"For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup,
you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes." 1 Corinthians 11:26
“I’m not religious, but I am spiritual,” goes the common American saying. There is a world of assumptions behind those two words “religious” and “spiritual.” “Religious” implies church, priests or pastors, other people, tradition, and a set of beliefs that occur outside one’s ability to pick and choose. “Spiritual,” on the other hand, implies a unique, individualistic faith unbounded by traditions and previously substantiated beliefs. “Religious” is the hard, physical fact of a Sunday at church, and “spiritual” can be whatever book we read or hike we go on.
Why does such a distinction matter? Why, in a world of individualistic spirituality, should we uphold religion, specifically Christianity, as the better way?
Because Christianity, as a religion, is at home with tangible physical objects like bread and wine as the pathway to true spirituality. The broad American approach to spirituality, though, doesn’t need or require the physicality of any material reality.
Coming at this a different way, and more germane to the mission of Denver Institute for Faith & Work, is that Christian spirituality requires work. What God wants for the proclamation of Jesus Christ is eating bread and drinking wine, and neither of those things is naturally found in nature. Leon Kass in The Hungry Soul states:
Human beings must discover that certain harvestable and storable but inedible seeds, if ground, will yield flour, which, if moistened, can be kneaded into dough, which, if baked, becomes an edible, relatively nonspoilable product…. Next are the various arts of agriculture, from plowing, fertilizing, and sowing to irrigating, harvesting, and storing- many of which involve other arts, such as metalworking, toolmaking, and animal taming. 1
To proclaim Christ’s death, to practice the central ritual of the church, requires a whole series of work from a range of professions. Here Christian faith meets the dignity of work. Taken to another level, it is important to understand that bread is the regular, physical material of human sustenance. Bread requires work, and it’s a normal, everyday type of work.
But there’s another kind of work, a very important kind of work: superfluous work. Humans don’t need wine like we need bread. Wine is the drink of celebration, of table fellowship, of joy. But like bread, wine isn’t naturally found in nature. Humans must growing and harvest grapes, and they must ferment, store, and perfect. All of those processes are required to get to the point where Christ is proclaimed in the gathered church.
By instituting bread and wine as the central ritual for his followers, Christ upholds the dignity of work more than any vague spirituality ever could. Our labors matter, even as they matter in church, because true spirituality is found in bread and wine.
Work, as a result, is required in the gathered church, both of a necessary and of a gratuitous kind. Both types of work are valid, upheld, and extolled in the kingdom of God.
Dave Strunk is a Church Planting Resident at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Maryville, Tennessee. Before leaving Denver, he was Pastor of Congregational Life and Worship Arts at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church. Strunk oversees ministries for men and women, young adults, and adult spiritual formation/education. He is a graduate of Denver Seminary and the University of Tennessee.