Bread is a theological issue. Jesus is bread. It isn’t just that the bread becomes Jesus but he became bread for us. His body is what he offers to nourish our lives. How does that happen? People who make bread know something of that mystery. The mystery of how yeast works to rise dough, or how the hard grains at the end of a dry stalk mix with liquids and other grains and get pulled and pushed and “rested” and risen and baked to feed the world. Such is bread. However, the gluten that gives bread its elasticity is harmful to people who have a sensitivity to it. Congregations in the United Church of Christ have been having conversations about this and are offering a variety of solutions.
One solution is that there will be two kinds of bread–one with gluten and one without–served at Holy Communion. In 2017 the Vatican prohibited gluten-free wafers and bread as inappropriate for the Eucharist. The Roman Catholic position is that the element served must resemble as closely as possible the ingredients in the bread and the wine Jesus ate at that last meal with his disciples. The Protestant position has always been that we remember that meal as a symbolic act. It’s that position that made it possible for us, a hundred years ago, to change and offer grape juice instead of wine, recognizing that offering wine can hurt alcoholics.
Therefore, just as some churches offer cups with wine and cups with juice they no longer offer bread choices. Old First Church in Philadelphia went to the congregation and asked them what they should do. As a result, they now bless only one bread for their celebration of the Lord’s Supper, gluten-free pita bread. However, gluten-free pita is not something widely available across the country. Bread choices offered in local markets vary depending on where you live.
There are deep theological issues around the Body of Christ. How do you understand the representation of the unity of that body as seen in the bread on the Communion table? Can the Body of Christ be shared in two loaves–or in bread and crackers? Is it a visible sign of an inward truth to show true diversity on the plate, or should the language of one loaf, one body be visibly enacted. These are questions for congregations to think about. They have significance to all our understandings of inclusion and hospitality One may not be “more right” than another. But perhaps our choices should not be mindless. These are good conversations for us to have. They teach us to think about our faith and help us construct a shared vision of what we are about. What about you? How do you feel about the bread of Christ?