This is an essay written by guest author and our good friend, Austin Albers.
While the West’s commitment to the historical authenticity of Christ’s “Last Supper” is commendable, it should be noted that God’s only command to eat unleavened bread was given for the seven days of Passover (Exodus 12:15) – an Old Covenant type that was fulfilled in Christ. Moreover, unleavened bread is referred to as the bread of “affliction” (Deuteronomy 16:3) – that is, it served as a reminder to the Israelites of their bondage and haste when they fled Egypt. This Old Covenant was powerless to bring God’s people life; it served only as our “custodian” until Christ came (Galatians 3:23-26, RSV).
Christ has fulfilled the Law and now abides in us. This has strong
symbolic ties to leaven. Bread is made from lifeless flour mixed with water. Leaven, also known as yeast, is actually a living plant-like organism. Once the yeast enters, it spreads throughout the lump, yet it does so invisibly and without changing the shape or texture of the dough. The symbolism is rich! The old lump of lifeless, bland-tasting dough has now become saturated with living yeast, giving it life and flavor. Leaven can be seen as kind of fulfillment of unleavened bread even as Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.
Many Western Christians are quick to point out that leaven is commonly used in the Scripture referring to sin. Therefore, they assume, the host bread for the spotless body of Christ should be without stain or reference to sin. Now, it is true that the Apostle Paul used leaven in reference to sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-13), but the Scriptures also used leaven in reference to the Kingdom of God: “Another parable He spoke to them: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened’” (Matthew 13:33; cf. Luke 13:20). From this we can see that leaven is not inherently evil, as a metaphor or anything else (as the disciples, at one point, wrongfully thought; see Matthew 16:6-12), but is a powerful image used in many situations; its meaning dependent on the context.
To summarize, the unleavened, Old Covenant bread of affliction is not an appropriate Communion host for our risen Lord, who is Life and saturates our dead souls with life, even as leaven saturates and brings life to bread.