Bread of Life
by Margaret D.
St Alban’s Episcopal Church
August 15, 2021
John 6: 51-58
“I am the bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”
We’ve heard this phrase a lot in the last few weeks. And it certainly points to a central element of our liturgy. But it seems we don’t talk very often about what it means to us.
I didn’t join the church until I was 50. I attended Sunday School as a child, and I knew some of the stories, but I was never baptized, so I had never participated in communion. I don’t remember anyone talking to me about what it meant. In the 20 years I’ve been at St. Albans, I have read, listened, and discussed. I’ve heard many people’s stories of their faith histories and talked over many passages from scripture. But I haven’t heard much about what communion means to individual people. So, for today, I’ve asked several people to share their thoughts on the subject, and I will share mine.
My thoughts about communion are still evolving. Early on, I had a very powerful experience. I had come to church feeling stressed and resentful about something that was happening that week. I think I must have known, at some level, that it wasn’t really a case of the universe attacking me so much as my inner child having a temper tantrum. So, I prayed, during the service, to let go of these negative feelings. They were stubborn, but just as I knelt at the communion rail, I felt some inner equivalent of a balloon popping, and the resentment evaporated, replaced by feelings of peace and joy. I’ve never again had anything quite as dramatic as that happen, but it was enough. On a more intellectual level, I understand communion to be a symbolic expression of our unity as the Body of Christ. For me, that was never quite enough. I guess I was still asking, but what does that mean? Then, a year or two ago, I heard Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, speaking about his book, The Universal Christ, in a podcast. He was asked if he believed that the bread and wine were the literal body and blood of Christ. He said (more or less) yes, but in the sense that he believes that Christ is the divine in everything. In us, in trees, flowers, and rocks. So, of course Christ is in the bread and wine, or the wafers and grape juice. Communion, then, is a way of acknowledging that. That spoke to me. And, if I had finished this earlier in the week, as I intended to, I would probably have stopped with that. But, Thursday evening, in the Ben group, we were discussing this Sunday’s gospel, as we always do, and talking about what communion means. There were only three of us present this week – me, another Episcopalian who was raised in a more conservative Protestant church, and a lifelong Catholic. Out of our discussion, we reached a sort of consensus about communion, which I shall attempt to paraphrase: the bread and the wine are parts of Christ’s world. When the priest consecrates them s/he is singling out this particular bread and wine to represent Christ among us. Our part is to consent or agree to this. And then we all come forward, in silence, to partake of it.