“Cup” and “loaf” are parts of a meal
It helps, I think, to realize that a cup of wine and loaf of bread was standard for First Century meals, especially meals shared with guests. To us, “cup of wine” or “loaf of bread” sounds like something added to the meal or taken separately from the meal, whereas to First Century ears, these words sounded like courses of the meal — rather as “salad” and “dessert” would sound to us.
Imagine reading this —
(Mat 26:26-29) While they were eating, Jesus took [the salad bowl], gave thanks and [divided it], and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took the [after-dinner coffee dessert], gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not [eat this dessert] from now on until that day when I [eat] it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
(1 Cor 10:16-17) Is not the [dessert] for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the [salad] a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one [salad bowl], we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one [bowl].
Okay. That sounds pretty silly, but it’s clear in both passages that the “elements” are part of a common meal when we understand that the elements are what people ate for dinner. Obviously, you can could eat and drink bread and wine separate from the meal, but that’s not at all a natural reading. After all, First Century readers ate from a loaf and drank from a cup every day — at a meal.
We see “bread” and “cup” as elements of a religious ceremony because we have 2,000 years of using the words that way. But to the early church, those words referred to elements of supper.
And the Gospel writers plainly state that the cup and loaf were provided “while they were eating,” and yet this did not become a part of the “pattern.” Why not? Well, not because of the Patristic evidence! Rather, it was because there had been no common love feasts combined with communion since the Dark Ages. The 19th Century Restoration leaders read the passages through Reformation and Catholic eyes.
(1 Cor 10:18, 21) Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? … You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.
Paul compares eating meat or drinking wine sold at the market after being sacrificed to an idol to participating in “the Lord’s table.” Paul sees the Lord’s table as comparable to a table at which a full meal is served. That’s the essence of the argument.
Now, I’m not saying that communion = love feast. That wouldn’t quite be right. But I am saying that it was surely typical for the communion to be taken as part of a meal. It plainly doesn’t have to be, as Paul states at the end of 1 Cor 11. But the ordinary practice was to take communion while eating together.
“Cup” and “loaf” are sensual
Imagine that you’re sitting with Jesus at the Last Supper. The “cup” isn’t a teeny, tiny plastic cup. It’s a cup large enough to share with 12 others at the table — 12 men who’ve come in from a dry, dusty climate to eat. It’s no surprise that the cup would have been passed several times during a traditional Passover!
And it was filled with wine. It may have been cut with water, but it was certainly a rich, flavorful drink.
The loaf would have been freshly cooked in a brick oven outdoors, with flour, oil, and salt. It would have served hot – fresh from the oven — and still soft. Each man would have torn off a large piece to eat and then passed the bread to the next man. And the aroma would have filled the room. For me, one the best smells in the world is freshly baked bread.
This changes the symbolism of bread and cup, body and blood, in dramatic ways. Rather than a spiritualized, abstract experience where the lesson comes from the speaker or our own meditation, the lesson comes from bread and the cup. If these symbolize Jesus, and if our eating and drinking symbolize our faith (per John 6, of course), then the flavor, odor, and texture tell us that Jesus is good and faith is delightful. Indeed, Jesus sustains us. He fills us. Very few words would be needed because the message would be in the elements.
But when the cup is too small to slake a thirst and the bread too tiny and dry to be enjoyed, then the unintended message is that Jesus is small and our faith leaves us thirsty and hungry, and so we quite naturally conclude that we must make up what’s lacking by our own efforts.