At the bishop’s visit to St. Andrew’s last Sunday, we used “real” bread in celebrating the Eucharist. It reminded me of something my son, Dan, said when he was about 4. We went to church one Sunday and came to the altar to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Dan put out his hands and received a wafer, as he always did. This time, the mental wheels were turning as he tried to understand how this tasteless little cracker could be what we said it was –- Jesus himself, given for us. So he turned to me at the rail and said, “Gee, Dad, Jesus sure is crunchy.”
Honestly, I’ve never been much of a fan of Communion wafers. They get high marks for convenience and shelf life, but for me they score fairly low on the “real” scale. It’s a bit of a challenge to imagine myself there with Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper, or sharing in the banquet of the kingdom of heaven, when I eat that thin wafer.
This matters because “real” is exactly what we claim about Jesus’ presence with us in Holy Communion. Although the divine mechanics –- just how it happens –- will always be a mystery, we believe in the doctrine of Real Presence: the idea that Jesus is actually present to us in the consecrated bread and wine, which become for us his own Body and Blood.
Of course, that action is fully completed even when it’s a less-than-hearty wafer we hold in our hands. But in sacramental living, symbolism matters because the outward and visible signs of our sacraments point to a divine reality: the inward and spiritual reality of grace, which is God’s love freely given to us. To the degree we can make those outward and visible signs point more vividly to the real presence of God’s love around us and within us, it’s a good thing.
So, we’re going to use “real” bread on Sunday mornings at St. Andrew's, at least for a trial period. My hope is that if Communion seems a bit more like a real meal, that will help us feel the Real Presence of Christ in our own hearts all the more.