The Breaking of Bread
The Lord’s Supper is one of the two ordinances we have in the church that were left to believers by Jesus Christ. Like the other ordinances, the Lord’s Supper is instituted in the Gospels, practiced in Acts, and explained in the Epistles. For an ordinance to be valid today in the church, it must meet several requirements. First, the Lord Jesus must command it in the Gospels. Secondly, it should be ordained and evidenced by the early church. Lastly, its spiritual meaning must be expounded in the Scriptures. The Lord’s Supper develops each one of these elements in the Scriptures. First, the institution of this celebration begins with Jesus Himself in the Lord’s Supper, reported in three different gospel passages: Luke 22:19, Matthew 26:26-30 and Mark 14:22-25. Here we receive the Lord Jesus’ command to continue his example of this sacrament, where, after taking the bread and wine, he says, “This do in remembrance of Me.” Second, we see the act of the breaking of bread with the early church in Acts. We are told, “They continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine, and fellowship and in breaking of bread and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42) Acts 20 also testifies to this practice in the early church. Finally, Paul explains the Lord’s Supper in his letter to the Corinthians. This passage is the evidence of the Lord’s special revelation to Paul regarding the Lord’s Supper. Paul contends that the Lord primarily intended the Lord’s Supper to be a memorial of Himself. At this Supper, His disciples would be given the opportunity to call Him to remembrance as they partook of the bread and wine after His ascension. In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul says, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me…This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”
This first institution of the Lord’s Supper was the night of the last traditional Jewish celebration of the Passover, because the next day, “Christ our Savior was sacrificed for us” as the final sacrificial lamb atoning for sin. (See 1 Corinthians 5:7) On this memorable night, the Passover was celebrated for the final time since that memorable night of Exodus 12, and the Lord’s Supper was instituted. 1 Corinthians 5:7 says, “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover was sacrificed for us.” After the events of the cross, there would be no further need for the Passover feast, hence the Lord’s desire to institute the Lord’s Supper, which today hearkens back to the cross and anticipates His second coming.
Let us consider the meaning of the breaking of bread from this initial institution of the celebration. 1 Corinthians 11:24 states, “He took bread and gave thanks and broke it, and gave unto them saying, “This is my body, which is broken for you.’” The breaking of bread symbolizes the breaking of His body, which He Himself gave for us on the cross. The symbols at this feast are very simple: a loaf of bread and a cup of wine. The loaf is the result of a grain of wheat being planted, then dying and bringing forth fruit. In John 12:24, we see Jesus teaching about this concept, saying, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” Then, we see in the loaf the small grains of wheat ground between the millstones to become flour. This speaks of the physical sufferings of Christ, calling to remembrance the suffering in the daylight hour on the cross: the spitting, mocking, beatings, and anguish he experienced. Then, we remember that this bread was placed in an oven and subjected to intense heat unseen by man. This is symbolic of the unseen sufferings of Christ during the hours of darkness on the cross, when God’s wrath was poured upon Him. God continued to pour out His wrath upon His Son until His Holiness and righteousness were satisfied, and until all grounds of condemnation against us were removed. When this was accomplished, our Lord with a loud voice exclaimed triumphantly, “It is finished.” We also read here of the meaning of the cup: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you.” The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is clearly stated here as well. Jesus says, “This do in remembrance of me.” How blessed it is to have scriptural authority for keeping this memorial feast in our memory of Him and what He did for us! Therefore, when we partake of the elements and participate in the Lord’s Supper we should realize that we are sitting in His presence, at His table, and with the emblems of His shed blood and broken body. These sobering elements should produce the atmosphere of Calvary as we participate in the Lord’s Supper.
Having considered the first institution of the Lord’s Supper, let us now consider its earliest celebration in the church; as we have previously mentioned, it was evident in Acts. In Acts 20:7, we see the definite purpose for the celebration: “The disciples came together to break bread.” The breaking of bread occurred when the disciples came together for that specific purpose - to remember what the Lord had done. This was the primary and only purpose of the gathering. The Lord had commanded, “This do in remembrance of me.”
The early church also met on a certain day: “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.” Here we see that a very definite time was appointed for keeping the Lord’s Supper. “The first day of the week,” also mentioned in Matthew 28:1, seems to suggest that the Sabbath ended when Christ lay in the grave. It was the dawn of a new day, the dispensation of grace, when our Lord rose from the dead, and therefore the first day of the week would be kept in honor of Him. It was on this Lord’s Day, the first day of the week, that the disciples came together to break bread.
