Last week, I was provided an unexpected perspective on communion. On Saturday, my husband remembered that it was his turn to bring the communion items—the bread and the “wine.” We stopped by the grocery store for what we expected would be a quick errand and, instead, spent a fair amount of time in the juice aisle, comparing the ingredients of different brands.
“We don’t want concentrate,” I said. “This one is 0% grape juice!”
“Get Welch’s,” he said. “That’s what we usually use.”
“How many bottles?”
“I think two will be fine.”
“No way two will be enough. Oh, look! The store brand is a dime cheaper.”
“I feel like we should get the brand name…but you’re right, that one is more ounces for less.”
“No cheap grace here…just cheap juice!”
Finally, we made it out with two beautiful loaves of sourdough and several bottles of Welch’s finest grape juice. I am now convinced that the reason we don’t use wine has little to do with temperance and more to do with shopping. If we had this much trouble deciding on grape juice, I can only imagine how many hours we might have spent evaluating what type of wine would best serve our congregation.
As we left, we were given free tote bags. I was thrilled because “free” and “tote” are two of my favorite words. My husband was less thrilled because the tote bag bore a slightly-suggestive vegetable pun. Of course, this was a bonus for me because “pun” is another of my favorite things, but I admit it did feel a bit wrong to carry the communion elements in such a tote.
WE swapped out the bags when we got home. First, though, we forgot the grape juice in the car.
“Can grape juice freeze?” my husband asked.
“Why?” I replied. “Oh…”
We rescued the juice in time to prevent it from freezing, which would have felt like blasphemy but, instead, was just another comical detail.
At church the following day, the communion elements were, at last, looking safely sacred in their baskets and cups. The bread broke without issue and the juice was, thankfully, still in liquid form. And yet, it seemed that we could not escape the earthiness of the sacrament. I played piano as the bread and cup were administered. My husband brought me communion and set it on the piano. I was thankful to be included but could not help but notice the trail of crumbs left behind on the piano’s gloss, nor could I ignore the fact that the morsel I was about to consume had been touched by bare hands and, then, set upon an unwashed surface.
I ate it without thinking any deeper on that subject.
After our second service, having had my double portion, I glanced toward the altar just in time to see an elderly gentlemen snatch an enormous hunk of the bread and eat it in a single gulp.
Now, this was too much. I had wrestled over juice brands, bundled the bread in a less-than-holy bag, saved the aforesaid juice from freezing, ignored the crumby mess upon the piano, and, now, I was watching the bread be unceremoniously consumed by a man who made no apologies for preferring the sacred sourdough to the snacks in the fellowship space.
I am not interested in debating matters of transubstantiation, but, as my husband said, “Buying the communion elements at HyVee is enough to turn anyone Baptist.”
In a way, he is right. I suppose I always knew that the communion bread and “wine” had to come from somewhere, but I always assumed it was somewhere special. Maybe it was purchased from top secret sacrament storehouse, or it fell from heaven on Saturday nights like manna. But no, it is bought in the ordinary manner of bread and juice.
And yet, that is what makes communion extraordinary. When Jesus broke the bread and poured the cup—declaring them his body and blood given for us—he imbued ordinary, mundane things with extraordinary, divine meaning. Sometimes we focus so heavily on the heavenly nature of communion that we forget that it is composed of food and drink, the same bread and juice we eat for breakfast, pack in children’s lunches, share at potlucks. Partaking in communion is a divine act, certainly, but it is also earthy, embodied. Perhaps it isn’t given so that we might transcend ordinary things but that, instead, we view them as signs of the sacred. After all, isn’t that the most basic essence of the sacraments?
In the price of juice, I recall the incomparable cost of my salvation.
In the crumbs on the piano, I recall the crumbs falling from the table in Matthew 5:27.
In the man swiping the last of the bread, I recall David eating the bread of the presence and the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath.
The mysteries of scripture come alive even (and perhaps especially) in these odd, surprising, mundane details—in commonplace communion.