"The difference between community and a group of friends is that in a community we verbalise our mutual belonging and bonding. We announce the goals and the spirit that unites us. We recognise together that we are responsible for one another. We recognise also that this bonding comes from God; it is a gift from God." Jean Vanier, in Community and Growth.
"Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." St. Paul, 1 Cor 10:17.
This past Sunday at the Episcopal Center, we used a different kind of bread. Not wafers. Not a fresh baked loaf. Something in between. On the surface, probably not a big deal. An old Episcopal joke is that it doesn't take faith to believe that Jesus is present in the bread at the Eucharist moment so much as it takes faith to believe that the wafers we use are bread! But a friend later asked me about the unusual bread we shared this past Sunday. I told him the story and now realize it might be helpful to share this story with others - both those inside our faith community and outside it.
Last year, we moved the bread and the wine to the back of the church, and I explained the symbolism - how these were the offerings/gifts of the people and that this was our loaves and fishes moment: the offering of ourselves for the blessing of God. I reminded our community that these same gifts would be returned to us, changed. "The gifts of God, for the people of God." In this spirit, I talked openly about my desire to see a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine replace our beautiful cruet and ciborium. "Some people bring bread, others bring money with which bread is bought." In each case, I explained, we understand that the communion to which Christ calls us with the call to offer what we have, symbols of what we do and who we are.
As the year went on, I continued my not subtle hints that if someone wanted to bring homemade bread, that would be awesome. This year, one of our leaders did bring homemade bread! It is not accidental, I think, that she did so this year, because our students have have recently initiated an emphasis on community and self-offering through the sharing of simple, daily tasks - like cooking meals, washing dishes, and baking bread. Through these acts, we have begun to "verbalise our mutual belonging and bonding" in a special way. The change has been palpable. As Jean Vanier says, "Using our gifts is building community."
Then, only a couple of weeks ago, a new member came to our community with severe dietary restrictions. Her first Sunday with us, she was unable to receive. The following week, I found myself preaching, "we who are many are one, because we all share the one bread." The newest member of our community wasn't present at this service, but my heart churned anyway as I said the words.
The next week, of her own accord, and without the benefit of this ongoing conversation, this student offered to bring bread, not just for herself, but for everyone.
In the moments before our Sunday worship with this new bread, the student leaned in toward me and whispered as she handed me the bread, "It may have bits of unexpected crunch. Like a shell."
I smiled and suppressed, for courtesy, a laugh of joy.
A student's homemade gluten-free, vegan bread had just become the latest in a long line of celebrations of this remarkable new year: a community of new creation shaped by the sharing of gifts and the blessing of God as we offer these gifts to our Lord.