At the close of my column in last week’s newsletter, I stated that when it comes to communion how we distribute the elements is less important than that the elements are distributed such that “all are fed.” Something similar can be said about the bread we eat in the communion meal. There is no “right” kind of bread to serve, though individual congregations certainly have their preference. Some serve thin wafers the size of a half dollar. Others, like ours, offers smaller and harder pieces that more resemble pellets of bread.
Our primary founder, Alexander Campbell, believed that something called “the fraction” was important during communion. This referred to the practice of serving people from one single loaf that was broken during the communion service. For instance, as the words of institution were being spoken (“and Jesus took the bread, blessed it, and broke it), the bread was actually broken at that moment. Thereafter, participants would eat a small portion from that original bread broken in the service. This practice of “fraction” (the bread broken into fractions) held theological significance for Campbell. It represented the one body of Jesus Christ, “broken” in death on the cross. Moreover, it simultaneously represented individual members becoming the one body of Christ (the church) through the sharing of one single faith in Jesus Christ.
I was not made aware of this theological significance as a child growing up in a Disciples of Christ congregation. Rather it wasn’t until graduate school that I studied these matters more closely. Yet my home church did practice “the fraction” every week in worship, even without naming it as such. Ours was a small church and members would take turns supplying the bread for the communion meal. The bread was nearly always homemade and the bread baker’s name for that week was printed in the bulletin. My sisters and I would eagerly open the bulletin upon coming to church to see whose turn it was to bring the communion bread. I’m sure we were less than kind with our comments if it was a member who was known to bring an “obscure” bread choice (like rye or some kind of multi-grain option, which to a child’s taste buds, was not that appealing).
My mother, of course, took her turn. Every Monday growing up, my mom baked bread. Hers was a sourdough recipe that used a sourdough culture dating back to a woman from Kansas in the late 19th century. True story. When my mom received the sample culture that forms the basis of sourdough bread, she received the story of its origin that went with it. And the story stated that a woman began that culture, from which my mother’s was eventually spawned, in Kansas in the 1870s. Every so often mom would “feed” the culture, sitting in a big glass jar in the back of the fridge and on Mondays she would take a small portion for that week’s batch of bread. Mom always baked bread in the traditional rectangular-shaped pans, but there was one round pan that she only used for Sunday’s communion bread. It was about half the size of a pie plate and I remember mom place that in a plastic bag, wrapping a twist tie around the end and setting in on top of the bible that she brought with her.
Since I first began receiving communion as a baptized believer in my home congregation, I have had all sorts of communion bread. The same can of said of the three churches I have served as pastor. And all these years later I continue to believe that was introduced to me at an early age. It doesn’t matter what kind of bread is used, only that bread is used in worship. For bread, in whatever form or shape it comes, has a way of connecting us historically, throughout time, to our ancestors, and laterally, to one another, who partake of that same bread with us.
Blessings – Michael