7. The Importance Of The Breaking Of Bread
Quite rightly, the breaking of bread is at the centre of our Christian
lives. But because there is something very special about
that meeting, there can be a tendency to regard it and the bread
and wine as having some kind of mystical aura about them. This results
in the meeting not being as meaningful and helpful to us as it should
be. Yet at the other extreme, over familiarity with it can result
in our not according it the vital importance which we should. In
this study we want to analyze the basic aspects of the breaking
of bread. The food which the Lord provided was His body and life,
given above all upon the cross. He urges His hearers to labour to
possess this, because this is the food that will abide in / into
[Gk. eis] the life eternal (Jn. 6:27- ‘endures unto’
is a poor translation). The essence of having and ‘eating’
of the Lord’s sacrifice now, is what eternal life is to be
all about. No wonder He invited us to understand that we will repeat
the breaking of bread service [which symbolizes this whole theme
of eating of Him] in His future Kingdom. Absorbing Him, His sacrifice,
the food which is Him, begins now… and in so doing, we are
eating of the food / bread that will abide into the life eternal.
He surely had in mind too the manna stored in the ark, which was
eaten in the wilderness and yet abode / endured into Israel’s
life in the promised land. And that bread, of course, was symbolic
of Him; it is the “hidden manna” which His followers
will eat in the future Kingdom (Rev. 2:17). Eph. 1:17,18 puts it
another way, by paralleling "the knowledge of [Christ]"
with "knowing what is the hope of his calling... the riches
of the glory of his inheritance". The blessed hope of our calling
is not simply a life of bliss in ideal conditions, but more specifically
it is the hope of 'knowing Christ' as person eternally, in all the
glorious fullness of that experience.
It's easy to underestimate how much the breaking of bread means
to the Lord. He lamented that His betrayer was one who had dipped
in the dish with Him at the last supper (Mk. 14:20). There was no
way that this was meant to be an indication to the disciples that
Judas was the betrayer- for they all ate the supper and dipped in
the same dish. Hence His point was surely to foreground the awful
fact that it was a brother who had broken bread with Him
who would now betray Him. Ps. 41:9 laments that it was one who "ate
of my bread" who betrayed Him. This is why the challenge "Lord,
is it I?" echoes down to every communion service. It was 'with
desire that He desired' [a real emphasis] to ate the passover with
His men (Lk. 22:15). He so wants us to break bread with Him; He
so wants us to try to understand the cross. It seems He asked the
Father that His disciples should be with Him at the cross- "I
will that where I am, there they may also be" (Jn. 17:24 RV-
hence John's emphasis that they really did behold Him there). He
so wishes for us to at least try to stand with Him there and enter
into it all.
A Memorial Meeting
Our understanding of it is greatly helped by appreciating that the breaking of bread is the New Covenant's equivalent of the Passover feast. The Passover meal was in order to remember the great salvation which God had wrought for all Israel at the Red Sea. Egypt, representing the power of sin, was gloriously vanquished there. Yet the faithful Israelite of all ages was to also proclaim that " This is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt" (Ex. 13:8). Our memorial meeting has this same two fold structure; remembering the deliverance which God wrought for us personally, as well as for the whole community of the redeemed. This is why at the breaking of bread there ought to be an awareness of personal fellowship with God, and also with each other, and with those who have gone before. The equivalent of our Red Sea experience is baptism (1 Cor. 10:1). It is not unreasonable to conclude that in our very personal meditations at the breaking of bread, we should think back to our own baptism, our deliverance from the bondage of our personal sins and weaknesses. Paul speaks of " the cup of blessing which we bless" (1 Cor. 10:16), probably using " blessing" in its Biblical sense of 'forgiveness' (e.g. Acts 3:25,26). Whilst there is, therefore, an awareness of our own sins and salvation from them at the memorial meeting, there is not any specific mediation of forgiveness to us through the bread and wine. In prospect, we were saved at baptism, through our Lord's work on the cross. In prospect, all our sins were forgiven then. We must be careful to avoid the Catholic notion that the bread and wine do themselves possess some power of atonement. They are the appointed aids to help us remember what has already been achieved. And this is why the early brethren could break bread with joy- not as part of a guilt trip prompted by the worrying remembrance of the standard set for us in Jesus (Acts 2:46).
