In my early ministry I remember seeing a grandmother allowing her grandkids to gather around the communion ware and drink all the left over grape juice from the tiny cups. I think that was the first time I ever thought about the remnants of the communion sacrament. At the time, I hadn’t thought much about it but there was something about that approach that was disturbing to me.
Coming from a non-liturgical background as I had I’d given little thought to what to do with left over bread and wine (grape juice for us) after the service. Our Roman Catholic friends, meanwhile, have it down to a fine art but, then, they believe in transubstantiation too – that is that the elements become the actual body and blood of our Lord. After the mass they are left with consecrated elements that must be handled with utmost reverence. For Protestants and especially for non-liturgical groups the status of left over elements is something less. As we celebrate the sacrament concerning the bread and wine we pray: “Make them by the power of your Spirit to be for us the body and blood of Christ.” Having just prayed that prayer a short time earlier, just tossing these things into the trash or down the drain is something akin to handling the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy way. So what to do?
Fortunately, there are godly people who have thought about this. After some reading I directed those in our church who prepare the sacrament to this approach; maybe it will help you too.
If we are using the little squares of unleavened bread we return it to the container and put it back in the freezer to be used again. If we are using baked bread, the portion left over from the actual communion is taken outside to a little used area (like a flower garden) and left for the birds, etc. to consume. The person taking it out offers a short prayer, thanking the Lord for his sacrifice for us.
Grape juice that has been offered is similarly returned to the earth. That which was never offered in the service can be drunk as a beverage.
While we don’t accept the concept of transubstantiation we do want to be aware that these elements (that we said are symbols of our Lord’s broken body and shed blood) should be handled in a respectful, reverent way. You might say that this is a fitting conclusion to a sacrament that emphasizes how common place things can take on uncommon meaning.