Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

190. The Breaking of Bread [1] (Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:15-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-25)*

"For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, how that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread.." (1Cor.ll :23RV).

For Paul so great was the importance of this appointed sacrament that he would not have those to whom he had taught the Truth in Christ believe that it came to them through mere human tradition. Even his own authority was not to be regarded as adequate for this. "I received it of the Lord" by special personal revelation, he declared, and this is now faithfully delivered unto you. The modern reader can easily miss the implied rebuke in Paul's words. His word "delivered" is identical with the word "betrayed"-"! handed over to you, how that the Lord Jesus in the night he was handed over (to his enemies) took bread." Did Paul introduce this allusion to the betrayal as indirect rebuke of the Corinthians' own betrayal of Christ by their current abuse of the memorial supper?

The account of the Lord's own appointment of the remembrance of his sacrifice is given in the four records with more detail than is often realised - and all of it important. A re-assessment of their meaning is never out of place.

Bread and Wine -When?

For example, Matthew records that it was "as they were eating", that is, in the course of the actual supper, that Jesus gave the memorial Bread to his disciples. Yet Luke is equally clear that the wine was passed to them "after supper" (Paul: "when he had supped", i.e. after the meal).

Thus Judas may have shared the Bread (probably did; see Study 186), but did not partake of the Wine, for he went out immediately after receiving the sop (Jn.13 :27) which was undoubtedly offered to him whilst the meal was in progress. •Wr-lH--';4r"

Another point of greater importance today is that the details just mentioned indicate a certain lapse of time between the thanksgiving for the Bread and for the Wine-the Bread during the meal, and the Wine after it.

Is this an indication as to how the celebration should be kept by disciples of the Lord in later times? Current practice is to separate the two by no more time that it takes to re-assemble the remaining fragments of bread. Some would urge that as close an approximation as possible to the Lord's own practice is desirable. Others would doubtless argue that the New Testament has no explicit commandment concerning details of this sort, and therefore the question is without importance. Yet one cannot help wondering if there is not greater benefit to be derived from a separation of the two emblems.

Intense desire

Here and there sheer familiarity may serve to obscure the intensity of meaning in the Lord's words, as when Jesus said:

"With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer."

In no other place in the gospels is such vehement longing attributed to Jesus. The repetition, which is pure Old Testament idiom, brings out this eagerness with simple but powerful effect. But what a contrast with the identical phrasing used when the people in the wildernes "fell a-lusting (LXX: desired a desire) . . . Who shall give us flesh to eat?" (Num.11 :4).

The yearning of Jesus for this occasion also contrasts sadly with the casual indifference of many of his present-day disciples, even though he says: "This is my body."

But why this keen desire?

In the first place, because He knew this meal to be the immediate prelude to the crisis of suffering which he fervently wished to have done with: "I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how I am straitened till it be accomplished" (Lk.l2:50).

But also there was the need to give to his disciples a vital bond of fellowship to strengthen them to withstand the strain of coming days when he was no longer with them to impart personal reassurance and direction to their activities.

Perhaps also this desire, which amounted almost to anxiety, sprang from a fear that his enemies might move so fast as to apprehend him before he could round off the preparation of his disciples for the severe testing of their faith which the next day was sure to bring.

This was a new kind of Passover which Jesus was appointing for them. The Jewish Passover was kept as a family meal. A man ate it with his own kith and kin. But the fervent desire of Jesus was to eat this new Passover "with you, my disciples." His own folk, who at this time disbelieved his claims (Jn.7 :5), were therefore disowned, and Jesus turned to those who sought to "do the will of God" (Mk.3 :34,35) by believing in him (Jn.6 :29). These with whom he now shared a meal of fellowship were no longer called servants, but friends and brethren (Jn.l5:15 and 20:17).

In Christ the principle still holds. Social claims and responsibilities have their place in the life of all, but none can compare in importance will the Passover which the disciple must eat will him. There can be no priority over this. But do all see it in this perspective?

"Before I suffer"

It would be surprising if the eyes of the Twelve were not opened by those grim words: "before I suffer". How often during the past six months had Jesus done his utmost to forewarn his disciples about the nation's impending rejection of him at Jerusalem? Time after time he had tried to re-orientate their thinking so that they would see him first of all as "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." Yet almost to the last their minds were dominated by eagerness for a new and better nationalism headed by Jesus and, of course, themselves. It remains one of the major problems of the gospels to explain how the repeated warnings and clear prophecies of Jesus made so little impression on their minds.