Because we are remembering our great salvation, the memorial meeting need not be a place for guilt tripping. Joachim Jeremias gives a whole string of quotes from Rabbinic and historical writings that indicate that “At the time of Jesus the diners sat down" to eat(1). Yet the Gospel records are insistent that Jesus and the disciples reclined at the last supper (Mt. 26:20; Mk. 14:18; Lk. 22:14; Jn. 13:12,23,25,28). Yet at the Passover, it was apparently common to recline, because as Rabbi Levi commented “slaves eat standing, but here at the Passover meal people should recline to eat, to signify that they have passed from slavery to freedom". The breaking of bread is thus stressed in the records as being a symbol of our freedom from slavery. It should not in that sense be a worrying experience, taking us on a guilt trip. It is to celebrate the salvation and release from bondage which has truly been achieved for us in Christ our passover.
You may like to underline two phrases in your Bible in Matthew 26. " As they did eat..." they began to keep asking Him [Gk.] " Lord, is it I?" (Mt. 26:21)... and as they were eating Jesus took bread..." (Mt. 26:26). The whole meeting, according to the Greek tenses, involved the disciples asking " Lord, is it I?" - and as they were eating the Lord shared bread and wine with them in the manner with which we are familiar at our communion service. In other words, the entire gathering was shot through with a spirit of urgent self-examination and recognition of their own possibility of failure and betrayal of the Lord. For all the joyful assurance which the communion speaks of, that assurance and joy is rooted in this other aspect- of self-examination with the knowledge that failure and betrayal of the Lord is a real possibility. The importance of self examination at the breaking of bread is indirectly hinted at in Jn. 13:10: “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet". This is surely a reference to how Num. 19:19 prescribed that a Levite was required to take a plunge bath in order to be clean. The Lord is therefore saying that all His people, when they partake of His feast, are to present themselves as cleansed Levites. He understood His people as all being part of a priesthood. Additionally, we need to bear in mind that the Lord spoke those words just before the breaking of bread, in response to how Peter did not want to participate in the Lord’s meal if it meant the Lord washing him. Surely the Lord was saying that baptism is a one time event- he has been thus bathed does not need to wash again, or be re-baptized. But, he does need to periodically wash his feet, which I would take to be a reference to the breaking of bread which Peter seemed to want to avoid. Thus whilst forgiveness is not mystically mediated through the bread and wine, there is all the same a very distinct connection between the memorial meeting and forgiveness, just as there is between baptism and forgiveness. To not break bread is to walk away from that forgiveness in the blood of Jesus, just as to refuse baptism is to do the same.
Once this is understood, the command to examine ourselves at the breaking of bread will not result in a frantic listing of a few sins from the past week, somehow hoping that taking the bread and wine will absolve us from them. " If we would judge ourselves (at the breaking of bread), we should not be judged" (1 Cor. 11:31) in the sense of being condemned. Our self-examination must be so intense that we appreciate that we ought to be condemned; if we achieve that level of self-knowledge now, we will not be condemned at the judgment. In the context of the self-examination command in 1 Cor. 11, Paul is speaking of the need to completely focus our attention on the sacrifice of Christ. Yet this command must have its basis in the directive for Israel to search their house for leaven before eating the Passover (Ex. 12:19). " Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven...of malice and wickedness" (1 Cor. 5:8). The disciples’ question at the first breaking of bread, “Lord, is it I?" is another prototype of the command to examine ourselves at the feast (Mt. 26:22). Combining Paul's command to examine ourselves that we are really focusing upon our Lord's sacrifice, and the Exodus allusion which implies that we should examine our own lives for wickedness, we conclude that if we properly reflect upon Christ and His victory for us, then we will inevitably be aware of our own specific failures which Christ really has vanquished. But this will come as a by-product of truly grasping the fullness of the Lord's victory. The Passover was to be a public proclamation to the surrounding world of what God had done for Israel. Likewise our feast 'shows forth' (Greek: publicly declares') the Lord's death. Our memorial meeting should therefore include a degree of openly declaring to others what spiritual deliverances the Lord has wrought for us. This is surely the sort of talk that should fill up the half hour between ending the service and leaving the hall.
