Soon after my family and I joined an Episcopal church, a bulletin announcement seeking volunteer bakers for communion bread caught my attention. The recipe is simple, with fewer steps and ingredients than some of the other breads that emerge from my oven. But as I do with any unfamiliar recipe on the first runthrough, I followed its steps methodically. Holy communion didn’t seem like the right occasion for some jazzy improvisation. What priestly expression would sprightly raisins or sunf lower seeds elicit? Flour, water, yeast, salt, honey, and oil combined to make a beige sticky ball. The recipe directed the baker to stretch the ball into a long loaf and then cut it into twelve pieces. The significance of that number was not lost on me: twelve baskets left over, twelve disciples, twelve tribes of Israel. These pieces were rolled, rounded, and flattened before rising into smooth saucer-sized discs. After just a few minutes in the oven, twelve small loaves emerged.
Though the result looked and smelled approximately like bread should, small worries swirled into that first batch. Had I remembered to add salt? Would anyone notice that some of the loaves were shaped like jaunty UFOs rather than stately domes? But most of all, would my offering to the Sunday service be worthy of God and of the parishioners who would partake of the bread and wine? I am no professional baker, nor am I unusually pious. It seemed a big task to entrust to someone so new to the congregation. I shyly brought the bread to the sacristy on Sunday morning, where efficient hands wrapped it in linen and readied it for the sacrament.
The second time I made communion bread I managed to pray a little as I made it and think about Jesus’s last supper. Was that first communion bread flat? Crispy? Lumpy? Bland? Who had made the loaf that mine recalled? I remembered Jesus’s parable about yeast working through dough to show how both good and bad teaching work through us. As my hands and arms kneaded the dough, my mind relaxed with the repetitive physical movements. My hands pressed the gummy ball as Jesus’s words to his disciples played in my head. This is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me. After the baking, an intoxicating yeasty aroma settled into my home for the evening. Six loaves remained after the Sunday service. On our drive home we gave two to a homeless man standing on the side of the road.
Baking is attractive to me because of its inclusiveness for children. What child doesn’t like to put on an apron, dump ingredients into a bowl, and stir, while flour rises in a gentle cloud? However, my three-year-old daughter is only vaguely interested in the “special bread” baking that I do from time to time. Don’t get me wrong; she loves to eat it. But I thought she would want to bake with me. Perhaps that day is coming: her play-dough kneading technique—fold it over, SMUSH, fold it over, SMUSH—is progressing nicely. My eight-month-old will likely be in a baby carrier on my back during my next round of baking, chewing on the carrier’s shoulder straps as I knead. Through watching me bake communion bread, I want my daughters to know that bread is both ordinary (from our kitchen!) and heavenly (pointing us to God).
I don’t mean to make this activity sound more romantic or spiritual than it is. The third time I was baking bread, the oven timer rang insistently while both girls splashed in the bathtub. Finally figuring out what that dinging sound was, I ran frantically down the stairs to take the bread out while my husband finished washing the girls. By 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon, my kitchen is unruly and the baby can be fretful if she hasn’t napped well. Sometimes baking communion bread seems like one more task on my unending list. But sometimes the spark of the holy catches and ignites this humble activity. God takes the ordinary ingredients, the odd-shaped loaves, and my distracted efforts and transforms them into Christ’s body, broken and shared.