My friend Patty's kids have all left home. Married and then pregnant almost immediately after leaving her parents' house, she was a mother and homemaker for more than 25 years. Now, she's starting something totally new. From scratch. She has no experience in kid-free adult living.
My friend Luke has a brand new baby. He stares at her and loves her and wants the best for her, but, like all new parents, doesn't really know what to do with her sometimes. When I catch him looking, holding her so carefully, I see the wonder in his face. He has no idea what's coming. He just knows, whatever it is, he can't know.
I drove my daughters to school for the first time in January. I've home-schooled them and been home with them every day for the last eight years. Pulling into the drop-off lane, throwing open the car doors, I watched both daughters jump out. And quite suddenly I was alone. I went home and sat in undisturbed silence for five hours wondering what life would look like now that so much had changed.
We all have moments when it seems like everything we've known is gone or different and we have to start over. Those moments can be scary. But they can also be thrilling.
A lot depends on Who's with me.
Every Sunday of the last 27 years of my life I've eaten unleavened bread. I've lifted it from the gold-rimmed tray passed first in the communion meal, pushed it against the requisite white doily, broken off a bite-sized piece, and placed it in my mouth. Sometimes the bread looks like a cracker. Sometimes it's pasty and sticks to the roof of my mouth. When I was little the bread was homemade, baked in the kitchen of one of our many older ladies, all following the same yeast-less recipe, copied and distributed. In New York City, we ate Matzah bought in the very large Kosher section of our not-so-large neighborhood grocery store.
Unleavened bread--particularly the room-temperature, day-old bread we take on Sundays--doesn't taste good. My memories of taking it in the past with family and friends, sometimes in a cabin in the woods, sometimes at a widow's house, my grandfather and I representing the community of believers for and with this tired, lovely woman--those memories sweeten the bread. But it's still not delicious. That's not the reason we take it.
The reason churches who serve unleavened bread serve unleavened bread finds its roots in the celebration of Passover, a yearly Jewish holiday remembering the day God freed His children from their Egyptian oppressors. During the Passover, Israelites were commanded to rid their houses of leaven, to throw out every trace. Any bread baked during these seven days would be unleavened.
Jesus, eating a Passover meal with His disciples just before His death, initiated what churches today called communion or the Eucharist or the Lord's supper, asking His disciples to persevere in eating the meal and remembering--not remembering God's deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt but rather newly remembering the deliverance Jesus was about to enable through His death and resurrection. Because Jesus ate unleavened bread at that meal, many churches choose to do the same.
So that's the reason we eat unleavened bread. Because God commanded it at Passover and communion is rooted in Passover. Simple enough.
But WHY do we eat unleavened bread? Why did the Israelites eat it? Why did God command it? What does it MEAN? I've wanted to know that for years, and finally, over the last two weeks or so, got around to studying.
In ancient Egypt, in Goshen, the Israelites knew how to make bread rise, but the way they did it looked very different from our modern methods. They didn't go to the grocery store and buy fast-acting yeast. Instead, they made bread without yeast, put it in a window, and left it to ferment or go sour. In the fermentation process, the heat and interaction of air with the dough would cause yeast to grow in the bread, thus helping it rise. This process, however, wasn't reliable. You never knew if your bread would rise--not until you'd devoted days to the process. Ancient cultures did, however, have a way of increasing the likelihood that bread would rise. Once bakers (or women) had a successful fermentation in their bread, they would hold back a bit of the dough and save it to include in the next loaf. Every time they made a loaf they'd again hold back a bit of the leavened loaf. Today we call these "cultures" or "mothers" or "starters." Today you can find a starter in most high-end restaurant kitchens.
So what does that mean to us? Let's start with what it meant to Israel. At that first Passover, when God commands His people to throw out the leaven, God is commanding a new start. He's asking those women to let go of the assurances and habits of life in Egypt. He's saying, leave it all behind. We're starting something new.
And it must have been hard. It would have taken those women weeks, maybe months, to get a healthy starter going. That starter represented security. In a culture largely dependent on bread for calories, they needed to be able to reliably churn out loaves of bread for their families. On the road, wandering in the wilderness, bread would be practically impossible to make.
During Passover they would eat unleavened bread to remind them of their new start. And to remind them that whatever comes next, they're going to have to depend on God.
As I said before, unleavened bread isn't really delicious, not like a warm loaf of french bread that crackles when you break it, steam rising from gas-carved nooks and crannies, leaving it light and soft. Unleavened bread is dense. Sometimes it sticks in your teeth.
That's how I can feel about new starts. Maybe something good is coming. Likely even. But right now, here, looking into the mysterious tomorrow, my mouth isn't watering. Swallowing this new reality is tough.
New is hard because it's not old, and whether the old was good or bad it was habit. We know how to do old.
What God wants though, when He leads us to new places, isn't for us to know how to handle the new territory. In fact, sometimes he leads us to new places to intentionally remind us that life isn't dependent on us and our wisdom and experience. God wants us to trust Him. God wants us to depend on Him.
New starts are the best places to grow trust.
When I take communion today I'm like the Israelites eating Passover for the first time, depending on God to provide as I leave behind everything from which He's delivering me.
I'm also like the Israelites eating Passover for the sixty-second time, remembering the way God has delivered me in the past, giving more and more reason to let Him deliver me in the present.
I'm also like the apostles eating Passover with Jesus, drinking blood and eating unleavened flesh, an unrisen body, eager to see what God will do but still unsure of tomorrow.
And I'm like the first Christians eating communion, remembering the cross, celebrating the resurrection, and welcoming the new life Christ offers on repeat. Every Sunday, another piece of bread, another beginning.
On Easter my friend Mark said he was glad that God is always leading us into new starts, that at any moment God's people are being made new. And I agreed. What a gift.
But I won't say all that new didn't set my heart to racing, all those fresh starts, leaving so much behind, wandering into so much unknown territory. It could be scary. But I'm choosing thrilling instead. Because God is the one leading me. He's the one providing for me. He's the bread and the life.