The Agora
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Bread and wine

Bread and wine. Method and type. Such questions.

My earliest memories were of the one cup, and of this one and that one being worried about the germs of another. Sometimes the germ-carrier would take his coughing and sneezing and move to the back of the room, and take the cup last... except for the presiding brother, who always had to be the final one. No relief for him. Too bad: goes with the "territory", I suppose.

Other times the germ-carrier didn't budge, and you hoped that the cup went down your side of the room first, and only to him or her later.

There was, in another place, the brother who always insisted on having the cup given to him last, germs and all, so that he could drain the cup. Was he a "wino"? No, he felt that Jesus' command, "Drink ye all of it", meant that not a drop should be left!

Sometimes the presiding brother seemed indifferent to personal hygiene -- sneezing and blowing one's nose, or worse -- and then handling bread and wine. For a while, Barbara took to leaving "handi-wipes" at the podium, with instructions to the presiding brothers as to why they were there -- thank you very much! A new item added to our presiding brothers' program:

In our new ecclesia, we moved rapidly from one cup to many small cups -- one sister was especially insistent on this: her old ecclesia had always had many cups, and why not? So we changed, and reduced anxiety considerably. This also had the effect of allowing for certain cups (in the very middle) to be grape juice and not wine -- since, over the years, a couple of people asked for this especially.

Barbara, being the efficient table preparer, worked out a scheme for rapid filling of many small cups: using a small squeeze bottle that had once held honey, and was now filled with wine. The squeeze bottle was in the form of a bear: I suppose because Winnie the Pooh so loved honey! My contribution to this: I named the bear: "Nehemiah, the wine-bear" (you gotta think about that one a bit!).


Wine or grape juice? Some years ago, we had an ecclesial "passover" meal -- more or less like the Jews do; that was the point. Of course, everyone participated -- adults and children alike. There was supposed to be four cups of wine (everyone with his or her own cup). Careful preparations were made: pitchers of wine, and pitchers of grape juice for the children. But someone wasn't paying attention, and one little tyke got into the real wine, and polished off several cups. The mistake was discovered when he became especially boisterous in the singing of the traditional passover songs; Mom sniffed his cup and realized the problem; his parents took him home where he slept it off! No lingering effects, apparently: he is a brother today. But he still recalls his first passover meal!


In the new ecclesia, the sort of bread was left to the sister in charge of table preparation, and over the years I've seen a wide variety of types (types of bread, that is, not types of sisters!). A single slice of white bread, a single slice of white bread (no crust -- why the crust should be cut off, I'm not sure), a whole loaf, a whole loaf with the crust removed (now that was a real operation), and Barb's favorite -- which was a small to middle-sized whole roll (just the right size for our group). Of course, some used the unleavened kosher wafers.

Should the bread be broken by the presiding brother? Or should it be broken by each individual partaker? The questions do go on and on, don't they?

Almost certainly, in the upper room, the bread (unleavened) was broken by Jesus, and handed, personally, to each disciple. Much like (dare I say it?) the Catholic priest presents the communion wafer to the individual worshiper. We don't do that. Why?

Which, I guess, brings up the question: Should our service be, as much as possible, like that in the upper room? The first answer might be, "Yes, of course, we ought to get back to the original!" But the follow-up question would be: "But how far back? When does form overwhelm substance? When does 'the right way' submerge 'the right attitude'?" Should we, for example, meet in an upper room? "Of course not; that would be foolish!" one might say. But then another could say, "But that's the way Jesus did it."

Should we only meet in Jerusalem, like Jesus did? That would be closer in one respect to the original. Or should we have breaking of bread only once a year, at Passover time? (I think some churches do this very thing. I hasten to add: not any Christadelphians that I know of.) Or should we limit it to twelve, or thirteen, and should they be only men? And should it be at night? Should we wash one another's feet beforehand? Etcetera. Etcetera.

I remember reading, years ago, about brother Elijah Eze, in Nigeria. He was a single brother, in isolation in a small village, who took the hills and lived in the caves with his fellow villagers during the civil war. The armies swept back and forth, through his village, again and again, and the villagers hid in the caves, and came out at night to find food and water. During this long period (some six months, I think) he spent his days reading his Bible and talking to everyone in sight about his faith... with the effect that -- when the war moved on and the villagers returned to their homes -- there were a fair number of other, new Christadelphians along with brother Elijah.

How did they remember their Lord while in the cave? With water or mango juice instead of wine, and with some kind of roots instead of bread. Would anyone have objected?

I am also reminded of the brother who characteristically spoke of "taking bread and wine" -- but he had an accent that made "wine" come out as "whine". (Some say all Texans sound like that! Maybe so. But this brother REALLY did!). If I've told this before, please stop me... :-) Anyway, whenever I heard him, I couldn't help thinking of the rejoinder: "If we meet together to take bread and WHINE on Sunday, wouldn't it really be better to do our WHINING at home before coming to meeting?"

Unity, of faith and practice, is a precious thing. Surely we should do everything we possibly can to encourage it. Finding a way so that the type of bread we eat, and the type of "fruit of the vine" we drink, does not create disunity... would be a good step in that direction. Eliminating "whining" would also help. Did any of Elijah's new brothers and sisters "whine"?

I have heard of one small group, with individuals from different "fellowships", who meet together regularly... where two plates of bread are available (one for "us", and one for "them"), but only one cup of wine. Why? Because (1) they wanted a sense of fellowship with one another, but (2) some, when they later return to their "home ecclesias", might need to answer the question: "Did you break bread with 'them'?" To which they could truthfully answer, "No" -- while all the time knowing that they had shared the wine (but not the bread) with "them". But then, no one would ever think to ask, "Did you drink wine with 'them'?"

When I think of that, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

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