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Communion Bread like Chex-Mix: Snacking on the Eucharist

I was sitting in an afternoon class. It was the end of spring, when the weather loses its freshness and slumps into limp humidity, and the air in the room felt close and hot, uncomfortably similar to that of a middle-school gym. I was titling my page of notes for the day when movement caught my attention: a few rows ahead of me, a student pulled a paper-towel-wrapped loaf of bread from a backpack.

Speaking as one with her finger on the pulse of these things, I can say with certainty that the loaf consumption of college students is generally nil. We’re a slice of society which prefers our bread a bit more “done,” fashioned into a slice of toast or a hamburger bun or, at the very least, a ham sandwich. But every month at JBU, you can see people strolling about holding half a loaf of white bread—because, every month, we serve communion, and students snack on the leftovers.

In class, I stared as this person deconstructed the bread, ripping off airy white hunks and munching on them. And—I cannot tell a lie—I cringed. I squirmed in my seat; I choked down the feeling of wrongness swelling in my throat, thinking, Communion bread has no place in a sticky college classroom. I’ve held doggedly on to that conclusion, brooding as people scooped up the bread after chapel, wincing to find a picked-over loaf abandoned on a table, its soft inside scraped out, the unwanted crust slumped like a ribcage on a crumpled towel from the bathroom. There was something off-putting, almost macabre, about it, like finding a child’s doll with the head cut off or mice gnawing on a wedding dress. I once saw a half of communion bread speared on a tree branch outside the cathedral, bobbing slightly in the breeze. It was like a scene from a nightmare. I wanted to scrub my eyes with soap.

“But it’s just bread!” you may protest. Perhaps that’s true. I’m unqualified to speak to the different interpretations of communion, so I won’t try. At more sacramental churches, leftover elements—the bread and wine—are disposed of in set ways, eaten by the pastor or distributed to the sick or poured into the ground, never down the drain. Less liturgical traditions hold less rules about leftover elements; their disposal is up to the pastor. JBU, according to the Google search I did twelve seconds ago, is “interdenominational,” so we haven’t established rules regarding sacraments.

But, in not thinking of our communion practices, we’ve made a bit of a mess of things. So we can snack on communion bread—but why would we? We can run roughshod in graveyards; we can graffiti monuments; we can draw mustaches on paintings, but why would we squander our time ruining things? I tend to think life is more . . . pleasant, honestly, if we maintain a degree of reverence for signs and symbols. Why would we want to smear everything with our smudgy, worldly fingerprints? Why not leave some things untouched, symbols of things far beyond our reach? Humans will always desecrate hallowed and lovely things, of course—people chip noses off the Pietà (this guy) and burn flags and steal the Declaration of Independence, but you and I don’t have to be those people. When we treat the communion bread like Cheez-Its and Chex Mix—like something to take the edge off before lunch—we drag it down to our human level and sit on it, squashing all the sacredness it’s meant to remind us of. It hits me a little too close to home to see bread, over which we’ve said, “This is my body; given for you,” stripped and broken and lying on a table. Or worse—pierced through the side, suspended and swaying from a tree. I don’t want to preach at you, because I love a good loaf of bread like the next girl, but I want you to pause and think of what you’re representing when you bury the dregs of communion in your JanSport. We need things in the world to remind us of things higher and deeper and wider than our grubby paws can grasp, and communion bread and communion wine—one of the few sacraments we Protestants claim!—surely merit that reverent treatment.

I also want to wag a finger at myself, though—and at anyone else who tends to mutter complaints at the bread-eaters. When I sit in a classroom and gripe that communion bread doesn’t belong there, I’m being an out-and-out heretic. Burn me on the quad—or at least tongue-lash me for being ridiculous. My mutterings show my inner value system is cockeyed, for Christ came to earth embodied; he took on the flesh and sweat and off-putting parts of being human; he didn’t separate things heavenly from things beneath. The Lord’s body didn’t—and doesn’t—solely occupy high-ceilinged cathedrals. He came, rather, to the the gas-station bathrooms and muggy classrooms of the world. And thank heaven for that.

So, I sincerely hope we can summon up some ceremony in our treatment of communion. Please don’t skewer the bread on tree branches or leave it lying around half-eaten. Think before you chow down on leftover loaves for a mid-morning pick-me-up. But, next time I see a wrinkled bathroom towel wrapping the sign of Christ’s body, I hope it leads me less to grumbling, more to praise. For “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory”—his glory in high places and holy spaces, in animal troughs and stinking crowds and sweaty classrooms. Hallelujah.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not claim to reflect the opinions or views of the Defendant or its staff members.

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