If we really know Christ, if we love that salvation which He has achieved, then we will want to break bread, often. " If ye love me, keep my commandments" . There can be no doubt that the bread and wine do make our Lord come so real to us once again. The more an Israelite believed that he really had been redeemed from Egypt, the more he would want to keep the Passover. Likewise, our attitude to the breaking of bread is a reflection of our confidence in salvation and forgiveness. Physical isolation, Sunday School duties, unco-operative family members, none of these things will stop the confident believer from breaking bread, alone if necessary.
The Vital Importance Of Breaking Bread
It is noteworthy that God's offer of deliverance from Egypt was conditional on a number of things. One of these was that Israel would keep the Passover to remember the great salvation God was going to achieve for them. So often in the record it is stressed: " Ye shall observe this thing...for ever...ye shall keep this service" . For this reason, it is necessary to explain before baptism (cp. the Passover salvation) that we must keep the breaking of bread service. God's eagerness for them to remember shines through the written word. The description of the memorial service as being a 'proclamation' of the Lord's death (1 Cor. 11:26 RV) is an allusion to the second of the four cups taken at the Jewish Passover: " the cup of proclamation" . This was drunk after the reading of Psalms 113 and 114, which proclaimed Yahweh's deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Therefore our breaking bread is our proclamation that we really believe that we have been saved out of this world, and are on the wilderness path to the Kingdom. God forbid, really, that our breaking bread should come down to mere ritual and habit. It is a very personal proclamation of our own salvation- as well as that of the whole body of believers.
So important was it, that he that " forbeareth to keep the Passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people...that man shall bear his sin" (Num. 9:13). It seems from Num. 9:10 and the examples of Hezekiah and Josiah's Passovers, that it was more important to keep the Passover even if not everything was being done exactly in order, even if there was a sense of unworthiness, than to not do it at all. This should be borne in mind when some feel 'unworthy' to take the emblems, or where there are genuine problems in obtaining wine. Moses bound the people into covenant relationship with the words: “Behold the blood of the covenant" (Ex. 24:8). These very words were used by the Lord in introducing the emblems of the breaking of bread (Mk. 14:24). This is how important it is. We are showing that we are the covenant, special Israel of God amidst a Gentile world. Indeed, “the blood of the covenant" in later Judaism came to refer to the blood of circumcision (cp. Gen. 17:10) and it could be that the Lord was seeking to draw a comparison between circumcision and the breaking of bread. For this is how His words would have sounded in the ears of His initial hearers(2). This is how vital and defining it is to partake of it.
" Even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people...that man shall bear his sin" is the language of Ex. 12:15 concerning the man who ate leavened rather than unleavened bread, and of Gen. 17:14: " The uncircumcised man (who refuses to be circumcised)...shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant" . Circumcision was the Old Covenant's equivalent of baptism. To not break bread over a prolonged period therefore shows that a person is no longer in covenant with God. It was due to an incorrect attitude to the memorial meeting that many at Corinth were struck down " weak and sickly...and many sleep" (1 Cor. 11:30), presumably referring to the power the apostles had to smite apostate believers with physical discomfort and death. Such was the importance accorded to that meeting by them. The sensitive Bible student will see the connection between the bread and wine offered with the daily burnt offering under the Law, and the breaking of bread service. The connection was surely intended to teach that the spirit of the memorial service is to go with us morning and evening in daily life. There is surely no believer who has not privately lamented the fact that they experience an almost inevitable loss of intensity after the climax of the breaking of bread.
The breaking of bread is described as eating at " the table of the Lord" (1 Cor. 10:21). This was Old Testament language for the altar (Ez. 41:22). By eating from it we are partaking of the altar, the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 9:13; 10:18; Heb. 13:10). If we don't partake of it, we declare ourselves to have no part in Him. Yet the very fact we partake of it, is a statement that we have pledged ourselves to separation from this present world; for it is not possible to eat at the Lord's table, and also that of this world (1 Cor. 10:21). The Passover, as the prototype breaking of bread, featured bitter herbs to remind Israel of their bitter experience in Egypt (Ex. 1:14). The breaking of bread should likewise focus our attention on the fact that return to the world is a return to bondage and bitterness, not freedom.
