In This Loaf and Cup

By Cathleen Chittenden Bascom

This Lent, some of us have been studying the Eucharist — our worship service — piece by piece and step by step. This week, we focus on the very heart of Christian worship:

The real Jesus took real bread and wine and identified himself with it. …a remarkably simple ritual gesture done by a man who was facing death. And just as the man’s death was to affect the way millions would live, so his gesture at that last meal shaped the way they would worship.  (Ted Guzie, Jesus and the Eucharist)

If we look closely at the Eucharistic prayer on page 362 of the Book of Common Prayer, we get in very succinct form some theological understandings of the Eucharist. “Holy and Gracious Father, in your infinite love you made us for yourself…” One of the first things that this loaf and this cup is the Creation.

I had ridden a slow train from Florence through wheat fields in the September sun. The young women studying to be nuns spent part of every day working in the gardens and vineyards of the old, retired nuns. I learned that wine from those vines eventually ended up on our table and, also, in Communion services in that spot near St. Francis’ first church.

When Jesus broke bread and blessed the cup, he did what religious Jews did and do at an evening meal:

No dish was eaten without a prayer of thanksgiving or blessing — a berakah — which the host or the leader of the group said over each kind of food as it was served. Near the beginning of the meal, for example, the host took bread and broke it saying, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, eternal king for bringing forth bread from the earth.” If wine was served, each person would bless their own cup every time they refilled it saying, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, eternal king, for making the fruit of the vine.”

What is in this loaf and cup? The Creation!

Every time we partake of them, we give praise to God our Creator!

The Eucharistic prayer goes on to say, “…and when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil, you in your mercy sent Jesus Christ, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you…”

What is in this loaf and cup? We are!

That God chose to use bread and drink as the anchor of worship acknowledges our humanness — we need to eat and drink, and Jesus meets us there. Christ meets us in our needs.

When one of our sons was a newborn, he wouldn’t eat, he had trouble suckling. At eight days old, the doctor had us rush him to the big children’s hospital in Chicago. We were terrified and in shock. But in the middle of the night — using a teeny, tiny bottle — he got the idea. I sensed a presence there; a presence I believe was Christ. But — although it was for us — I also felt that it was much more about all of those children! Some of them very sick — like the two-year-old next to us with congenital heart problems.

Christians believe that there is a presence in suffering and need. That in our human frailty we can know God’s presence and love.

What is in this loaf and cup? We are!

All of humanity, and Jesus is with us.

“He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.”

When has someone sacrificed for us?

Anyone give up a seat for you when you were really tired? Or moved on the airplane so you and your family could sit together?

Anyone ever work long hours at a menial task so you could go to college?

I think of a woman I knew in our last parish. She removed herself from an abusive marriage; raised four children and sent them all to college. She lived what I thought was a TV cliché. She worked all day with troubled teens at a special school, but at nights, she stuffed newspapers or made Dutch letters in Pella and cleaned our church on Saturdays.

Anyone ever known someone who died for the sake of something good?

Christians after the age of martyrs would celebrate the Eucharist at the tombs of loved ones and leaders who had given their lives for the faith. Christians believe that in succumbing to the Cross, Jesus made a sacrifice that had the effect of making love stronger than evil and overcoming death forever. Smart people will notice that I jumped over a phrase: “in obedience to your will” (I have a hard theological time that a Father would require death from a loved son). Jürgen Moltmann — one of the best theologians of the last century — has helped me by highlighting that God, Creator of the Universe, dies on the Cross with Christ, in Christ, as Christ. A mystery — God meets humanity and evil in death and brings life. The whole Trinity is in this Eucharist.

The Creation, humanity, the presence in suffering of the Holy Trinity — all of this is in this loaf and cup!

The Rt. Rev. Cathleen Chittenden Bascom is the X Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas.

Countdown to GC80 Opening Gavel


Online Archives