Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Free Liturgical Advice #2 - Bread

Don't use flat crackers or hard tasteless little cubes or styrofoam-like, melt-in-your-mouth wafers for communion. Use bread—a normal, fresh, tasty loaf of bread.

Yes, use a nice loaf of yeasted bread. Normal bread with yeast is NOT leavened bread.

I don't know how many times I've had to explain this to visitors, especially Presbyterian visitors.

"Why don't you all use unleavened bread for the Lord's Supper?" they ask.

My answer: "We do. What you just ate is unleavened bread."

"But, but. . . it was not a cracker or a wafer, but a normal loaf of bread!"

"Yes, that's true. But it was not made with leaven, but with new yeast. Sour dough bread is made with old leaven. Ours was not."

Let's think about this a little more carefully.

1. The first thing to note is that the unleavened bread is bread made without the old sour "starter" dough that contains the yeast. In normal situations the yeast comes from that starter "leaven." "Leaven" refers to the old, sour reserved dough that contains the yeast. Leaven contains yeast. Leaven is not the same as yeast. Many translations completely miss the distinction.

2. When bread is being made, there are two sources for yeast. First, you can get yeast from the old leaven that you have "reserved." In fact, the yeast must be imported into the "leaven" at the start of the process. When the process begins yeast is cultivated from the lees of wine. Then the yeast is put into the dough. A portion of the dough is used to cook the first batch, but a larger portion is "reserved" in order have the yeast readily available for use in later loaves. This is what is called the "leaven." Today we call it the "starter" dough for sour dough bread.

3. The second way to get yeast is to get it "fresh" when it's cultivated from the wine. Technically, a fresh loaf of bread made with this newly cultivated yeast is NOT "leavened." What this means is that the first bach of yeasted, rising bread that is made with the new yeast is NOT leavened bread. It is yeasted, but not from the sour dough leaven. So technically speaking a loaf made with yeast NOT from the leaven is still unleavened bread. It's new. It doesn't use the old, sour stuff. The bread we use for the Lord's Supper in our church is not sour dough bread. It is not leavened bread. It contains fresh yeast. It is yeasted, but not leavened.

4. There was theological symbolism involved in the use of unleavened bread when the Israelites made their flight from Egypt. They left behind the old, sour world of Egypt and began a new life. It was called "the bread of haste" because they had no time to cultivate new yeast. The process takes time. So they had to eat unleavened and un-yeasted crackers.

5. Once they arrived in the promised land, they started over again with the yeast of God's new world. They would no longer get their "life" from Egypt, but now from the Lord's Spirit. They ate unleavened bread in the wilderness until they could get to the new land, harvest grapes, make wine, and also new yeast.

6. All of this has to do with the Old Creation. One cuts off Egyptian leaven and finds new leaven in the New Land. In between, one eats unleavened bread. The annual Feast of Unleavened Bread seems to be a week long return to the wilderness, the inbetween place. The association of leaven/yeast with the feast of Pentecost makes it clear that by that time new yeast has been found and is being used.

7. So, the general question is whether in the New Covenant we must reenact the history of redemption weekly or annually, or whether that would be the same error as transubstantiationism in the old sense. It seems to me that using unyeasted bread would be like doing animal sacrifices. It was part of what was done over and over until Jesus came and finished it. The new leaven each year gradually fell back and became Egyptian leaven during the year and had to be cut off anew at Passover. But the New Covenant is ongoing, and cannot fall back, because it is guaranteed by the death of Jesus, not by the death of animals. The Spirit-leaven of Acts 2 does not fall back and become Egyptian.

8. Now, if the leaven is thrown out and you are in haste to make bread, then it can be made without yeast. That apparently is what the Israelites did when they hurried out of Egypt. That's why that particular bread was called "the bread of haste." They left behind Egypt (the old leaven) and hurried out to cross the Red Sea. But there's nothing to suggest that we have to eat the bread of haste (unleavened AND unyeasted bread) at the Lord's Table. In fact, Jesus reclined at table and we relax for the covenant memorial meal. The old leaven is gone, so we don't eat sour dough bread. But we do eat newly yeasted bread that represents Jesus new kingdom and the life he gives us at his Table.

