The Breaking of Bread

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

(Acts 2:42)

There’s just something about food. Imagine going to your relatives’ house for Thanksgiving. The house is packed. Every chair is full. They even have to bring in some folding chairs. A couple kids are sharing a piano bench. This is going to be great, right? But what if there’s no food? What if you’re all just staring at an empty table?

Now, the people are still there. Hopefully you enjoy the company of your family, because you can’t bury your face in stuffing when your uncle goes off on a long monologue about his fantasy golf team. It’s just not the same without food. Food makes the sad times a little less difficult and the joyful times that much better.

I’m not sure I can clearly define it; it’s still something of a mystery to me. But there’s something about food that binds people together. We could even say there’s something intimate about it.

Other cultures have noticed the same thing. Table fellowship was especially significant in Judaism. It was a sign of friendship and solidarity. That’s why the Pharisees and scribes were so incensed when they saw Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 9:10-11; Luke 15:2). By eating with them, Jesus identified them as his friends. To the Pharisees and scribes, it looked like Jesus was lowering himself to their level. And he was! It was an act that said, “These are my people.” This identification with sinners would become even more extreme when Jesus identified himself with all the sin of the world and suffered the humiliating death of a vile criminal. Jesus identified himself as a sinner, but without actually committing any sin of his own. Even before the cross, this identification was demonstrated when he sat down and ate with the moral outcasts. Table fellowship was (and still is) a sign and act of friendship and solidarity. This is why the breaking of bread is one of the four things the first Christian congregation devoted themselves to.

But it wasn’t just a matter of potlucks. To be sure, potlucks are an important part of congregational life, but we have the privilege to gather around an even greater feast: the feast of Jesus’ own body and blood. Oftentimes the phrase “the breaking of bread” is a reference to the meal Jesus instituted on the night before his crucifixion, when he broke bread and gave it to his disciples (see Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 10:16). In Acts 2:42 it seems to refer to the totality of their table fellowship—both their regular meals and Holy Communion.

When we stop and think about what this actually is that Jesus feeds to us—his very own body and blood—it’s easy to see why it’s such a big deal. It’s easy to see why these first Christians would devote themselves to it. If there’s something mysterious about turkey and mashed potatoes that binds people together, how much more when the meal is our crucified and risen Savior? When we receive his body and blood into our mouths, we are united with him. And as we are united with him, we are united through him to everyone else who is united with him. So the next time you kneel at that altar, think of this: it’s not just you and Jesus in that moment. It’s you and Jesus and everyone else who is being united with Jesus.

The peace of Christ be with you all,

Pastor Dan