Bread of Heaven

For at least four reasons that I can think of off of the top of my head, using bready bread – leavened bread – yeast bread – for eucharist is a matter of some importance for me.  I don’t have time to get into that today, but hopefully in a later post.  The point is, I have been generally opposed to wafers as the “bread” element for a long time now.

After some unreasonable hoping that the Episcopal church I was visiting this morning would run contrary to type, and that the rector would somehow produce a full loaf of challah from the sleeve of her robe, I found myself watching her lift up the large round wafer and thinking to myself, “this could be a deal-breaker.”

I have spent some time now not particularly expecting God to show up in worship, so that might be what opened me to be so thoughtlessly cheeky about the sacrament.  Or perhaps God has just become that small to me that I thought I could predict or even dictate when and where I might feel God’s presence.  Or maybe I am just an ordinary broken human being who, like anyone else, is riddled with hubris.

At the rail, I could not wait to get the wafer into my mouth, to let it melt there and to think about Christ and the medieval desire to honor him by making sure that not a crumb of his body might be lost between the floorboards.  When a priest came around with the cup and saw that my upturned hands were empty, he began to tip the cup towards me, and I drank – perhaps for only the second or third time.  “The cup which we share…” The wine, so unfamiliar at the feast to this Methodist, burst on my palate as if welcoming me home to a place I had never seen – a foretaste of the kingdom, a reminder of the already and the not yet that is this time between the times.  I leapt back from the rail and managed to make my unsteady way back to my seat; thought of pulling out a kneeler, but didn’t know whether it was allowed at this point in the service.  And then I burst into tears as I felt God clearly articulate to me, “Did you think that I could not show up for you here?”

After a couple of words to the rector, I decanted myself some decaf and made my way to the car. I felt so unworthy, so impossibly beyond redemption.  And at the same time, so near to God – reminded that my second greatest sin (after the first of thinking I no longer need to be redeemed) is the idea that I cannot be.

We share the Jesus bread

Less than a year ago, a member of the altar guild handed my husband half a loaf of communion bread after early worship.  When on the drive home from church the little one complained that she was hungry, I handed her a chunk of the bread, telling her that this was very special bread, and that we eat it together with other people, and when we eat it we are reminded of how much Jesus loves us.  After eating her bread, she held out her hand and said, “more Jesus bread, please!”  And that is how our family took to calling the consecrated loaf “Jesus bread.”

Leaving aside the debates on whether it is okay for young children to participate in the Lord’s Supper, I am going to take it for granted in this post that, as a United Methodist, I am on firm ground toting my not yet three year old up to receive the elements.  Certainly it has been both an educational and spiritual experience for me to witness the way in which Eucharist has been a means of grace for her.

It is not often that I have her with me for the entire service, but lately I have been sure to have her with me for the Great Thanksgiving (prayer before communion) and all that follows.  I whisper to her during the service, pointing out a couple of things that I think she might be interested in (such as “What is Pastor Duke doing with the Jesus bread right now?”) or might be ready to start learning about.  Every time, I talk about how we are all family together with everyone who loves Jesus, and how we share the bread all together, and we take turns, and there is always enough for everybody.   I tell her that Jesus loves each of us very much, and that Jesus is with us especially when we all eat the Jesus bread together.  And then as we get to the front of the line, I whisper,  “hold out your hand,” and she does, and Pastor Duke puts the Jesus bread in her hand, which she ordinarily pops directly into her mouth.

But this Sunday, she stopped just before the bread made it into her mouth, and dipped it into the grape juice!  I was so excited that she had decided to do that on her own.  She is a pretty picky eater, so I had never suggested intinction to her as a possibility – I did not want to risk a big soppy pile of Body and Blood spat unceremoniously onto her clothes and my clothes and the carpet.  Oh me of little faith!  She ate it very solemnly, and on the way back up to the nursery after worship said, “We all take turns with Jesus bread!”

This was all more than enough to make my heart burst with joy – “she gets it!”  But something even more beautiful was in store for me (praise God from whom all blessings flow – abundantly!)  Yesterday morning, my daughter came into my bedroom carrying a beautiful flowered plastic tray that her grandma gave her to play tea party with.  On the tray there was only a single slice of wooden “bread.”  As she walked in, she was singing quietly — I couldn’t make out the words.  She sat down and laid the tray on the floor in front of her.  Clasping her hands and closing her eyes, she rocked back and forth as she sang, “Pray for the Jesus bread! Pray for the Jesus bread!”  Then she plucked off an invisible piece of bread and handed it to me, and put the slice into her own mouth.  When she took it out, she was singing, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for we share the Jesus bread.”

To such belongs the kingdom of God.