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Regarding the Eucharist

An ancient Hebrew tradition exists whereby a small portion of the last batch of anointing oil is held in reserve and then blended into each new batch of anointing oil. Doing so assures that future generations of anointing oil will contain some amount of the original batch of anointing oil. A similar tradition is maintained in which a portion of each batch of bread dough is saved and then blended into each new batch of bread dough. Again the idea is that each new batch of dough therefore contains some quantity of the first batch of bread dough that was ever made in accordance with that tradition.

The Hebrew tradition is said to have extended all the way back to the time of Moses. If true, that would imply that any bread made in accordance with that tradition (e.g., challah) would contain some of the dough used to make the bread eaten by the Israelites during the Exodus. Similarly, any anointing oil prepared in the same manner would contain some of the anointing oil that was actually consecrated by Aaron and Moses.

Many believe that each new batch of oil or bread is magically transformed by the integration of a portion of the older batch into it. I believe, however, that the ancient tradition has more to do with the idea or concept of having and maintaining a direct connection to the past than it does with a conveyance of some kind of supernatural power that was imbued in the original batch.

Jesus appears to have made many allusions to this Hebrew tradition. For example, the idea of feeding thousands with a few loaves of bread seems to me to be related to the idea of dividing an original batch of dough into many portions and then recombining the portions of the original batch with new dough and then repeating the process over and over again. And that process appears to symbolically represent and foreshadow how the Christian church would eventually grow; the original apostles would be sent out to form new churches, and from those new churches would arise new apostles who would go on to found even more churches.

The direct connection to the past idea is embodied and sustained within the Eucharist tradition. The bread and wine that is consumed at each Eucharist is supposed to be similarly connected to the bread and wine that was actually consumed at the last supper. Thus anyone who eats of the Eucharist has, in a very real way, shared in the last meal of Jesus. Such connection can exist, however, only if the Hebrew tradition is unbroken since the time of Jesus.

The idea of a magical transformation of the bread and wine into the body of Jesus, known as transubstantiation, appears to me to be rooted perhaps in superstition. I think it is the idea of sharing in the final meal of Jesus that is all important, not the conveyance of some magical power. Sharing a meal with someone is to commune with them; it is making oneself equal with them and vice versa as members of the same community. Christ wanted us, I think, to forever commune with him; I don't think he wanted us to become cannibals who believed that eating another's flesh and drinking their blood would somehow make one healthier, wealthier or wise...or worse, invincible.

I believe that such superstition is in fact directly related to the worshiping of idols. In ancient times, idols were used to symbolically represented ideals and concepts. Praying to an idol was inherently foolish precisely because it meant that one failed to realize that the idol was merely a symbolic representation, not a real entity. Even though a statue may contain or embody the generally accepted image of some imaginary deity (i.e., a copy made from a standard template), it was never magically imbued, as famously conveyed in the story Bel and the Dragon, with the spirit of such deity.

Sadly at times I think we are all playing a game of telephone, where what has filtered down to us over the years has been steadily polluted by new ideas and messages that have gradually been blended into the original. That is in fact the antithesis of the idea represented by the Hebrew tradition. The salt loses its saltiness, and, once it is no longer salty, it is worthless. The new dough must embody the same character as the original; if it deviates, all future generations will be corrupted.

Ultimately all traditions are messages passed down to us from the past. And curiously, when I think of such messages, I cannot help but think of genetics and chromosomes. Perhaps it is the twisted shape of challah that brings most vividly to mind the shape of the chromosome and the idea of DNA and its transmission. Such bread truly appears to be directly connected to both the body and to tradition. And therein, for me, lies both amazement and faith and, quite literally, real manna from heaven.