Monday, April 25, 2011

Unleavened Bread

It was inevitable.  As soon as I removed the cloth that was covering the loaves on the communion plate, one of my friends asked, "You got any syrup to go with them pancakes?" 

They weren't pancakes, but some loaves of freshly-baked unleavened bread. I had baked them earlier that morning. (Well, actually, I'd cooked them on my pancake griddle, but that's beside the point.) 

I've been privileged over the years to share communion with many different people and in many different congregations, each with its own traditions and interpretations of what communion means and how it should be served.  This was the first time, however, that I had hosted such a meal, and I'd given careful thought to assembling the elements of the meal. 

For me, there is no question that the first communion, known as "the Last Supper," was celebrated with unleavened bread.  The biblical reason for my belief is this: Jesus and his disciples were sharing a Passover meal (Matthew 26:17-19). The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which began with Passover and lasted a full week, was a time when God commanded that no bread with yeast be made or eaten (Exodus 12:14-15, 23:15, 34:18, etc.), and the fact that He established this as an "everlasting ordinance" for his people tells me that Jesus and his followers were eating unleavened bread at the Last Supper. In other words, when Jesus told us to "do this to remember me" (Luke 22:19), the bread in his hand was unleavened bread.  For that reason, I believe that when we "do this," we should also be eating unleavened bread.

There is a symbolic reason for this as well.  Biblically, yeast is often used to represent sin. The holiest of the Temple sacrifices - the burnt offerings, guilt offerings, and sin offerings - were never to be mingled with yeast (Leviticus 2:11, 6:17).  Jesus himself used this metaphor when he told the disciples to beware of "the yeast of the Pharisees" (Luke 12:1), and Paul also warns against "the yeast of sin and wickedness" (1 Corinthians 5:8).

As I was making the bread, I gained an even deeper appreciation for the symbolism involved.  First, the ingredients are simple: wheat flour, olive oil, salt, and water. 
wheat flour: In the gospel of John, Jesus speaks of his coming death and compares it with a grain of wheat (John 12:24).  In order for wheat to become flour, it must not only fall to the ground, but must be totally crushed, just as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 53:5, 53:10).
olive oil: Olive oil was used in the bread offerings presented to God in the Temple (Leviticus 2:4).  Olive oil was also used to fuel the Temple lamps and thus symbolizes Jesus as the Light of the World (John 8:12).  Furthermore, olive oil was used to anoint kings (1 Kings 1:39), reminding us that the bread we are eating is the body of our King.
salt: Most people are familiar with the statement Jesus made in the Sermon on the Mount: "You are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13). He also told his disciples, "Have salt in yourselves" (Mark 9:50) when comparing salt with peace, and Paul compared salt with grace (Colossians 4:6).  What fewer people realize is that God commanded that every sacrifice brought to Him be salted (Leviticus 2:13).  [An interesting historical note: the Romans routinely flogged those condemned to crucifixion and followed the flogging by dashing salt water into the open wounds; thus, Jesus also was salted before his sacrifice on the cross.]
water: Until the other ingredients are mixed with the water, they are separate, dry, and inedible. It is the water that turns them into bread. Jesus referred to himself as the source of living water (John 4:10-14, 7:37-38) and said that his followers need to be born from water and the Spirit (John 3:5).
Not only are the ingredients of unleavened bread significant, but so is the process of making the bread.  This hit me really hard as I was kneading the dough, stretching it out (as Jesus was stretched out on the cross), and pounding it flat (as the nails were pounded into his flesh).  After cooking the bread on the hot griddle, I wrapped it in a cloth and laid it in a stoneware bowl (Luke 23:53).  Later, as my friends and I shared in breaking the bread, I was struck by the fleshlike texture of this bread; it didn't crumble, it tore

This whole process, from start to finish, involved me personally in the death of Christ in a way no other communion ever has.  I hope, in the future, to give others the opportunity to share in this experience by inviting them to bake the communion bread with me.

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