Here, at last, in the Upper Room the truth seems to have gone home. The warnings of betrayal, the symbols of the body and blood of a dead leader, the sad reminders: "Yet a little while I am with you", the attempts at comfort: "Let not your heart be troubled ... If I go away, I will come again . . ." and the point-blank promise of another Comforter-all these things, and especially the sadness of Jesus himself, must have brought them to earth: he was going to suffer, and for all they knew they might be called upon to suffer with him.

But there was one in the group (if indeed he was still there) in whom these plain words produced a different reaction. The mind of Judas moved fast and with simple logic: 'He has given up all hope of success. Then where's the gain in tying myself to a lost cause. Is there any sense in going down with a sinking ship? And since he is now in such a mood, isn't this the very time to fulfil my contract with the chief priests, even though they said "Not on the feast day"? And wasn't Caiaphas right when he said: "One man must die for the people"? His death is necessary to save the nation. If he doesn't die, many others will.'

So, for Judas, if indeed he were not already gone on his traitorous errand, this was the decisive moment.

Not only Memorial but also prophecy

And yet in the very next breath Jesus spoke of other things: "For I say unto you, I will not any more eatthereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God."

So in appointing the Breaking of Bread as a memorial Jesus was also making a prophecy. The word "fulfilled" requires this, as also does the allusion to the kingdom of God. And what a prophecy! For in that day the sharing of Christ will surpass all present experience. Besides the sharing of his transformed nature there will be the sharing of his personal fellowship. "Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty." It is an idea for the devout imagination to dwell upon. The remembering of Christ may be an occasion of sadness as the mind considers the "travail of his soul", but on more than one score it should be also a ground for intense joy and gladness.

The same element of prophecy is associated with the Wine: "I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Mt.)-new wine because of a new meaning.

There is reference here to the Messianic meal foretold by Isaiah (25 :6): "And in this mountain (mount Zion; 24:23) shall the Lord of hosts make unto all the peoples (the new Israel) —

- a feast of fat things,
- a feast of wines on the lees,
- of fat things full of marrow,
- of wines on the lees well refined"
(cp.Lk.22 :30: Rev.3 :20).
Here, "fat things" is an undoubted allusion to the sacrificial meal offerings which were always asociated with oil (Lev.2 :1). Thus Isaiah prophesied a special Memorial, in the kingdom, of Bread and Wine. And he said it twice, as also did Luke (22 :15-20)-twice because "the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring itto pass" (Gen.41 :32).

There is also a problem here. After his resurrection Jesus companied with his disciples during the forty days, and is spoken of in Acts as eating with them: "witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead" (10 :41): "And eating with them, he commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem" (1 :4RVm).

At the Lord's first resurrection appearance to the apostles, "they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb" (Lk.24:42).

There is no inconsistency here once it is realised that Jesus was speaking sacramentally and not of sharing an ordinary meal with his disciples.

The meal at Emmaus was not in this category, for there every phrase echoed the Last Supper: "he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them"—but here there is no suggestion that Jesus partook of the Bread himself. Instead, "he vanished out of their sight" (Lk.24 :30.31).

The bread which Jesus gave to his disciples was doubtless an ordinary small loaf from which pieces were broken. The normal meaning of the Greek word used in the gospels is "a loaf or cake of bread." So those who desire to be as close as possible to the mode employed by Jesus himself will wish to see him symbolized at his Table by a complete loaf or cake of bread rather than by a slice or portion cut out of a loaf. The fitness of the symbolism points in this direction also. Christ is the entire body, not a part of it. It is a pity that practice so often fails to conform to this. Where the local rite does not outwardly conform to this, it is well that the one partaking should mentally stress the essential idea.

Unleavened Bread?

From time to time, also, there arises the question: Should Jesus be remembered in leavened or unleavened bread?

If the conclusion reached in Study 181 (that the Last Supper was twenty-four hours earlier than the Jewish Passover) is correct, then the answer to this question is "leavened"; for the Jews never took to unleavened bread earlier than was absolutely necessary. Their first unleavened bread was at the Passover meal itself.

Other considerations point in the same direction. The symbolism of the Bread and Wine are memorials of Jesus as one sharing ordinary human nature. They emphasize that he shared the propensities (but not the sin) of his brethren.

The wine was, of course, fermented wine-necessarily so, since in those pre-refrigeration days, they had no means of keeping grape juice free from fermentation from September's grape-harvest to April. Is there not a symbolic inconsistency about unleavened bread and fermented wine?

Further, it is known that from the earliest days and for many centuries the church ' used leavened bread at its Eucharist. The change to unleavened bread was dictated by Rome.

But whilst the limited evidence available points to the use of leavened bread, the simple fact that the New Testament makes no explicit requirement one way or the other she inculcate toleration in what is evidently not a matter of first-rate importance (though, indeed, no detail concerning this remembering of Christ is to be treated lightly).

Previous Index Next