Whilst forgiveness itself is not mediated in any metaphysical sense by the memorial meeting, it is nonetheless a vital part of the life of the forgiven believer. When Peter didn’t want to break bread, the Lord reminded him that he who has been baptized / washed is indeed clean, but needs periodic feet-washing. This, surely, was a reference to the breaking of bread (Jn. 13:10). The same word for ‘wash’ is found in Jn. 15:2, where we read of how the Father washes / purifies periodically the vine branches. Could this not be some reference to the effect the breaking of bread should have upon us?
The Breaking Of Bread Meeting: A Caveat
Not assembling ourselves together is of course not a good thing. If we love our brethren, we will seek to be physically with them. There can be no doubt that we must struggle with our natural selfishness, our desire to go it alone. But is this actually what Heb. 10:25 is talking about? A glance at the context shows that forsaking the assembly is paralleled with the wilful sin which shall exclude us from God’s salvation:
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith
Without wavering [going back to Judaism, according to the context in Hebrews]
Let us consider one another to provoke unto love
Not forsaking the assembly-of-ourselves
Exhorting one another
Unlike the “some" who, according to how Hebrews uses that Greek word, have turned away from Christianity
Wilful sin, with no more access to the Lord’s sacrifice
Certain condemnation- “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation"
Despising the Law
Treading under foot the Son of God and reviling the blood of the covenant- what had to be done by Christians who ‘repented’ of their conversion and returned to the synagogue, the sort of blasphemy that Saul was making Christian converts commit.
Now are those awful things in the right hand column above really a description of someone who fervently believes in the Lord Jesus, but for whatever reason, doesn’t ‘make it out to meeting’ on Sundays? Those terms seem to speak about a wilful rejection of the Lord Jesus. And this of course is the very background against which Hebrews was written. It was a letter to Hebrew Christians who were beginning to bow to Jewish pressure and renounce their faith in Christ, and return to Judaism. “The assembling of ourselves together" can actually be read as a noun- not a verb. Those who ‘forsook’ ‘the assembly together of us’ would then refer to those who totally rejected Christianity. The same word “forsaking" occurs in 2 Pet. 2:15, also in a Jewish context, about those who “forsake the right way". So I suggest that forsaking the assembly refers more to turning away from Christ and returning to apostasy, than to simply not turning up at church as often as we might. The writer laments that “some" were indeed forsaking the assembly (Heb. 10:25). But that Greek word translated “some" recurs in Hebrews to describe those “some" who had forsaken the ecclesia and turned back to Judaism: “Take heed…lest there be in some [AV “any"] of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (and returning to Judaism- Heb. 3:12)… lest some [AV “any"] of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13)… for some, when they had heard, did provoke [referring to the earlier Hebrews in the wilderness who turned away from the hope of the Kingdom- Heb. 3:16]… some of you should seem to fail [like the condemned Hebrews in the wilderness- Heb. 4:1]… lest some fall after the same example of unbelief" (Heb. 4:11). In fact, right after the reference to the “some" who forsake the assembly, Heb. 10:28 speaks of “some [AV “he"- but the same Greek word in all these places for “some"] that despised Moses’ law". Clearly, those Hebrews in the wilderness who turned away from the spirit of Christ in Moses and the hope of the Kingdom, are being held up as warnings to that same “some" in the first century Hebrew ecclesia who were turning back from the Hope of the Kingdom. Now let me get it right. I’m not in any way saying that we needn’t bother about our ecclesial attendance. Far from it! But I also feel it’s not right to insist that if someone doesn’t attend an ecclesia, for whatever reason, they are therefore guilty of the wilful sin and certain fiery condemnation of which Hebrews 10 speaks for those who forsake the assembly. In fact, the passage has almost been abused like that- as if to say: ‘If you don’t turn up on Sunday, if you quit meeting with us, then, you’ve quit on God and His Son’. This simply isn’t the case.
There are some who find attendance at the memorial meeting difficult for whatever reason. Yet there is only one loaf, one cup, and all those truly baptized into the one body are partaker in it, so Paul explains. Even disfellowship can never be any more than a local issue between you and one ecclesia; whenever you partake the one loaf and one cup, you're in fellowship with the entire body of Jesus- even if some of them tell you that you're not. An ecclesia can part company with you, you can with them, but nothing can separate us from the body and blood and love of Jesus. They cannot tell you that you are no longer a part of the body of Jesus. Also, it's worth paying attention to Matthew 18, a passage invariably invoked by these types. If your brother sins against you, you can go to him, then get the church involved, and then, the Lord says to the person sinned against, let him be unto THEE as a Gentile / publican. I am such a fuddy duddy I am still reading from the AV and RV. About the only advantage of those versions is the way 'thee' signifies a 'you singular' as opposed to 'ye / you' which in KJ English meant 'you plural'. Modern English no longer makes a distinction. So, let such a person be unto THEE- you singular, not your ecclesia- as a Gentile and Publican. And what was Jesus' attitude to them? To mix with them, eat with them in table fellowship, and try to win them.
