By David Williamson.
At the communion or eucharist table, when and where does God enter the scene? An Anglican theologian/apologist raised this question as he considered the elements on the Lord’s Table. When we consider what the physical elements of communion actually are, it is an important question for thinking about faith and work.
The bread that is broken and the cup that is shared comes to the table through the work of many people. In the Anglican tradition, the bread and wine are presented as the “gifts of the people.”
The bread is planted by farmers today, with the help of sophisticated tools or instruments designed and produced to enable the seed to be planted at the right depth, and covered by the right amount of soil. Through the growing season, that seed germinates into a growing, and eventually a mature, plant. Along the way it may receive fertilizer – scientifically engineered – and water – whether naturally through rain, or irrigation, or both.
Eventually it will be harvested, sent to a miller, processed, and made into wheat that can be shipped to a baker. Using his or her tools and skills, the baker kneads and shapes it, making it ready for baking in an oven set at the proper temperature.
Has God entered the process yet? If so, when, where and how?
After baking the bread, it is cooled, wrapped and delivered, usually to a distribution center, and then shipped on to a retail outlet, usually a local grocery store. There it is displayed on a shelf, usually in the bakery section, and made available for purchase.
Has God entered the scene? Through what process?
In addition to the farmers, bakers and grocers, truckers have been involved, along with various sales representatives responsible for marketing. Money folks have covered the financial side of this complex business journey. Many moving parts, many people and processes bringing the bread to the shelf in the market, and then to the communion table.
Has God entered the process yet? Do the people who got the bread this far even know what the bread is going to be used for?
The pastor or steward prepares the bread and brings it to the communion table, where it is made ready for the communion (eucharist) service. Liturgically, you could say God enters the picture when the pastor or priest prays God’s blessing over the elements. That is when they outwardly “become the gifts of God for the people of God.”
Is that when God enters the scene? Through a particular prayer? Where has God been on this journey so far?
Was God present and active in the process of planting, nurturing and harvesting the mature wheat? Was God present in the shipping through truck and truck driver, all the way to baker and store, to customer and then to communion table?
Who was involved? Farmers, millers, truck drivers, bakers, marketers, business and financial advisors, in their everyday “ordinary” work – all involved in the bread of the communion table that will become for us, the “body that was broken.”
Can Christian worship, can the gifts of the table, affirm each person and process along the way?
And “the cup that was poured out” goes through a similarly complex (and probably mostly unknowing) journey by the time it sits on the sacred table, representing the blood of Christ shed for us and for the world. The grape bushes were planted and cared for by vintners. They were harvested, processed, bottled and shipped to stores (neighborhood or “church supply” stores) and made available for “holy communion.” So many people involved – to say nothing about the design and manufacturing of trucks, modern food markets, etc.
Has God been involved in the silent (and probably unknowing) participation in all of this?
Each element comes to the table and is presented as an offering of the people to God, and then through God to us, as sacred reminders and participation in God’s sacred work.
Alan Richardson wrote: “Here is the perfect symbol the unity of work and worship…the strange unbreakable link that exists between the bread that was ‘won by the sweat of man’s face’ and the bread of life that is bought without money and without price.” (The Biblical Doctrine of Work, p. 70)
If we look closely behind the scenes, I think God has been present and working through and through, all along the way. His presence is made tangible in the blessed eating and drinking of the broken body and shed blood. God is present in every part of the process – invisible, but present, Christ is in the work of lots and lots of people. He is an unbreakable link among us all.