I spent a couple of days in March baking the eucharistic bread for my seminary community. This is a wonderful ministry and I would recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to take part. Why? Because baking bread in the context of the eucharist is a sacred time of sacrifice.
As I was pulling together all the things that I would need to make this bread I considered where the ingredients came from. The recipe I was given was very simple.
- Two types of flour: bread and wheat
- Brown sugar
- Rapid Rise Yeast
Mix the dry ingredients together then add the wet. Roll the dough into a round ball and place into an oiled bowl to let rise for an hour. Then bake for 20 minutes. Simple. However, every ingredient comes from places other than just the grocery store. There are many lives connected to each ingredient taking part in the processing, packaging, and then delivery of those items. How many people took part in just the package of brown sugar? Farmers, factory workers, the graphic designers of the packaging, the buyers and sellers that are involved with product distribution to various stores, and finally, the consumer. That’s a lot for one package of brown sugar and we are truly blessed to live in a country where we can simply go to the grocery store to pick it up.
While I was mixing the ingredients I reflected on who came up with this recipe and I wondered how far back (in years) does this recipe go. I recalled that basic bread recipes go back to ancient times. The first mention of bread in the Bible is in Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” What a great reflection during the season of Lent.
The bread that I made was not unleavened. The Eastern and Western Churches base the use of leavened or unleavened bread on the use and symbolism from Scripture. During the Exodus, Moses told the people that they were not to eat leavened bread because it symbolised the work of God bringing the people out of Egypt. It is a reminder that the Israelites left Egypt without a home to go to but they fled and survived with God’s help. Unleavened bread represents a time of affliction.
“You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread with it, that is, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), that you may remember the day in which you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.” (Deuteronomy 16:3)
The leaven bread, on the other hand, represents thanksgiving and it is sacrificial work of the people. “Besides the cakes, as his offering he shall offer leavened bread with the sacrifice of thanksgiving of his peace offering.” (Leviticus 7:13)
There is tremendous meaning given to bread at various points in the Bible. It is spoken of 315 times in the NRSV Bible. (New Revised Standard Version) It is an important metaphor, symbol and sacrifice because it represents the work of the people. Whether it is leavened or unleavened is not the critical point of its usage in the Eucharist. The memory of Jesus’s sacrifice and the thanksgiving to God are the crucial elements. There is much more theology involved that I am not going to address in this blog post but, I wanted to note a couple of things of theological importance.
I watched the bread bake, I was so nervous about burning the loaves. To see the incisions come into more defined shape was exciting. There was a prayer that was said before I started mixing the ingredients and I thought that this was the moment that the “holy” work of that prayer would come to fruition but, now, I don’t think so.
At the point of baking, it is simply amazing to watch what happens to those simple ingredients and how the interacting elements create nourishment for body and soul.
As I pulled the loaves out of the oven to cool, I considered how this bread was going to serve a whole community. It was a sacred moment for me and I imagine it is for anyone who shares in this type of ministry. The true reward is not here though.
I packaged each one of my “holy” loaves and labeled them by date. I delivered them to the seminary freezer where they would be stored until being used that following week. Done but, not done. One of the sacristans at my school suggested that I be an oblation bearer that week. They said that there is something special about delivering your bread to the table. They were right. It was a special moment to hand my plate of bread to the priest. It was a greater moment of elation to finally see the bread broken and then served to the people. This is where I think my prayer over the process of baking that bread truly came to holy fruition.
Ministry done with a happy heart that wants to do good for God alone brings about the best results. The results are not fully seen but are intertwined in the true essence of cheerful giving and thankful receiving. The spirit we place into the things we do sends out to the world the body of Christ.
Baking bread made me reflect more on the little things I do each day. I get tired. I get stressed. I don’t always do what is perfect because I am human. For a time of baking bread, however, I thought about keeping my focus on God. Not doing things for the sake of my own glory but, to do because of what has been done for me. “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) Glory to God always.