I was intrigued by this passage from "Kitchen Communion - From the food pantry to the table," by Sara Miles, in The Christian Century, Feb. 9, 2010, p. 24, at 29:
[After the benefit dinner, we] celebrated Eucharist at midnight in the middle of the [restaurant] dining room .... My feet hurt more than they had in 20 years, and my shirt was slippery with grease.
The waiters and dishwasher came out, curious, as I handed Paul [the parish rector] a loaf of French bread. He held it up, saying the ancient Hebrew prayer. "Blessed be God, ruler of the universe, who brings forth grain from the earth," he chanted.
"Now we share the bread with each other," Paul instructed. He was still wearing the kerchief [to cover his hair while cooking] and his face was shining. "It's Jesus' table, so the bread is for everybody."
* * *
I remember how Deb had told me she didn't think communion was a good idea. "It's not gonna fly," she said. "At the end of a shift everyone just leaves as fast as they can or maybe goes out to get drunk. But nobody wants to hang out in the restaurant."
We passed the bread around, then a plastic glass of wine. ... I was a little embarrassed and unbelievably happy. ...
(Emphasis and extra paragraphing added.)
I was struck by the priest's omission of the traditional words of consecration, "this is my body" and "this is the cup of my blood."
Instead, he said the traditional Hebrew blessing of the bread — quite possibly using the English counterpart of the very words Jesus himself might have spoken at the Last Supper.
I wondered: How necessary were the body-and-blood words of consecration, really?
So I re-read the ancient accounts of the institution of the Eucharist.
- Mark 14, Matthew 26, and Luke 22 all give the impression that Jesus used the bread and wine primarily as stage props, a teaching aid, a visual metaphor to emphasize what he expected was in store for him — which would be followed by the coming of the kingdom of God.
- Of the four gospels, only Luke quotes Jesus as instructing his followers that they should "do this in remembrance of me"; Paul's earlier account in 1 Cor. 11, based on church tradition, does likewise.
- The Fourth Gospel, of course, doesn't mention the institution of the Eucharist at all.
- Apart from the canonical New Testament documents, chapter 9 of the Didache makes no mention of Jesus' body or blood; its emphasis is on thanking God. It twice mentions Jesus simply as God's servant, not as a son of God, much less as God incarnate. (The Didache was an instructional text, thought to have been written by Jewish Christians, sometime near the late first century, for their gentile brethren.)
This makes me think we need to read the command, "do this in remembrance of me," in context with the rest of what Jesus reportedly said on that occasion.
The command appears to be a direction for a simple ritual that will help Jesus' followers stay focused — not so much on Jesus himself, nor even on his death, but on his imminent return and the coming of the kingdom — so that his followers won't lose heart during the times of trouble.