Breaking bread (aka communion, Eucharist, Lord's supper) is one of the few things that Jesus commanded the church to continue. It's no surprise then, that in every church tradition, it remains a key aspect of worship and shared life.
Because of the education and employment dynamics of Oxford city, a significant number of people join in at OCC each year, as well as people moving on. As new people join in, they often come from different church backgrounds, with slightly different emphases and approaches to breaking bread (as highlighted by a recent survey we did!), so we wanted to take a moment to explain how we do it in OCC.
Breaking bread (or whatever we like to call it!) is a rich moment in the worship life of the church, and in it several things are remembered and celebrated:
Forgiveness: The bread and wine broken by Jesus in the Upper Room foretold his broken body and substitutionary sacrificial death. This "New Covenant in my blood" (1Co 11.25) is about us being forgiven, not by our own efforts, but by Jesus work! In breaking bread we remember Jesus' death and, through it, our forgiveness of sins.
Father: In remembering Jesus' death we also celebrate, through it, our reconciliation with God as our Father. As Ephesians 2 says: "For he [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has …. reconciled us to God through the cross." We do not make reconciliation happen by turning to God. We are simply to accept the reconciliation already achieved at the cross. In breaking bread, we celebrate our reconciliation to Father!
Family: 1Corinthians 11, the key teaching passage on the Lord's Supper, has a big focus on coming together as one (e.g. "anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body…" 11:29). In breaking bread we therefore celebrate that we are now one body, as Christ has united people across races and classes into one new family. Breaking bread reminds us of our need to live in right relationship with each other.
Feeding: Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst" (John 6.35). This passage doesn't mention the Lord’s Supper explicitly, but the early Christians would have absolutely seen the connection! In breaking bread we encounter Jesus' nourishing life given to us.
In drawing out the richness of meaning, church leader and theologian Andrew Wilson comments on the four words used by different churches - breaking bread, communion, Eucharist (thanksgiving) and the Lord's Supper - and the way they help us understand the richness of the occasion:
There is so much rich meaning in breaking bread that in OCC we try to reflect on one aspect each time we break bread, rather than trying to cover all aspects every time we do it.
- We break bread monthly on Sundays and also encourage breaking bread in Community meetings in homes, and around family meals.
- We seek to remember with reverence the price Jesus paid, while also celebrating our forgiveness, freedom, and new family.
- We welcome to the table all those who are seeking to follow Jesus with personal faith, whether adult or child. We ask parents to take responsibility for their children, and the choice as to whether or not they are ready to participate.
- We aspire to break one loaf and share one cup (of wine), although this is impractical on Sundays, so after a loaf (or two) are broken, we share those loaves and drink from a number of shared glasses.
- We offer gluten free and non-alcoholic alternatives.
Over the next few months, look out for some adjustments in how we celebrate this important aspect of our church life!
(First published 1/11/19)