Presbyterian Pastor Stephanie Anthony tells a story of when she was a summer missionary in Ghana, celebrating communion at a local church. Stephanie says, “They ‘celebrated’ communion not in the joyous sense, but in the solemn sense.” They were serious, intimidating even. So when the pastor commanded the people to bow their heads and close their eyes in preparation to receive the sacrament, everyone did.
Pastor Anthony writes: “Well, as the liturgy continued in a super silent sanctuary, I suddenly heard a very distinctive sound: ‘POP! Hssssss…. Rattle, rattle, rattle.’ I knew that sound. It was definitely a Coca Cola bottle. My head popped up in an instant. The pastor was pouring a Coke into the chalice and all of the little individual communion cups!
“In a land of no refrigeration and definitely no alcohol (a STRONG no-no for Presbyterians in Africa, even in communion), and where grape juice would have been worth its weight in gold, Coke was the safest, cheapest, and most readily available liquid to use in communion.”
The Inter-Anglican Liturgical Commission on Eucharistic Food and Drink (what a terribly gawkish name for a study group) agrees. The Commission found that for the reasons of allergies, cost, concern for alcoholics, lack of refrigeration or availability, all manner of commodities have been substituted worldwide for the traditional bread and red wine.
Banana juice, pineapple wine, raisins boiled in water, Grape Fanta: These have all been used for Jesus’ blood. And his body? Rice cakes, Ritz crackers, wheat toast, biscuits, and donuts. Personally, I’m all for a little irreverence in the church from time to time, but for lifelong wafer-chewers and juice-sippers, this sounds more than a bit bizarre. Maybe it shouldn’t.
This weekend the church celebrates World Communion Sunday, a day of Christian unity – in spite of our many differences – a day when we recognize that the Lord’s Table should bring us together, not tear us apart. It should invite, not restrict; appeal, not separate. It should welcome believers with certainty and safety, not alienate them.
This safety extends far beyond the avoidance of food-borne illnesses. All believers should find the Communion Table to be their own, as comfortable with the wine and wafer (or Fanta and Saltines), as they are sitting at their own dinner tables. After all, that is where all believers call “home:” Gathered in the presence of Christ, filled and sustained by his goodness, and then sent out to serve the world.
Yes, we may come from different places; may have different theological conclusions about a great many different things; we may not share the same worship style or work out our salvation the same way. But there is only one Church, one Faith, one Lord and one Body. That body is neither made with refined flour nor does it froth with aged Port or Welches. That Body is a people, bound together not by the elements of bread and wine, but by the sacrifice and love of Christ.