Once a month, I get together with a group of colleagues, and we talk about our lives, and then we share a spiritual practice. This month it was my turn. We were going to make communion bread and then have a small communion together. For me, making the communion bread is a spiritual practice, and I wanted to share this with my friends.
As it happens, I have some experience with making communion bread. All last year, I made the communion bread for Tuesday chapel at Wesley Theological Seminary. This is because I made a comment during a meeting once. I asked the chapel elder if we’d be having better bread this year for communion (we’d had pita bread most of the time the year before), and she asked in return if I was going to make it. I told her I could do that, and that became my job for the academic year.
I realized I could make this bread in a half-hour on Tuesday mornings, and the bread would be so very fresh, and sometimes still warm for chapel. I would pray and meditate on things as I made it. I would consider how my hands were touching this bread that would feed the entire congregation. And then an interesting thing started to happen. When I was sitting in the congregation during the communion service, I would wait for the moment of the fracture. This became the most important moment for me.
The fracture is when the celebrant holds the bread up and breaks the bread in two in front of the congregation. I score the bread when I’m baking it, so it always breaks cleanly in two, and this started becoming the moment I would wait for.
Communion means a lot to me anyway, because of my deeply Jewish roots (communion recalls the covenanting ceremony on Mt. Sinai), but I could write a whole paper on that. In fact, I did write a whole paper on that. So I’ll just tell you that communion already meant a lot to me before I started baking the bread, but now I was also helping to feed the congregation. This became a ministry.
So yesterday I shared my joy, my ministry of bread baking with my friends. We went into the kitchen at the church where we were meeting, and I taught everyone how to use the recipe that I’ve been using (which is Luther Seminary communion bread), and we made it. But it happens that yesterday, we had a lot to talk about first. That’s how things go sometimes. We talk about how things are going, and sometimes that takes a lot of time. And that’s important. And yesterday, that part took a lot of time. And then we ate lunch. And then we didn’t have a whole lot of time to make the bread and to have the communion service.
What that meant for us was that we ended up having our brief communion service about two minutes after we pulled the bread out of the oven. It was hot bread. And it was a brief service. A confession, passing of the peace, and the words of institution. Then I picked up the top loaf – still hot – not too hot to touch, but hot, and held it up for my friends to see, and broke it. And then it happened. My favorite moment in the communion service – the fracture – the bread broke perfectly – and steam poured forth, rising up into the air.
Oh my. Here’s another thing. Lately I’ve noticed that when I watch candles burn in a worship service, or the chalice flame (Unitarian Universalist churches usually light a flame in a chalice), I become entranced by the smoke that rises from the flame. It rises up — aliyah – to go up or to rise in Hebrew. This word is tied up with ritual and giving back to God. It’s tied to ritual sacrifice, (the smoke rising up to God), and also the honor of saying the blessing before a Torah reading.
So what is the smoke? What is the steam?
Ruach is God’s holy breath – the breath that breathes life into the world. The Holy Spirit that live-in the world. God’s breath – all over the world – in each and every one of us. The holy wind. I picture the steam as a visible sing of the Holy Spirit – God’s breath, rising up from the bread and returning to God. Is it the release of the Holy Spirit? Jesus says during the words of institution, “this is my body, broken for you”. Is it God’s holy breath that we share, that we offer back to God?
The gift of hot communion bread that releases steam is a wonderful gift. We can’t always have it hot like that, but the gift is there, whether we can see the steam rise or not. God gives to us, and we offer back. It’s a holy thing.
That’s it. That’s my mite.