don’t like the flavor of this gluten free unleavened bread. I have “doctored” the recipe and tried to make it easier to chew and swallow, easier on the taste buds, nicer to look at, less difficult to dispense . . . (don’t know if there is and “etc.” here or not, that might pretty much cover what I’ve tried to do with it) and I feel like I’ve had minimal success. It makes me sad, like I was failing somehow in my responsibilities. After muddling about in this vague sense of “something wrong,” I realized that this thing about the bread had shadowed my enjoyment of our communion service. That has caused me to look more closely at what it is that I’m trying to do here, and why. This is always dangerous, because it uncovers motivation and wrong attitudes and even theology that can be a bit askew.
First of all, I needed to deal with why it is so important that I have the perfect emblems for communion. It is clear in the Scriptures that Jesus’ body wasn’t something of esthetic beauty. Much as I like (and will continue to enjoy) a simple, yet attractive communion table, (crisp linens, polished serving dishes, purple grape juice, bread that is made just right and arranged attractively) that isn’t really important.
Secondly, why is it so important that it is palatable? This business of being a part of the sufferings of our Lord Jesus is real. We can talk about the “easy yoke and light burden” but there are still a LOT of times when following Jesus calls us to go against what we want to do, what we want to hear, what we want to say. Sometimes it is just “hard to swallow,” if you know what I mean. I am reminded of the bitter herbs that were a very real part of the Passover feast in the Jewish tradition, and I wonder again at this gospel that wants everything to be so easy. And sweet. And enjoyable to swallow.
Being a Christian is a celebration of joy. Serving the Lord is not something laborious. Of all people we should live lives that speak to the truth of Freedom in Christ, of Grace enough for me, of Forgiveness through Jesus, of Life, and Hope, and Joy, and Peace. And it should be so attractive that people WANT to be a part of it, that they should be drawn by the love and the sense of family that we have in our Church Family. And we should share this good news.
But we should also remember that when we come together to share in the LORD’s Supper, we are coming together to commemorate His Suffering. And if the bread we share isn’t all that palatable, maybe it can be a reminder of the fact that we are a brotherhood. By choosing to share the bread that all can eat, we are bearing one another’s burdens. In a very small way, we are sharing in the LORD’s suffering, and we should eat it with joy. He did so very much MORE. What a little, little thing for me.
23 “The teaching I gave you is the same teaching I received from the Lord: On the night when the Lord Jesus was handed over to be killed, he took bread 24 and gave thanks for it. Then he broke the bread and said, “This is my body; it is[c] for you. Do this to remember me.” 25 In the same way, after they ate, Jesus took the cup. He said, “This cup is the new agreement that is sealed with the blood of my death. When you drink this, do it to remember me.” 26 Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you are telling others about the Lord’s death until he comes.”
I Corinthians 11:23-26 ncv