This is My Low-Carb Body, Broken for You
Is the communion table becoming more about personal preference than church unity?

Imagine the scene. Jesus has gathered with his followers in the upper room. He takes the bread, breaks it, and gives thanks. Then he says, "This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me." Then, in the same way, he takes another loaf and says, "This is my low-carb body which is given for you South Beach dieters." And then he takes another loaf and says, "This is my gluten-free body which is given for you?."

You get the idea.

Over a century ago, many American churches began to abandon the use of fermented wine in communion in favor of grape juice (much to Charles Welch's delight). Today, most evangelicals give little thought to the substitution. It's just the way it is. But last Sunday I was unexpectedly jarred into reconsidering the nature of the communion elements when the bread, and not just the cup, departed from tradition.

I sat down after preaching the sermon and another pastor began to lead the congregation in partaking of the Lord's Supper. He invited people to come forward, receive the cup, and tear a piece of bread from a single large loaf. The use of a single loaf, he explained, was a symbol of our unity in Christ. (This metaphor, by the way, dates back at least to the Didache from the first century.) But then he added something unexpected. Gluten-free crackers would also be available for anyone unable to eat the bread.

The additional comment caught me, and many other congregants, off guard. It just seemed really odd, even out of place, amid the liturgy of the table. The sacredness of the moment was lost as we were all jolted back to contemplating individual needs and preferences rather than our collective unity in Christ. The remark deconstructed the symbolism of unity the pastor was trying to convey with the single loaf.

Now, before you unleash the Gluten Gestapo on me for being insensitive to those with serious allergies, let me explain myself. I happen to be friends with a woman in the church with Coeliac Disease who must avoid gluten in her diet. I recognize that it is a significant medical issue for a growing number of people. And I certainly don't think they should be prevented from participating in the Lord's Table. (I've heard that some churches encourage those with medical restrictions to bring their own bread, pass it to the officiate for blessing, and then partake. That seems both reasonable and less distracting from the symbolism of the traditional communion liturgy.) But at what point should the dietary constraints of a few be imposed upon the many? And when should these needs be addressed and incorporated into the liturgy of the Table?

Displaying 1–10 of 29 comments

Donna

August 14, 2008  5:37pm

No comments about gluten, but your article brings up another issue pertaining to unity in communion. To be biblical, we need to eliminate the erroneously-used word "broken" in our communion services. (It does not appear in the Greek in I Cor. 11:24; the KJV translators erroneously stuck it in.) Jesus' body was not "broken" and that's critical. John's Gospel accents this (19:36)pointing out how Jesus'crucifixion details fulfilled the O.T. command/prophecy that no bone of the Passover Lamb be broken. (The point was, Jewish Passover participants couldn't separate themselves from others by sending Gentile dwellers in their house off with a leg of lamb to celebrate separately.) The foreshadowing Passover meal was a community meal, just as the Passover sacrifice was a community sacrifice.

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judi

July 31, 2008  4:21pm

Followers of Christ who suffer from Celiac Disease may feel as though they have been exiled from participating fully in the Lord's Supper due to the disease, not preference. Collective unity around the communion table might be achieved if one of the following occurs; 1.Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ answers the prayers of healing for those who suffer from Celiac Disease. 2.The church becomes the hands of Christ reaching out and serves gluten free bread to all believers who participate in the sacrament. By thinking with my heart, if I have offended anyone, please forgive me.

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Ellen

June 13, 2008  12:48pm

I have a seminary friend who ministers to street children and their families in Central Asia recall a story where her volunteers after a particularly trying day felt the need to unify and take communion together. All they had available was KoolAid and cake leftover from a party they gave to the children. She remarked that it was one of the most meaningful communion services she had ever had. We get too hung up on the external and don't consider that wherever our treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will be.

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Bill

June 11, 2008  2:21pm

As another Anglican here, I am also very intrigued by the responses. Wow!

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ted

June 11, 2008  10:51am

Much of today's church is planned by personal preferences rather than biblical principles. How can I take the teaching of Christ and make it more palatable to myself and my friends? How can I make communion more to MY liking? Does God ever get offended when we choose preference over principle? One year at summer youth camp, our senior higher were asking to have a communion service before we closed camp. It wasn't in our original planning so out of necessity we celebrated communion with potato chips and pepsi. God, I am sure, was delighted!

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sd2

June 10, 2008  4:33pm

Well, really, what did we expect when every OTHER facet of "how we do church" these days is driven by catering to consumers...the music, the seats, the watered-down, "what is God going to do for me?" teaching, the coffee bar in the foyer, etc., etc.??? Not that there's necessarily something WRONG with having some of these things, but they are consumer-driven. Given all of that, why wouldn't people begin to expect that we'd tailor even communion to meet their individual needs? I understand (kind of) the validity of a need for special bread or juice/wine for extreme cases, but surely there have been these kinds of cases for hundreds of years and people either brought their own or abstained. Why all of a sudden do people believe that it is the church's job to accommodate their personal choices? Because the church has spent the last 25 years doing just that! On the other hand, I agree with some others who have said that, really, what we eat or drink for communion is far less important that the attitude of the heart that goes with it. In many churches it's just a ritual that has lost any meaning whatsoever, and that is a lot bigger issue than what kind of bread we use.

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Tim

June 10, 2008  11:57am

"I wonder if our first step down this slippery slope was the move away from a communal chalice to those ubiquitous communion cups" Not hardly. There are far greater problems with believers practicing communion than the elements or cups they choose to use or complain about using. Do you think believers in juggles of Irian Jaya must use only certain elements or cups to truthfully obey the teachings? Believers self-centered thinking is driven by a weak, self-centered institutionalized system of church where 85% of "giving" is focused on hired experts and special buildings for crowd oriented gathering to make the meeting easy - preparation free and personal expression free - for the givers. Giving isn't giving until it goes beyond the giver! The system mocks the very essence of a giving God. The ceremony of the Eucharist or whatever you want to call it is nauseating to God when believes selfish and shallow behaviors 24/7 contradict it. To obey is better than ceremonial details for remembering what you mock with your life.

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nathan

June 09, 2008  12:05pm

Tim, Or why not do the work of planning the whole service around the Eucharist?

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Tim

June 09, 2008  10:25am

This last month we had matzah bread and we did a little thing on the symbolism of the passover meal and communion and the things they share in common. Usually it's just grape juice (we are baptist) and some very stale waffers. I agree with the person that posted about us just tacking it on the end of the service. I think next month I might put it in the middle. What is sad though is that so much of what we do in church today is aimed at making sure no one is offended and that everyone is happy.

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Micah+

June 09, 2008  9:38am

Todd Burus said: "Offer glutton free..." Anyone else catch the irony? :) As an Anglican, I'm pretty intrigued by the responses here. Thanks to everyone for sharing.

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