Also. Mt 18 continues. Peter asks " And how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?" . Jesus replies, 70 x 7. i.e. to an unlimited extent. It's as if He's saying that yes you can go through the procedure of sorting it out with your brother and rejecting him from your personal company. But, the higher level, is to simply forgive him. It's like adultery under the Law. There were several options for the husband. Do a trial of jealousy and make her infertile. Stone her. Divorce her. Or, just forgive her. We surely all ought to be aiming for the higher level. Those who quote Matthew 18 as a reason for withdrawal are in my view living on a lower spiritual level than those who forgive 70 x 7. But the gracious Lord doubtless shall accept them too in the last day.
And so for these reasons and others, brethren and sisters walk miles through the blazing African sun, travel for hours in sub zero temperatures in Eastern Europe, drive hundreds of kilometers along North American highways- to meet together for the memorial service. But again, Why? Why not just break bread at home? The answer to this lies in the fact that the breaking of bread (as the Passover) is intended to recall the salvation which was achieved for the whole body of Christ- which includes us personally. We should be aware of this if we have to break bread alone. It is understandable, therefore, that those in 'isolation' often try to break bread at the same time as their brethren are doing so elsewhere. " The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread (Greek 'loaf'), and one body" - of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16,17). The bread represents the body of Christ; but it is hammered home time and again in the New Testament that the believers are the body of Christ. By partaking of Christ's body, we are sharing with each other. Paul drives home this point with an Old Testament allusion: " Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?" (1 Cor. 10:18). We are the living sacrifices, offered on the Christ altar (Rom. 12:1; Heb. 13:10). By being placed upon the altar, the sacrifice was counted as the altar. As Christ hung on the cross, all believers were counted as being in Him; Christ and the believers were, in this sense, indivisible on the cross. And they still are- hence the figure of us being the very body, the very being, of Christ. To personally share in fellowship with Him therefore must involve intense fellowship with other members of Christ's body. We must 'discern' the Lord's body (1 Cor. 11:29), and also " judge (same word as 'discern') ourselves" at the memorial meeting (1 Cor. 11:31). We discern the Lord's body, and thereby discern ourselves too- because we are part of His body. This further shows that our self-examination at the breaking of bread is both of Christ and also of ourselves (both individually and collectively, as the body of Christ?).
" Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt. 18:20) surely promises a special closeness of Christ when we are physically gathered together. All those who have made real effort to gather together for the memorial meeting will know the truth of this. Our community increasingly features many in semi-isolation; this promise of special spiritual blessing in meeting together is something which they can and surely do know the truth of. The close fellowship which was engendered by the Passover feast, as Israel huddled together in family units around the slain lamb, the focus of their love and gratitude to God, explains why Israel were repeatedly warned not to share that meal with those not in covenant with God. To argue that our fellowship is only with God leads to a woolly attitude towards breaking bread with those in the apostasy; yet this runs counter to the teaching of the Passover type.
The Lord held the memorial meeting as a keeping of a Passover,
and yet He changed some elements of it. In like manner He was made
known to the disciples “in the breaking of bread" (Lk. 24:35), perhaps
because it was usual for the host to say the blessing before the
meal, and yet Jesus the stranger, the guest, presumed to lead the
prayer. Joachim Jeremias cites evidence that “By the time of Jesus,
individual cups were used at the Passover meal" (3),
and yet Mk. 14:23 implies that He used only one cup, which was passed
around amongst those at the last supper: “He took the cup [RV “a
cup"]…he gave it to them: and they all drank of it [singular]".