9. You should note also that in Israel the bread eaten during the Peace Offering was leavened or yeasted (Lev. 23:17). It is only Passover and the ensuing week that required unleavened bread alone be eaten, and that was not only during the special meal but at every meal for the week. After that, all the bread eaten, including at feasts and sacrifices, was yeasty and leavened. Leavened bread was offered at Pentecost, and leaven is thus associated with the coming of the Spirit, the Yeaster. We live after Pentecost. Go find Dr. Collins's article in the Westminster Theological Journal where he argues that the Lord's Supper is the fulfillment of the Peace Offering. The normal peace offering meal included yeasted bread. The one special one - Passover - did not in order to commemorate the Exodus.

A side note: not every reference to "leaven" in the Bible makes it out to be symbolic of evil or the old world. So the person who says, "I'm sorry, pastor, but I just can't eat this bread for the Lord's Supper because leaven and yeast represent evil in the Bible," is just plain wrong. Leavened bread was a regular part of the fellowship meals at the tabernacle and temple. Sometimes leaven (and the yeast it carries) even represents the healthy influence of the kingdom of God (Matt. 13:33). When you eat yeasty bread at the Lord's Table you are not symbolically ingesting evil. Sigh.

10. Oddly, we object to Romanists when they say (supposedly) that Jesus is recrucified in the mass. But then by using unleavened bread we are really doing something similar: returning to Passover, to the Old Covenant, over and over rather than worshipping in a post-Pentecostal way. I don't want to press this, but it makes sense to me.

So let's stop eating nasty little hard crackers at communion. What kind of feast is that? How can people "taste and see that the Lord is good" when they are wondering about just what that wafer that is stuck to the roof of their mouth is made of.


JATB said...

There are other options besides bread made with yeast and "nasty hard crackers" or those wafers that make styrofoam seem yummy.

First, although matzo today is made with only flour and water, there is nothing in the Bible that says that unleavened bread cannot contain oil or butter. Bread made this way can be more like a tortilla than a cracker.

Also, in Jewish tradition the difference between breads that are allowed during Passover and chametz (leaven) is the process of fermentation: chemical "leaveners" are kosher for Passover because no fermentation takes place. Thus, quick breads (such as Irish soda bread) that use baking powder and/or baking soda are, technically, unleavened, while still being soft and bread-like.

I have a number of really delicious Eucharistic bread recipes on my blog:


Jeff Meyers said...

Yeah, John, but what post-NT Judaism says about kosher is irrelevant. The whole point is the Lord's Supper is the new covenant memorial meal that fulfills and replaces ALL the old meals, not just Passover. This is a major error in many people's minds. The Lord's Supper is NOT simply an extension of Passover. All of the old world covenant meals (peace offerings, manna, etc.) are fulfilled in the NT Supper. All of that old stuff is "leaven." Leave it behind and eat new, fresh bread in the Church. To worry about what Judaism thinks is kosher or not is to live in the wrong era.

Jim said...

You missed how point #8 suggests why Christians today should use Bread without leaven: Like those in the Exodus, we need to make unleanved bread "in haste" because Jesus might come back at any minute.


JATB said...

I'm still back on the "new yeast" idea. I've been looking at I Corinthians 5 today, and the contrast is not between "old yeast" and "new yeast." First, the words are zyme and azymos (sorry, no Greek characters). Zyme means "fermentation", so azymos means "without fermentation." There was no such thing as "fresh yeast" in the ancient world: dough was left out until the "wild" yeasts (fungi) in the air and in the flour (as contaminants) did their work, eating the natural sugars in the dough and causing fermentation (the same fungi that leaven bread also ferment beer). "Fresh" yeast in cake form was not available until 1868, and powdered yeast wasn't introduced until the late 1930's. Besides, the difference between sourdough and yeast bread is not that one is "old" and the other is "new." Yeast is yeast: it's all the same fungus, whether "wild" from the air or from a cake or from dried granules. The reason sourdough has a sour smell is because of the presence of lactobacillus bacteria in addition to the yeast fungi. This "disctinction" between leaven and yeast doesn't seem to exist. LXX translates chametz with zymes and matzah with azymes. There is no third-category "leavened bread that is made with new leaven." There would have been no way to produce such a thing in Paul's day, or even in Luther's and Calvin's.

