7-4-7 Breaking Bread: Practical Advice
So, in the light of all this, break bread. Many readers of these words are isolated or only occasionally meet with their brethren for formal memorial meetings. But break bread alone, weekly if you can. I know, from years in semi-isolation myself, how terribly tempting it is to let it slip from a weekly habit. ‘I’ll do it tomorrow, next week, well soon we’ll have a visit / meeting, I’ll do it then anyway...’. Whenever the Lord started to speak about His death, the disciples invariably turned the conversation round to another tack. And it seems, from a careful analysis of the crucifixion records, that those who came to behold Golgotha’s awful scene couldn’t watch it for too long, but went away. And so with us, we have a tendency to defer facing up to the message of the cross as the emblems portray it; and even while we are doing it, to concern ourselves with anything but the essential essence of the cross; the taste of the wine, the cover over the bread, the music, what we didn’t agree with in the sermon... all these things we can so eagerly crowd out the essence of the cross.
When you’re living in isolation from other Christians, nobody ever asks you point blank: ‘Do you break bread alone every week?’. We may meet together with others occasionally, and when we do we all act as if of course this is the norm of our spiritual lives; when it can so easily not be so at all. If the above reasoning has been followed, the breaking of bread is a vital, God-designed part of our spiritual growth. It should shake us to the bone, as it brings us face to shame-bowed face with the crucified Saviour. It isn’t a ritual which somehow shows us to be a keen Christian; it’s a vital act within our very personal spirituality. And so I will ask you point blank: ‘Do you break bread each week?’. Not that actually there’s any specific command to do it weekly; but it’s so evidently a vital part of our relationship with the Lord that we must ask ourselves why shouldn’t we do it weekly.
And break bread properly, not just to salve your conscience or because it’s expected of you, or because it’s your psychological routine. Be aware that there is a psychology of religious experience; all religious people like to have some physical symbolism (e.g. bread = body, wine = blood), and especially, some solemn rituals that they observe; and they feel calmer, satisfied, fulfilled after keeping them. On one level, we are religious people like any other religious people, and have the same features. But on another level, true Christianity is the one and only ultimately true religion, which by grace we have come to know. Our breaking of bread is far far more than just religious ritual, although on one level it is that. But we must rise well above this. Israel kept the Passover (cp. the breaking of bread), and yet to God they never really kept it. The Corinthians took the cup of the Lord and that of the idols; they broke bread with both (1 Cor. 10:21). But they were told they could not do this. They took the cup of the Lord; but not in the Lord’s eyes. They ate the Lord’s supper; but they had to be told that they were not really eating it (1 Cor. 11:20). They turned His supper into their own supper. They did it, but for themselves. And so in spiritual terms, they didn’t do it (1 Cor. 11:20.21). Just as the “Lord’s passover" became by the time of the NT “the feast of the Jews". They turned His passover into their own. Likewise they turned the house of God into their own house (Mt. 23:38); and the Lord called the law of God through Moses as now “their law" (Jn. 15:25). And so we must just accept the real possibility that we can break bread on the surface, but not break bread. We’ve probably all done this. Don’t let it become the norm. Likewise Israel had to be asked the rhetorical question: “Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years?" (Am. 5:25). Because they also worshipped Molech, their keeping of the feasts wasn’t accepted. So I can ask again: Do you really break bread?
So not only must we break bread by all means; we must allow ourselves the time and collected mind to enable us to do it as we are intended to. Like baptism, we can’t keep in mind at the same time all the wonderful, high things which the service means to us whilst we perform it. But we should try, as far as we can, to be as aware as possible of all these things. So may I say some things which ought to be obvious:
- Don’t noisily dash in to a memorial meeting late. Try to take your place with as little disturbance of others as possible. Bring your kids with you by all means; but try to make every reasonable effort to keep them from unduly distracting others. Try to remove all distractions, as far as you can, and minimise the possibility of interruption if you are breaking bread alone at home.
- Prepare your mind before the meeting. Realise something of what you are about to do. We could all ensure we sit in silence for at least five minutes before the meeting starts.
- If you are making comments on Bible passages or giving a sermon, or simply seeking exhortation for yourself from the readings, concentrate on the things of the Lord Jesus and His cross. He is to be found in all the Scriptures. Don’t use this time as a platform for airing your crotchets or hang ups about others (even if only within your own mind).
- Don’t start talking (or thinking) about the things of this life the moment the last prayer finishes.
- Be sober, in view of the seriousness of what we are doing. Don’t allow a spirit of levity to creep in to the proceedings. We are going through a dummy run of judgment day. We stand before the Lord’s cross.
- And yet be joyful, as far as you can be. But don’t let the expression of that joy in music take you away from the focus of the meeting. Intricate part-singing in the Western world and repetitive, rhythmic choruses used elsewhere aren’t wrong per se; but if glorified in themselves they can take us away from the focus, the Head, which is the Saviour Lord Himself, and our desperate gratitude for His love.
- Don’t hold yourself back during the meeting; allow yourself to make those mental commitments you are moved to. Our flesh almost makes us feel embarrassed or insincere if we resolve to make a major (or minor) change in our lives. Let true devotion and response rise above this. We must just accept that the memorial meeting is an emotional experience; it can be nothing else, to the devoted heart. And there’s nothing wrong with this. Don’t be too proud (brothers) to shed a tear.
And especially. Don’t separate the act of breaking bread from the rest of your life. It should be the natural flow-on from your daily meditation on the Lord’s love. The mind set we have in that quiet hour should in principle be that which we have all our hours and days; for we live as men and women under judgment, ever confronted and comforted by that love of the Father and Son, so great, so free. It demands by its very nature and existence our self-examination and response, far more than just one hour / week. If there is a fundamental separation between the breaking of bread and the rest of daily life, the result will be that the memorial service becomes mere theatre; an acting out, going through a ritual, a saying of words, even a feeling of feelings, which has no connection with the world into which we step when we leave the service. This was the Corinthians' problem. Their refusal to share their packed lunches with each other just before the actual taking of the communion meant that actually, they could not take that communion as God intended.