Monday, December 3, 2012

Leavened or Unleavened?

[From Pastor Ed… 12/2 and 12/9]

Maybe you've been wondering that already. Over the last several months you've surely noticed that we've been serving unleavened matzoh crackers instead of regular (leavened) bread. Several people have asked me, which is the "right" kind of bread to use for Communion?

This is an issue that has been a matter of debate for years — centuries even. It also tends to be a very personal issue, one that many feel strongly about. I don't claim to have the final answer to the question, nor do I believe it should be a question that should cause division among brothers and sisters in Christ. But I do have some thoughts, and the Session has asked me to articulate my thoughts about this issue, hopefully for the edification of our congregation.

There's no doubt that, at the institution of the Lord's Supper (see Luke 22), Christ used unleavened bread; this was at the end of the season of Passover, when the leavening for bread would have been purged from all Jewish homes in Israel weeks earlier. It was also an observance and celebration, of sorts, of the Passover feast originally described in Exodus 12. Because Christ used unleavened bread in the institution of Communion, many contemporary believers have concluded that Christians must likewise use only unleavened bread for a proper observance of the Supper.

Is this so? Or is there freedom to use leavened bread also or instead? To consider this, let's first consider what the purpose of the unleavened bread was.

Leavening itself is a rising agent made from fermented dough, which spreads throughout rest of fresh dough over time, and causes the bread to "rise" — in other words, the fermentation spreads gases throughout the bread which are released during baking, but which make air pockets in the loaves and give it the springy, spongelike texture that we associate with leavened bread. Because unleavened bread lacks these air pockets, it is more solid and hardened in texture, sometimes being more crumbly (almost like a cookie) and in other recipes being cracker-like.

The Feast of the Unleavened Bread was intended to remind the Israelites that they were brought out of Egypt quickly — that they could not wait for their bread to rise, and so made unleavened bread instead (see Exodus 12:39). Thus unleavened bread became regularly associated with acts of worship for Israel. Leavening was prohibited in some of the sacrifices and offerings — those offered wholly to God — but was allowed for those that people would consume some or all of (such as the Peace Offerings).

The nature of leavening makes it a great metaphorical illustration of spiritual things. Jesus warned against the hypocritical "leaven of the Pharisees" (Luke 12:1) but also described the Kingdom of God as spreading like leavening. Paul used the unleavened bread of Passover as a metaphor for how we have been cleansed through Christ, our Passover Lamb who was sacrificed: "Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:8).

We cannot therefore conclude that leavening is bad in itself, for leavened bread was permissible in some of the sacrifices, and Christ described the Kingdom of God as being like leavening! But certain things that are like leavening, in terms of how they spread quickly and thoroughly — things like hypocrisy, malice, and evil — should be cast out in the same way that the leavening was put out during the Passover season.

But if some leavened bread is permissible, is it permissible in Communion? Consider this: one of the occasions when leavened bread was required was during the Peace Offering; this was a time when some of an animal was sacrificed by fire to the Lord, while the rest was consumed by the priests and the ones bringing the offering. The meaning of the Peace Offering was to celebrate the communion with God and with one another before God. Leviticus says of the Peace Offering: "with the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with loaves of leavened bread. And from it he shall offer one loaf from each offering, as a gift to the LORD" (Leviticus 7:13-14).

Does this sound familiar? It should: our sacrament of the Lord's Supper is generally considered to be a continuation of the Peace Offerings, as we talked about in a recent sermon. (The Passover itself is also thought to be a particular kind of Peace Offering, though obviously one with unleavened bread.) The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is a celebration of our reconciliation to God and our communion with Him — and, because of Him, our communion with one another also — and a foretaste of the ultimate and eternal fellowship with Him that we will have in glory. Given that the Peace Offering includes the permission for, and at times even the requirement of, leavened bread, we might conclude therefore that leavened bread is permissible for Communion.

Here's another consideration: it is pretty clear that the New Testament-era church celebrated Communion often; if Acts 2:42 is an indicator of their ongoing and common practices, it seems that the took Communion together every time they met for worship! When we look at that verse we see that the definite article ("the") is used with the concepts of "breaking of bread" and "prayers" — thus indicating that it wasn't just breaking bread together, as in sharing in meals and fellowship (though they DID do that too, daily — see Acts 2:46) but THE breaking of bread, which is a euphemistic reference to the way the Gospels also speak of the Lord's Supper.

Would they have used unleavened bread every week? Almost certainly not: while we can go to the grocery store whenever we want to buy unleavened matzoh crackers (or other kinds of unleavened bread, including pita, shortbread, and other crackers), first-century Christians would have had such easy access to unleavened bread. Probably they would have used whatever bread was available to them.

Thus we might also conclude that either leavened or unleavened bread is permissible for use in worship. But, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, not everything that is permissible is also beneficial. We CAN use leavened or unleavened bread; which SHOULD we use?

Here is what the Session has decided about this: we recognize that Passover was a fasting season, leading up to a feast — much like our own Christian calendars hold as a pattern. Therefore, we have decided that, during the fasting seasons of the church (Advent and Lent) we will use unleavened bread. Likewise, during the feasting seasons of the church — Christmastide, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, and Trinity — we will certainly use leavened bread. During the other times (usually called "ordinary time") we will recognize freedom to use either leavened or unleavened bread.

It is our prayer that our congregation be blessed by this variation and freedom, and I hope that this explanation will be of some help to you in receiving such blessing!

No comments:

Post a Comment