I once read somewhere that the average college degree is out-dated in about seven years. I’m thinking my MDiv was probably useless before the ink was dry on the Dean’s signature. Scholarship is constantly changing, even in disciplines thought to be arcane like Koine Greek, theology, or liturgics. One of the required readings for my discernment process was a book by the late Reverend Canon Leonel Mitchell called “Praying Shapes Believing.” Mitchell was one of the leading voices in shaping the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer and he published his theological commentary in 1985. Not only was this book required reading, but his use of Dom Gregory Dix’s Four-Fold Shape of the Eucharist was the driving organization force in our process of discernment. By now, Dix’s four-fold shape has come under scrutiny, some might even say they are out-dated, but the action of Taking, Blessing, Breaking, Giving continue to be central to my identity as a priest and liturgist even today.
While there is now plenty of historical evidence that suggests there was no standard form for celebrating the Eucharist in the ancient church, those four actions Dix found weren’t made up out of thin air. First and foremost, we find them in the actions of Jesus in scripture. They all appear in one sentence in the Road to Emmaus story appointed for Sunday. “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” No manual actions, no words of institution, not even any wine, just the four-fold action of Jesus and a loaf of brown barley bread, and in an instant, Cleopas and his companion knew that Jesus was sitting before them for he had done the exact same thing in the Feeding of the 5000 (Luke 9:16).
As you can probably tell, I’ve been on a bread kick this week. It is partly because I love bread: biscuits, loaves and rolls; ciabatta or pretzel; plain or toasted and made especially delicious thanks to the Maillard effect; even those ridiculous wafers we call “Eucharistic Bread.” Also, and more importantly, because of the power of bread to bring people together. As I noted earlier this week, a companion is literally one with whom we break bread. Bread creates community, even in the depths of sadness, especially when we follow the example of Jesus by taking, blessing, breaking, and most importantly giving: sharing with those around us.