For the past couple of weeks in class the kids and I have been learning how to bake bread. Although I have spent over half my life working with all kinds of food I have shied away from baking. It looked just too complicated, all those different steps involved, all the precise temperatures and measurements. I’ve always been a lazy cook and baking just looked like too much work.
Well, I was happy to find out just how easy it is to make good bread. Like most anything else, all you really need is the right equipment, good ingredients and the patience to learn from your mistakes. The first couple of attempts at making a good German rye would have looked more at home stacked next to a Howitzer instead of inside a wicker basket. The Italian bread turned out pretty good the first time we pulled it from the oven and today we finally produced what is an excellent, chewy and very flavorful seeded two pound rye.
It’s so cool to see how the yeast takes the dough and turns it into something that is literally alive and breathing–before you sacrifice it to the ovens. There are some other foods that serve as hosts for these or other little creatures, resulting in some delicious eating. Cheeses are the most common, some of them sporting visible molds. Then there are the fermented meats and cabbages – sauerkraut, kimchee, some pickles; but many of these are ‘acquired tastes’. But everyone loves bread.
Of course alcoholic beverages are also made by little living organisms as they encounter and thrive upon the natural harvest of the earth. Fermentation in its various forms is responsible for all the beer, wine, whiskeys, vodkas, rums, cordials and fortified drinks that are made. Some of them will even display the telltale effervescence of their active work.
I guess that it is possible that Jesus did not intentionally choose to use bread and wine for the Eucharist. After all, these two ingredients were common staples of the Palestinian people. It was pretty much a given that these two items would be found on the table. Wine was often cut with water, to enhance the dubious qualities of both the water and the wine, but good wine (like Jesus was famous for) was usually served at special occasions. Although we often hear of Jewish unleavened bread, risen dough was also baked and consumed. There were other foods served at the Last Supper, but Jesus used only these two to remind us of his living sacrifice.
I don’t think it was any accident that Jesus turned to bread and wine when looking for a metaphor for his death and resurrection. It’s also no accident that these two foods were served at Jewish holidays. Both bread and wine are the two naturally occurring miracles of the food world. Left alone, both crushed wheat and crushed grapes will invite in living creatures that change both hosts into bread and wine. This is why moistened flour will eventually start to rise on it’s own as it receives the yeast floating in through the kitchen window. Grapes (and many other fruits) will always ferment – in fact, grape juice is more of an ‘artificial’ beverage than Pepsi. Man must work hard to prevent grape juice from turning into wine.
Wheat, crushed, mixed with water and in communion with live yeast grows to become a bread ready to be baked. Grapes, crushed, it’s juices communing with live yeast, turns to wine ready to be drunk. Both bread, wine and yeast work together to become so much more than the sum of their parts. Perhaps we are like the yeast, encountering Christ’s blood and broken body, being taken in and then taking him in to ourselves, we work together with others to raise up his Church. Broken bread and poured out wine, shared by those who remember Jesus as the creator of grass and vines, giving himself to be broken and poured out for our sins – this is what we know as Communion.
What a great gift. Wouldn’t it be nice if, the next time we shared communion, that we served some really good, fresh baked bread? And maybe some good, inexpensive red jug wine? Instead of paper wafers, little cubes of Wonder Bread, Welches grape juice and Christian Brother’s Cream Sherry? Something maybe a bit more aesthetic, a bit more authentic, maybe a bit more…tasty? Instead of little medicine cups perhaps we could try intinction or -what the heck?!- take a risk and share the cup! (We can always offer grape juice for those who cannot or would prefer not to partake of wine.) Perhaps bringing wine back into some Protestant services would cause too much arguing – I don’t know. But there is no reason not to serve some good bread. Jesus chose food for a reason. He probably enjoyed good food. I don’t think it would be too hard for us to give the elements of this meal the respect that they deserve.
And now that I can bake…..