If we examine who was involved in this early celebration act, it is clear that the disciples and Christ’s followers were the only ones present, signifying that only believers who are born again can remember Him in this way. The church today should note this and take great care to assure that only believers partake. Furthermore, there was also a definite place where Israel was commanded to keep this memorial feast of the Passover. In Deuteronomy 16:5-6, God commands, “You may not sacrifice the Passover within any of your gates which the Lord your God gives you; but at the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide, there you shall sacrifice the Passover at twilight.” The Lord has designated our churches as places where we should break bread together.
We also see in Acts 20 that while at this meeting, Paul embraced the opportunity to preach the Word to the assembled believers. This appearance took place after they had broken bread, which is important. The ministry of a teaching character should not precede the partaking of the elements if the example of the early church is followed; it might interrupt the continuity of the worship. On the other hand, worship had been stimulated by a short devotional message on the person of Christ before the breaking of the bread, so we see that teaching is definitely important to the early church.
Paul’s epistles give us exhortations and an explanation of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper in more depth. Let us take a look at some of these passages that speak to the reason we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
“Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24)
First, the Lord’s Supper is a memorial feast. We do it in remembrance of Christ Himself, who should fill our vision as we partake. How thrilling it is to sit down with gathered saints and be assured of the Lord’s presence in our midst and review the cross of Christ. (See Matthew 18:20) What memories flood our soul! Memories of His suffering: the venom heaped upon Him, His patient endurance of it all, the love that constrained Him there to die, the atoning and redemptive value of the sacrifice He made. Surely this is a feast of soul-stirring, blessed memories. Our hearts should be thrilled, our souls filled with gratitude and with worship as we partake. Let us consider the words of the hymn, O Patient Spotless One: “Savior! Thou art enough. The mind and heart to fill Thy life, to calm the anxious soul. Thy love, its fear dispel. O fix our earnest gaze so wholly, Lord on Thee that with Thy beauty occupied we elsewhere none may see.”
We should lay everything and everyone aside and become wholly occupied with Christ and Christ alone as we celebrate the breaking of bread. At other times and in other meetings we consider our own service, needs, and the world we live in everyday. But when we assemble to break bread, we empty ourselves - our hands, our hearts, and our minds - of all that is earthly. Christ Himself should fill and permeate every fiber of our being. The Holy Spirit should be the moving force as He leads us to Bethlehem, Gethsemane, Calvary, the empty tomb, Ascension, and Glory. It is a memorial feast for us to remember and reflect on these times and places in the life of Christ.
Paul also shows that this feast is a periodical recall to the center and heart of our faith. The Lord anticipated our human frailties and needs, and saw how important it was to recall us weekly from the circumference to the center of our faith. At the Supper we come face to face with the heart, the core and foundation of our faith, recalling the mighty mystery of Calvary. Furthermore, the Lord’s Supper is an expression of corporate fellowship. In 1 Corinthians 10:16, Paul says, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” The comparison of our communion with Him through the Lord’s Supper is the same for our church fellowship. The fellowship is established through the shedding of the blood of Christ and the giving of our Lord’s body as an atoning sacrifice. This fellowship embraces all who compose one bread, one body, and the partakers of Christ.
“You proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)
Paul describes how when we meet together to break bread, we announce corporately the Lord’s death. When we take our places around the Lord we are virtually proclaiming to the world, angels, and demons that Christ has died. The eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup constitute an act of testimony to the world that we are saved through the death of Christ, and by partaking we declare this glorious fact, actively worshipping our Risen King. The Paschal Lamb pointed forward to a Calvary yet to be, while the Lord’s Supper points backward to the Calvary that has been. The Lord’s death is the most stupendous event of two eternities, having divine authorization. His victorious death was the one voluntary death that also drew the sting of death. Praise God that because of His victory over death, this event brings life to those that trust Christ!
“Till He comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)
Paul teaches that the breaking of bread is a confession of our hope still to come, a sign-post pointing towards heaven. The worldling says, “What is it all about? You preach of a death that has abolished death, yet you still attend funerals and follow the bodies of loved ones into the cemetery.” When we sit around the Lord’s Table to take the Lord’s Supper we are saying, “We are waiting.” The feast, which began when He went to the Cross, will continue till He comes to receive His own to Himself. When we look backward from the Lord’s Table we are reminded that we have been redeemed with precious blood. When we look forward from the Lord’s Table, we are reminded that He has promised to come quickly. The first installment of victory over death is already in glory, yet soon there will be a mighty harvest. Graves will be opened, loves ones in Christ will be raised from the dead, living saints will be changed, and together we will be captured into the presence of our wonderful Lord! When we meet together as one at the Lord’s Supper we are proclaiming with one voice that we believe in the Triune God; we proclaim it to an unbelieving world and to hostile powers around us, reinforcing each other’s faith. We break bread until He comes!