They didn’t take up their own cups and drink- the Lord gave them
His cup, just as He passes on to all in Him a participation in His
“cup" of suffering and final joy. Reflect how deftly and determinedly
the Lord must have “received the cup" (Lk. 22:17 RV), knowing what
it represented; imagine His body language. Paul’s references to
“the cup" imply the same. This change was surely to indicate
the unity that His death, His blood, His life, was to inspire amongst
those who share in it. This, in passing, is behind my undoubted
preference for not using individual cups at the memorial meeting.
It would seem to be a returning to the Jewish legalistic tradition,
however unintentionally. I have elsewhere commented upon the clear
link between the death of Jesus and our unity. The memorial meeting
is the supreme celebration of that unity between us. To deny a brother
or sister participation in it is something serious indeed. Tragically,
and it is a tragedy, we have tended to use the memorial meeting
as a weapon for exclusion rather than as a celebration of our unity.
Yet this was the intention, without doubt. Comparing Lk. 22:20 and
Mk. 14:24 we find the Lord saying that the cup of wine was “for
you poured out, poured out for many"- as if He wanted them to be
aware at the memorial meeting that it was not only they who had
been redeemed in Him. Likewise the Passover was essentially a remembering
of the deliverance of a community, through which the individual
worshipper found his or her personal salvation. This is why it is
just not good enough to insist on breaking bread alone, or with
no thought to the fact that all of us were redeemed together, as
one man, as one nation, in Him. Remember that the Hebrew word for
covenant, berith, is "derived from a verb meaning
'to eat'" (4). That covenant was made with a community, the
Israel of God; by eating the covenant meal we recall that collective
covenant, that salvation of a community of which we are part- and
it is appropriate therefore that it becomes a symbol of our unity
within that community. The Old Testament idea of covenant is associated
with words like hesed (kindness, love, devotion, grace),
emeth (truth, integrity), emunah (faithfulness,
allegiance). These are the characteristics associated with being
in covenant relationship; and we are to show them to all others
who are in covenant relationship, not just some of them.
The unity between believers at the breaking of bread is brought out in Acts 2:42, where we read of the new converts continuing in
the teaching of the apostles,
the breaking of bread
It could be that this is a description of the early order of service at the memorial meetings. They began with an exhortation by the apostles, then there was “the fellowship", called the agape in Jude 12, a meal together, and then the breaking of bread itself [following Jewish Passover tradition], concluded by “the prayers", which may have included the singing of Psalms. The performance of this feast was a sign of conversion and membership in the body of Christ. This is how important it is.
Considering how the bread represents the body of Christ leads us to a common query: 'Seeing that " a bone of Him shall not be (and was not) broken" , how can we say that we remember the broken body of Jesus by breaking the bread?'. First of all, it must be understood that 'breaking bread' or 'eating bread' is simply an idiom for sharing in a meal (Is. 58:7; Jer. 16:7; Lam. 4:4; Ez. 17:7; 24:17; Hos. 9:4; Dt. 26:14; Job 42:11). 'Bread' is used for any food, just as 'salt' is used in the same way in Arabic. The breaking of a loaf of bread is not necessarily implicit in the phrase (although it can be). However, we must also be aware of a fundamental misconception which one feels is held by many; that the physical blood and body of Christ are all that we come to remember. This notion is related to that which feels that there is some mystical power in the physical bread and wine in themselves. Bro. Roberts makes the point in " The Blood of Christ" that " it is not the blood as literal blood that is precious or efficacious" . And the same might be said about the Lord's literal body. His body and blood were no different to those of any other man.
