Teeny Sips and Stale Crumbs or Hunks of Bread and Mouthfuls of Port?

The communion bread I picked up from the tray was about a tenth the size of my thumbnail, like all the other uniform pieces laying there. The tiny plastic cup I removed from the same tray had a tiny bit of grape juice in it, and if anyone had called it a sip-worth they would have been overstating the case.

So different from my early days as a Christian.

I became a Christian while at Sussex University in England and started attending the campus chapel on Sunday mornings. The gathering was small, and every Sunday they’d invite us to the front to stand in a circle around the communion table to partake together. We’d pass a loaf of bread and tear off chunks, saying to one another, “This is the body of Christ, broken for you.”

Then came the cup. It was a common cup, a chalice really. And it was filled with a very nice port.

Have you ever tried port? It’s awesome. When we passed the cup around and said, “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you,” the only thing that kept me from taking a second – and perhaps third – quaff from that cup was the solemnity of the communion service itself.

But nobody took tiny little sips like you get in those plastic communion cups at a lot of churches. Everyone drank deep, taking a mouthful of good wine to wash down the wonderful bread we’d just shared.

I’m not going to address the issue of wine or grape juice, although that is a worthy subject of discussion.

Instead, I wonder about the symbolism in our communion services when those symbols are reduced (literally) to a tiny plastic cup and an even tinier crust of stale bread. It just doesn’t square up with the gospel accounts of the first communion, nor of the type of feast Christ invites us to share with him in his kingdom. For example:

  • God prepares a table for us in his own house. (Psalm 23:5-6.)
  • He leads us to his banquet hall. (Song of Songs 2:4.)
  • We are to feast at the wedding supper of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:6-9.)

In looking at the Last Supper/First Communion passages and with these other passages to guide us, what do our present symbols used in communion depict? That our God is a skimpy miser who sets a meager table for his people?

I hope that the practice in God’s fellowships and congregations will point people to the abundance we find in Jesus because of his sacrifice for us. Communion is solemn, yes, but it is also a celebration. It is about deliverance and freedom. Jesus himself instituted it all at the great supper of Passover, a celebration of God redeeming his people from the oppressors. It’s a supper full of symbolism, symbols of hearty eating in preparation of traveling with God wherever he leads.

Is this your idea of a feast?

Is this your idea of a feast?

Bread crumbs and a thimble-full of grape juice just don’t seem to say the same thing. God wants us to eat heartily in him. Communion should reflect this.

That's more like it

That’s more like it

Let’s break bread together, share the cup, and celebrate communion.

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18 Responses to Teeny Sips and Stale Crumbs or Hunks of Bread and Mouthfuls of Port?

  1. Adriana says:

    The tiny stale crackers and plastic thimble-full of cheap grape juice has never seemed right to me either, Tim. Thank you for sharing these insights and your memories of your time in England.

    My friend made challah for our small-group once. She was just putting it in the oven when we arrived. During the singing and Bible study time we could smell BREAD BAKING!!! (Oh heaven!) We shared communion in her living room — and it was truly a special celebration!

  2. Aimee Byrd says:

    There’s a lot to think about here. We take the cup and the break the bread to remember Christ’s body and blood shed for us. So it is a holy service, a means of grace even, that Christ has instituted. How does that convey in our service now? In the early church, it was often a part of the love feast, and yet, some in Corinth were lacking in the love (for the body) and overindulging in the feast. But now we have come to barely a sip of grape juice in a plastic cup and the bread part varies (my church does have a nice, sweet bread).
    But we are also looking forward to that great feast every time we partake. Also, the earliest communions had members who actually did eat bread and drink wine with Jesus. They remembered feasting with the Lord every time they gathered. The Lord eats with his people, how cool is that to remember? And he has died for his people. He served them in the ultimate sense.
    Which makes me glad that the elders of our church serve communion to us.
    I wonder if we have reduced it to what it is now out of mere practicality? We are too busy to feast together, and too scared that we will abuse the ordinance. We are also too scared to temp someone to sin with wine, and too scared to spread germs with the common cup. Perhaps we have become too santitized.

    • Tim says:

      The part about being scared of germs has even led one church I attended to have a bottle of hand sanitizer prominently displayed on the table where the servers are handing out the teeny cracker and juice.

      Another – during the winter months – has taken to handing out the juice and crumb in a self contained package, so you have the tray passed and everyone takes a hermetically sealed bread and juice package and then we open them together to partake. No germs, but also no breaking of bread and pouring of the cup at all.

      For Christians, symbolism is supposed to convey God’s grace. I wonder if that’s what we have now in the communion service in these congregations.

      • Erica says:

        I’ve heard of individually sealed packets, one of bread and one of juice. Of course, as one Christian magazine pointed out, halfway through the fourth communion service everyone will die in a ball of fire, because they opened the seventh seal. 😉

        We use a common cup at our church, and not once has anyone come down with something, not even the priest, who has to finish off what is left after the service. I’ve been right behind people with the flu who came to church anyways, and never caught it. One could argue it’s partly due to the alcohol in the wine, but given our track record of never getting sick from it, I suspect it’s mainly God’s power. 🙂

        • Tim says:

          “the seventh seal” – SNORT!

          I’ve wondered the same thing about the common cup and germs, Erica. I can’t recall getting sick when we passed the port there in that little English chapel.

  3. michellevl says:

    Amen! The quarter-of-a-postage stamp cracker and thimble (the size of a quarter of a shot glass) of Biblical Welch’s grape juice is miles away from the Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples. That meal should be giving us our cues about communion.

  4. Jeannie says:

    I totally agree with you, Tim. At our previous church we often had fresh communion bread baked by the pastor’s wife. I remember my daughter (about 3 yrs old) taking a big chunk and saying loudly in the middle of communion, “Fwuffy!”

    I agree with Aimee too about communion being so over-sanitized. Apparently now they have these little packets of pre-measured wine and wafer that you can buy in bulk. I think it’s called “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Jesus!” (ba-dump-bump)

    • Tim says:

      Wish I’d seen your description of the pre-packaged variety before I wrote my response to Aimee, Jeannie. You wrote it much better!

      And on fresh baked bread, that’s how we did it when I was a kid. One wonderful woman got up at 3 am on communion Sunday to bake the bread for our little Presbyterian congregation on the coast of Northern California.

    • Adriana says:

      “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Jesus!”
      (Side-splitting laughter over this! Oh my word. That is FUNNY!)

  5. Aimee Byrd says:

    Thankfully Jesus didn’t come prepackaged.

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