Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom; for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.Didache chapter 9, first century CE
Communion has always been one of the most consistent places where I have experienced God. Sometimes it is in the confession where the liturgy provides the words I need to be convicted and experience forgiveness Often it is in the act of humility, cupping my hands, begging, for the morsel of bread that communicates the very real presence of God in my life. When I entered ministry, I felt God’s presence from the other side of the table. In telling the story, tearing the bread, and offering the cup, I was embodying Christ. Every Sunday there was a sense of inadequacy. The shoes I was standing in for were too big; the love I was proclaiming was too great. Yet I was called to be in that role, and the gap of holiness I felt behind the Table called me into a deeper relationship with God.
While these are my own personal reflections on the sacrament, Communion is not a solitary activity, but a work of the church. It is a gift that links us as followers of Christ from the first Supper before Jesus’ death to the final day when we “feast at his heavenly banquet.” The Table where we gather extends to caves and prisons, cathedrals and hospital rooms, and everywhere that bread was blessed and broken in the name of Christ. Communion calls us out of ourselves and gathers us together. I love the image quoted above of grains once scattered and separated now unified and transformed. While it originated early in the church these words are still a part of many liturgies inviting people to the Table. They present Jesus, as the Great Baker milling and kneading a Church out of the fruits of the fields and vines in this world.
During the pandemic, the part of worship I missed the most was Communion. As we brainstormed various ways to rethink the sacrament, I pitched the idea of bites of bread that would contain all the elements. It was rejected (for good reasons), but the idea stuck with me throughout the challenging season. I would occasionally find myself looking into various options and ideas, but never had the time to experiment fully. While there were many examples of Communion breaking through the isolation of the pandemic, my heart grieved as so many of our necessary health decisions also separated the community from each other. The social distancing, masks, gloves, and hermetically sealed elements were constant reminders of the barriers between us. As the virus has largely receeded and these interventions have ended, there remain things that divide us. As Communion allowed God to overcome the physical barriers, the sacrament still provides us with an opportunity to permit God to bring us together to work for the Kingdom that is greater than anything we can strive for of our own devising.
For this Lenten bread journey, I decided to break out the idea and see what would happen. The result is this grape and wheat berry studded focaccia. Focaccia is a very versatile and surprisingly easy bread to make. The recipe I ended up with requires no kneading, however, it does require advanced planning to accommodate the 12-24 hours in the refrigerator. The grapes are lightly covered in olive oil and when they roast on top take on a slightly wine flavor that is delicious. The wheat berries, which are totally optional, require first soaking overnight, boiling and then straining in order to be edible, however, they represent the scattered grains in a way that brought me joy to create. If you don’t want to go through all that trouble for a metaphor, you could leave it out, or substitute pine nuts just as well.
As the pandemic recedes into the history books and we move into what feels like the first Easter of our new world, this loaf of bread reminded me that community and worship are things that we should not take for granted. In the upper room, Jesus gathered his disciples around him because he knew they would need each other to grieve his death. In the garden, Jesus’ first command to Mary was to proclaim the good news to others so that she would have a community to help proclaim that news to the world. There are lots of things that can still divide us from each other. However, it is our choice if we want to remain scattered in the fields or if we want to allow the Great Baker to gather us and transform us into a means of grace in this world.
Recipe adapted from: Alexandria Stafford