The fact that we are asked to symbolize His broken body, when it is stated that His literal body was not broken, is proof enough that Christ's body is to be understood as something more than His literal flesh and blood. Indeed, 1 Cor. 10:16,17 seems to suggest that the " body of Christ" in which we partake through the bread is a symbol of the whole body of believers, just as much as His actual body which enabled this salvation. Likewise the Passover was not intended to commemorate the red liquid which flowed from the first Passover lambs, but to remember the salvation which God had achieved for all Israel on account of that. Christ bore our sins " in his own body on the tree" (1 Pet. 2:24)- and it was more in His mind and mental awareness that this was true, rather than our sins being in (e.g.) His arms and legs. Other uses of " body" which require reference to our whole mind and being, rather than our literal body, include Mt. 5:29,30; 6:22-25; Jn. 2:21; Rom. 7:4; 1 Cor. 6:19; 9:23. Luke's record of the Last Supper shows how the Lord spoke of His body and blood as parallel with His whole sacrifice: " This is my body...this do in remembrance of me (His whole way of life- not just His physical body). This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you" (Lk. 22:19,20). Col. 1:20 likewise parallels “the blood of the cross" with “him" (the man Jesus). Rom. 7:4 puts “the body of Christ" for the death of that body; He was, in His very person, His death. The cross was a living out of a spirit of self-giving which was Him. The cup of wine represents the promises (" testament" ) of salvation which have been confirmed by Christ's blood. Note how Jesus quietly spoke of " my body which is (being) given for you...my blood which is shed for you" . The pouring out of His life/blood was something ongoing, which was occurring even as He spoke those words. The cross was a summation of a lifetime of outpouring and breaking of His innermost being, or " body" . It is this that we remember at the breaking of bread. The Passover was comprised of the lamb plus bread. The breaking of bread, the Passover for Christians, is wine and bread. The lamb was thus replaced in the thought of Jesus by His blood / wine. He perceived that His blood was Him, in that sense.
The prophecy of Ps. 34:20 about not a bone of the Lord being broken is clearly applied to Him in Jn. 19:36. But the context is clearly about all of us- any righteous man. The preceding verse speaks of how the Lord delivers the righteous man out of all his tribulations- and this verse is applied to other believers apart from the Lord Jesus in Acts 12:11 and 2 Tim. 3:11,12. The chilling fact is that we who are in the body of the Lord are indeed co-crucified with Him.
We 'discern' the Lord's body by correctly breaking bread (1 Cor. 11:29). The Greek translated 'discern' means to analyze, to pull apart, as a judge does. It is the same word translated " examine [himself]" in the previous verse; our examination of the Lord's body leads inevitably to our self-examination. Consideration of His death by His people leads to the thoughts of many hearts being revealed (Lk. 2:35). The purpose of an exhortation is therefore to centre our minds upon Christ, to analyze His " body" , His very essence and spirit, so that our minds are focussed upon the slain lamb as clearly as Israel's were on Passover night.
It is also worth reflecting how the Hebrew writer saw the torn veil as a symbol
of the Lord’s flesh. It is just possible that the physical tearing
of the Lord’s flesh at His death through the nails represented the
tearing of His flesh nature, symbolized in the physical tearing
of the veil. But the tearing of the veil was something essential
and far reaching- not a surface rip. The Lord’s death is surely
to be understood as a tearing apart of the flesh nature and tendencies
which He bore; and it is this we remember in breaking the bread
which represents His flesh. Note that to break the bread in a place
was an idiom for breaking the life there (Ez. 4:16; 5:16; 14:13;
Lev. 26:26). This was what the Lord asks us to remember- not the
physical breaking of His body, but the breaking of His life for
us and sharing it with us (Is. 58:7).
A Type Of The Kingdom
The Lord told us that the Passover feast would " be fulfilled in (i.e. by?) the Kingdom of God" (Lk. 22:16). This is confirmed by the description of " the marriage supper of the lamb" in Rev. 19:9. Likewise the parable of Lk. 14 speaks of " a great supper" at the beginning of the Millennium. As we share this feast together now, we are acting out a parable of the feast to be kept at the Lord's return. In the light of this, how important it is to ensure that there is no bitterness and disunity at the breaking of bread meeting! There will be a due sense of decorum to the whole meeting if its typical meaning is properly grasped; emblems laid out in time, so that they are in full view of the members as they file into the meeting room; at least 5 minutes of silence before the meeting starts, with the congregation focusing their thoughts upon the emblems, and the Kingdom which the meeting points forward to. To be invited to sit at the King's table is an honour indeed (cp. 2 Sam. 19:28). Remember that we are reaffirming our covenant. " This is the blood of the covenant" is a reference back to the blood of the Old Covenant being sprinkled upon the people, with their response of vowing obedience unto the end (Ex. 24:7). The solemnity of that distant moment should be ours, weekly.
(1) Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words Of Jesus (London: S.C.M., 1973 ed.), p. 48.
(2) See A.J.B. Higgins, The Lord’s Supper In The New Testament (London: S.C.M., 1952) p. 33.
(3) Joachim Jeremias, op cit p. 68.
(4) James Muilenburg, The Way Of Israel (London: Routledge
& Kegan Paul, 1962) p. 55.