The bread and wine served at the Mass, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, or Communion—whichever your tradition calls this occasion—started out not as isolated elements of bread and wine, as they are in churches today, but as essential parts of a normal dinner.

As the followers of Jesus spread across the Roman Empire and had need to gather together, they began eating together at a potluck supper held on Sunday evenings. One of the purposes of this gathering was to make sure that even the lowliest, poorest of their spiritual community got to enjoy good food and wine and fellowship at least once a week.

As late as the year 407, Chrysostom referred to this as “a custom most beautiful and beneficial; for it was a supporter of love, a solace of poverty, and a discipline of humility.”

Jesus could not have picked anything more ordinary than bread and wine.

His purpose in picking these common daily parts of a Jewish dinner wasn’t to make them extra special in some way, but to show us the special that’s already present in the mundane, the extraordinary that transfigures the ordinary if our eyes are but open to see it.

That this is how Jesus’ early followers understood the bread and wine is evident from what St. Paul writes in a letter to the people of Corinth. On Sunday evenings, they gathered to share in the usual potluck, except that in this city some were drunk while others were going hungry.

Wrote Paul, "When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! (I Corinthians 11:20-22, NRSV).

In other words, the rich were bringing their champagne and caviar to dine on, while the poor were reduced to bread and water.

Can you imagine anything like this in a modern day Mass at a Catholic Church, in the Anglican Communion, or in the Baptist Lord's Supper? The fact we can't imagine it shows how far we have turned a convivial celebration into a religious ceremony that is today a "celebration" only in name.

By separating these quite ordinary elements of bread and wine as if they were somehow different from ordinary food and classifying them as windows onto the holy, they have become fossilized and no longer serve as effective symbols of the sacredness of every single aspect of life, especially the food and fellowship of our everyday tables that sustains our very life.

Author's Bio: 

David Robert Ord is author of Your Forgotten Self Mirrored in Jesus the Christ and the audio book Lessons in Loving--A Journey into the Heart, both from Namaste Publishing, publishers of Eckhart Tolle and other transformational authors. He writes The Compassionate Eye daily, together with his daily author blog The Sunday Blog, at