The Eucharistic Elements
In this essay I will discuss the earthly elements of the Eucharist, the bread and the wine.
At the risk of stating the obvious the first thing we should remember is that these are the elements Jesus chose for the Sacrament of his body and blood. Of all that he might have employed he “took” these. He did not say of roast lamb, herbs, olives, fish or figs “this is my body.” Nor of water, milk or honey “this cup is the New Testament in my blood.” But of bread and wine alone.
Not only are the chosen elements intentional, but they possess an internal logic in that both bread and wine are the fruit of destruction and recreation. Of death and resurrection, just like the Lord whose true and factual body and blood we feast on therein.
Bread is the product of crushing and baking of grain that emerges from its ordeal as a life-sustaining substance. Wine is the result of mashing and fermentation that in its resurrected form makes the heart glad. Even so the Lord, whose body and blood we receive in the bread and wine of the Eucharist was, as it were, baked and fermented on the tree of the cross.
Consider, too, that both wheat and grapes are planted in the ground and spring forth from it. Even so Jesus who is "the grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies” is the same Lord who by his resurrection “bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) Namely the resurrection of the dead.
Such considerations should help us to understand that the Lord’s chosen elements are not haphazard, but are the right elements for the Sacrament. But the congruity of form and function does not end there.
Consider gluten, the protein in wheat that binds the individual grains together. It is what gives bread its elasticity, its resistance to separation, to disunity if you will. St. Paul speaks of this in his first sermon to the Corinthians (10:17) when he writes, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” The Didache, one of the earliest non-canonical documents of the church, teaches the same principle when it says, “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.” (Didache IX). A principle which is vacated with gluten-less bread; and vacated doubly if there are separate loaves on God’s altar, this loaf for this one, that that loaf for that one.
Thus, to employ bread for the Eucharist from which the bonding agent has been removed is, at least symbolically, to remove the elemental unity that the Lord's Supper is. Unity with God, and with one another such as no tongue can tell. The same can be said of replacing wine with grape juice. To remove alcohol from the equation is to remove the gladness that wine is. The gladness imparted by the remission of sins, life and salvation to all who partake of the blessed Sacrament.
It is with good reason, then, that the Lutheran Confessions ordain that in the Supper the church must employ, “real natural bread and natural wine.” (FC, VII, 48) With these the promises of God are certain. With others they are at least in doubt, if not absent.