Using wine yeast in bread making? Was that practiced in the ancient world? Even if it were, again, yeast is yeast, whether it's from the air, from a lump of dough, from a vat of wine, or from a cake or granules.

Besides, Paul is using the language of cleansing the home of all leaven before Passover, because, as he says "Christ, our Passover" (Pascha nostrum) has been sacrificed for us. The image here is undoubtedly that of the unleavened bread of the Passover. No, that is not to say that Passover is exhaustive of the meaning of the Eucharist, but that is clearly what Paul is using here for illustrative purposes.

But my whole point was not to say that we should follow the rules of what is or is not kosher for Passover. My point was that you are drawing an unfair distinction between yeast bread and "flat, hard crackers." Not all unleavened bread is flat or hard: that's all I was saying. Every time you eat banana bread, blueberry muffins, or biscuits, you are eating unleavened bread (no fermentation takes place to make them rise), but they are not flat or hard: at least they're not supposed to be!

The Orthodox have had good reasons, it seems, for using leavened bread all these centuries, and without the mental gymnastics required to come up with a category of "leavened-but-not-leavened" bread.

It's not that I object to using leavened bread at Communion, either. For World Communion Sunday we did just that: I made a typical loaf of white bread, in the traditional American loaf shape, because when most of us pray "give us this day our daily bread," that's what we envision.

But even when we use unleavened bread, it is never "nasty" and it is never "crackers." It is always soft, delicious bread. Unleavened bread is my preference just as pouring is my preference with regard to mode of baptism: it's not that I consider the other modes to be unbiblical. Same thing here. (Although I do see a lot of merit in Aquinas' arguments for unleavened bread in the Summa.)

Jeff Meyers said...

Thanks for the interaction, John. A couple of points.

1. Even if you don't use nasty, dry crackers, that is the "tradition" in our circles and is most often justified with a reference to "unleavened" bread. So my original post didn't apply to you. Sorry.

2. In 1 Cor. 5 Paul tells the church to get rid of the "old leaven." The old leaven. That's a reference to the dough and the old bread made with the dough. They are to get rid of the old so that they can start over with a new batch of dough: "that you may be a new lump." They are a new loaf/lump. But if as you say, that can also simply be a reference to "yeast," then there can be new yeast. Yeast not derived from the old lump or batch. That's my point.

3. Again, the Lord's Supper is NOT merely an extension of the OT passover ritual. It is especially not an extension of later Jewish exta-OT practices. The LS is the fulfillment of all the meals in the covenant meals in the OT. The leaven/unleavened distinction doesn't apply anymore because the circumstances have changed. Paul can apply the Passover stipulations to the church herself in 1 Cor. 5, just as he can apply the story of manna in the wilderness to the same church in 1 Cor. 10. What the church does in the New World at her Table is not to be a tit-for-tat extension of the Passover, the wilderness manna, or the roasted lamb/beef eaten at every sacrifice of peace meal. But applications can be made from these old rituals.

4. I'm not sure about your "preference" language. I think I know what you mean. Yes, baptisms performed by immersion are valid Christian baptisms. Valid. I won't dispute that. But I would say that the practice is unbiblical and unhealthy for the church. It's bad order and a misunderstanding of the Bible. I'd say something similar in this debate. Using "unleavened bread" does not invalidate the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. No way. Even one with crackers is valid. But I believe that it is much better and more biblical to have a LOAF of bread, normal bread on the Table and eaten by the church. Your tasty unleavened bread is MUCH better than crackers or styrofoam-like wafers. Oh yeah. My point is that our yeast bread is just as unleavened as your bread without yeast. In the modern world there is NO association of oldness or even corruption with yeast. That was something the ancient world had to deal with because the deliver mechanism for yeast was what it was: sour dough starter.

Kennethos said...

I'll have to study a bit more to understand the depths of this, but I agree with what your post is saying. If communion is supposed to be a "preview" of heaven/New Earth/etc., then should it not be something satisfying and tasty? Bread (especially good-tasting types) would seem to quality.

CatholicPresbyterian said...

Amen! Yet again sound liturgical advise! The pie crust is YUCKO! Lets get some fresh loaf and fruit of the vine going!