Why we need to reconsider the bread and wine | An Interview with Isaac Aho

Isaac Aho has written a few things on here before, you can see those here and here. Isaac just finished completing a research project on the practise of the eucharist. The eucharist is practised in as many different ways as there have been christian traditions because Jesus’ words were unequivocle, “Do this to remember me”. I thought I’d ask Isaac what he was learning about this Christian practise;

Q: Isaac, You’ve just finished a season of reflecting, practising and then reflecting on eucharist. What drew you originally to look at this ancient christian practise?

Before doing our DTS1 in 2010, our family had a desire to make christian discipleship something more than a program or bible study; something accessible for all people in every day life.

As we looked at and began to focus on the table as a place of growth it led us to study and see how much Jesus taught, discipled and gathered around food. This brought us to the last supper and saw how He chose bread and wine as the center of how we were to remember Him.

Q: As you look at this christian worship practise through christian history, what stands out as an element that has been lost in modern practise and one element you feel like has been retained (of course this is all broadly speaking)?

If I look at the trajectory of the practice of communion. I believe it has gone from a long, unhurried, intentional meal eaten with an awareness of Jesus as host. To a sometimes hurried part of a larger service that is experienced with either boredom or sometimes dread by the participants. It has moved from a meal to a small wafer and thin juice served in a plastic cup.

Athanasius says “The only alternative to an ascent toward God is a rapid descent into the nothingness which is humanity’s only natural possession apart from God.”

It seems to me the sacrament is moving in the direction of “nothingness”. The Eucharistic custom of bread and wine began to be practiced separate from the Agapa meal or “love feast” sometime in the second century. It soon came to symbolize the meal as the Agapa meal faded from practice. We now have a symbol of a symbol of a symbol as we drink a small sip of grape juice from a plastic cup in a hurried procession. (I am of course talking about the worst of evangelical practice not the church catholic) I can imagine the end will be clicking a wine and bread icon in a virtual community of an iPhone app. This would fit in the description of hell in C.S Lewis book The Great Divorce

Q: What do you think is the root through which this practise might be revived in the church and what fruit might that produce?

I would say the trajectory needs to be changed. Move toward what is real, present and more substantial. Share real bread baked by someone you know. Drink from an actual cup the best wine you have available. Become present in the moment to the worship community around you. Explore and practice your own love feast. Become familiar with the story that you have entered. Heaven and earth have been joined together. The bread and wine are a witness and an actual representation of this coming together. If this is an unfamiliar thought this video could help explore the significance of the bread and wine.

It is symbol in some sense as the wine reminds us of the new covenant. Do you know what this is? If not you can watch the trailer here.

It is also so much more than symbol as God himself has become One with time, space and matter. Every moment, place and thing is inhabited by the Holy.

Q: What is it specifically about the form of worship that made it meaningful enough that Jesus chooses it as the way he is asking to be ‘remembered’?

I can of course say something about this but cannot say everything. I feel it is in the seemingly ordinary elements that the extraordinary is hidden. Julie Canlis says

“Christian spirituality is always relational, always embodied, and always frighteningly ordinary.

You cannot participate in communion without the actual practice or “praxis” of all three.

Q: Sometimes eucharist or communion can be spoken about in way that encourage every mealtime to be considered sacred, the danger of this though seems to be that can be when everything is sacred then arguably nothing ‘feels’ sacred or set apart? On the flipside a highly liturgical, infrequent or set apart practise does not seem to be what jesus is gesturing towards?

I wrestled with this a lot through my reading and study. As I practiced communion around a table with friends I worried that I may be contributing to a flippant or shallow understanding of communion. It was actually your last blog that helped me resolve some of the tension. I think we can in every moment or practice be asking Holy Spirit “What kind of a sacred moment is this” It could be a time for a lighthearted meal with friends. It also could be in a stained glass cathedral in a highly liturgical service. Each are equally holy and sacred. One is just a different kind of holy appropriate for that moment. While I want to make Agape meals and love feast a part of everyday life. I have a growing respect for the parts of the body that have been a bulwark against our “slide into nothingness” through holding fast to tradition and orthodoxy.

Q: How does participating in eucharist form our christian approach to food and the environment more generally?

Seeing God himself as inhabiting creation has to change how we view and steward the earth. I believe Communion properly understood should motivate us to know where our food comes from. Is it produced in a humane and sustainable way? Paul rebuked the church of Corinth for eating without an awareness or love for those participating in the meal. In a globalized economy this could mean people I might never know or see could be participants at my table. I believe we should make an effort to know who these people are and how we are affecting them.

It takes a community to produce the elements of bread and wine. Plant, water, harvest…and should not be taken meaningfully alone. It’s hopefully taken around a table, seeing each other,

Partnership with God- think of manna, fish, we do our part God does His.

Thanks Isaac, if you have any follow up questions please ask them in the comments below!

  1. A Youth with a Mission training program 

5 Comments on “Why we need to reconsider the bread and wine | An Interview with Isaac Aho

  1. Thanks, guys. This whole post poses some great questions and responses. This one resonates with me a lot… “Q: Sometimes eucharist or communion can be spoken about in way that encourage every mealtime to be considered sacred, the danger of this though seems to be that can be when everything is sacred then arguably nothing ‘feels’ sacred or set apart? On the flipside a highly liturgical, infrequent or set apart practise does not seem to be what Jesus is gesturing towards?” And Isaac, so does your response–to have a respect for the formal practices, whilst understanding that any act of worship (familiar or ceremonial) is spiritually valuable/meaningful IF through it we are honestly, humbly, presently engaging with God and what He’s saying at that moment.

    • Yes that’s pretty much it Rebeca. As my understanding of the incarnation grew, so has my reverence for the bread and wine. There are some traditions that will put water in the glass and drink it to be sure none of the wine is left. I have a growing appreciation for that kind of observation of communion. At the same time I have a growing awareness that this is also supposed to be “lived out” in real time. Around our own tables and with our friends (and strangers)

  2. Best isaac, I read the interview (using google translate ) for me it is a topical issue that has put me through reading this piece again thinking about the way the use of the sacrament.
    I want to thank you here. especially that it came this way on my path. greetings from Marianne from Holland

  3. Pingback: Restoring the Table as a Place of Transformation — Centre for Christian Formation and Discipleship

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