The Lord’s Table: The Meaning of Bread

When we consider the question of what bread means, we face constant temptation to sidetrack the question into areas that are more comfortable:

  • “What does bread mean to me?” – a question of individual emotional association, or
  • “What does bread symbolize in the Bible?” – part of our question, an important part – but to ask the question this way is to stop with the academics, which is missing the whole point.

We live in a meaningful world.  Everything means something; everything is a message from a loving, majestic Triune God.  Only when we begin to ask what each thing means do we begin to understand the world and our place in it.  So what we’re asking is what bread means in the world itself.  When you see a loaf of bread sitting on the counter in your own kitchen, what does it mean?  The Bible does speak about the meaning of bread, not just because bread symbolizes something in God’s Word, but because bread symbolizes something in God’s world—the only world there is.

Bread is provision, it is blessing, it is strength.  It is the product of dominion, a cooperation between God’s blessing of the crops and man’s labor in the fields, the mill and the bakery.  Every loaf of bread is God’s kindness, a demonstration of the image of God, of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven, and when we eat this blessing, we receive strength.  And so, of necessity, every loaf of bread is also a call to thank God.

Knowing this about bread, begin to ask yourself what the other things in your life mean.  Don’t be afraid to find that you don’t know.  God wants you to know; He will teach you if you will trust Him.

Advertisements

2 Responses to The Lord’s Table: The Meaning of Bread

  1. Jim Reitman says:

    “This is my body…” (Mt. 26:26; Mk 14:22; Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24).

    I had this insight during communion two years ago: The bread is both Jesus’ body and we who partake—the Body of Christ. Jesus’ manner of death on the Cross, esp. as underscored in John’s gospel, has one fascinating detail relating directly to your question about the meaning of bread: Just after Jesus takes the sour wine and “gives up his spirit,” the spear pierces his side, and out comes water and blood, but the soldiers do not break his legs. Then, curiously, John affirms this as the fulfillment of two prophecies, one is Zech 12:10 (“They will behold him whom they pierced”) and the other is “Not one of his bones will be broken.” Key word here is “broken,” as I will develop below.

    I take this scene in John’s version of the Passion to be the Johannine equivalent of Jesus’ offer of the Eucharist in the synoptics and First Corinthians (above) (see further my blog post on this topic.) Other than fulfilling an OT prophecy, why is it so important that we know his body was not “broken”? Answer: One unified Body. In the First Corinthians version, Paul goes out of his way to quote Jesus, “This is my [unbroken] Body which is given for you.” One loaf, only broken after the fact, so that many members can all partake of it and still be one unified Body—it’s still one loaf. This is probably Paul’s main theological point in that book (cf. esp. 1 Cor 12).

    Hence, the accounts of the Eucharist in John and First Corinthians portray the Bread in no small way as the symbol of 1) our very identification with and participation in Christ himself (we literally eat/i>—and thus collectively assimilate—his body into ours); and 2) the intended “unbroken unity” of that loaf once it is assimilated into all the separate members who partake of it.

    I have never been the same in communion since then. Now, every time I take bread, the first thing that I think of is “Christ in me” and the next thing is “I am actually “joined at the hip” with everyone else here, for better or worse, even the obnoxious ones.

    🙂

  2. Tim Nichols says:

    Jim,

    I’m right there with you. An integral part of this, I think, is to begin to observe communion in a way that suits this insight. The typical evangelical communion service is silent, individual, everyone alone with God and his own thoughts. If this is to be a genuinely communal celebration, that has to change…

%d bloggers like this: