‘While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.’ Mark 14:22-23
Both in church and in prison recently I’ve thought to myself how easy it is as a minister from a Free Churches tradition to miss out on the simple meal of remembrance Jesus called us to. But two things strike me here; firstly how simple is this meal really, and secondly just how much we really do miss out? The Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, Communion or Breaking Bread together service naturally draws us towards the symbolism, perhaps the sacrementalism, the very act of remembrance, and the presence of the Trinity in this meal. When I share communion in prison I am drawn time and again to the willingness with which Jesus shared this event with one who has been so often vilified over the years, his betrayer Judas.
Over the years many theologians have discussed the fellowship gathered together to meet with their Lord in a special act of remembrance. Arguments have flown about the nature of the elements and their meaning during the service, who can and cannot administer which parts of the service, the effects on the participants of not taking Jesus’ call to recognise him seriously and so on. However recently I’ve been drawn to think several times about Jesus calling us to do this simply because it is another thing that is good for us, drawing us closer to him, to his Father, and to the Spirit.
Bread and wine – simple, yet hugely complex elements. My brother-in-law has recently taken up the hobby of wine-making, and anyone looking at the spreadsheets he has created to help him monitor the progression of his creations would conclude that this is anything but simple. And anyone who has watched Paul Hollywood dissect a piece of bread on bakeoff would again know that there is more to this flour and yeast combination than meets the eye! Collaboration with the natural processes of fermentation to my untrained eye certainly has something of the mysterious about it.
The transformation of hurting people too has something of the mysterious about it. Why is it that some whom we work with seem to ‘take’, and some seem to need more time to develop? Why do journeys of faith, seemingly so secure as they approach the prison gate suddenly seem so fragile in the hours following release? And how does God take what some may see as a hopeless soul and change this into a glorious life lived fully. In prison chaplaincy we do see all of these, and every time the outworkings are in my mind mysterious. Both good news and bad news stories seem to me to have the mysterious element about them; the same element that takes the ‘normal’ elements of fermented grape and baked wheat to give us a way to meet Jesus together.
As we meet around the elements of the bread and wine, we meet together the Trinity in relationship. The Father sending his son, Jesus’ obedience in leaving the glory of heaven and submitting himself to death on the cross, and the ongoing work of the Spirit in the power of the resurrection. In the substance of the bread and the wine, the right ingredients, taken through the right process and eaten in the right mindset bring us closer to our creator, and in this mystery we are changed.
The Institute of the Study of Happiness in Copenhagen (yes, there is such a place!) has recently concluded that eating together is one of the most common and universal elements which leads people to a better sense of wellbeing. It does us good. How much more potential does eating together in the conscious presence of the triune God have? As I say, maybe this is simply another thing that Jesus calls us to because he knows it does us good.
Let us not miss out on those things that do us good. No wonder Jesus broke bread and gave thanks.
Secretary for Prison Chaplaincy and Free Church Faith Advisor