The Breaking of Bread

August 6, 2023

The Breaking of Bread

Passage: Acts of the Apostles 2:42
Service Type:

Let’s talk about the food!

Today we have engaged in what we call The Lord’s Supper. We distributed small pieces of bread and small drams on our version of wine as a way to remember the death of Jesus for us and for the whole world.

After worship, many of us will gather for a meal at some restaurant in town. In this way, we mimic those first disciples who gathered in homes all around the Mediterranean world to solidify their friendship and deepen their love for one another.

This afternoon, at 4 pm, some of you and some from other churches will descend on the Providence House next door and prepare a hot meal and other necessities for those around us with real needs. In this way, we obey the teaching of Jesus to feed the hungry.

These three ways are precisely the table practices of those early Christians. They set in motion things we are still doing today. Our doctrines have developed; as has our worship, with liturgies, hymns, and rituals. The institutions and organizations using the name of Christ are everywhere. Our presence in the world now far exceeds anything they could imagine. In fact, is some ways we do not resemble that movement which Acts of the Apostles called simply, The Way, especially in our lust for power.

But these three things we are doing today connect us with them in powerful and practical ways: we enact the memorial meal as Jesus told us to do; we gather in homes and in public places to eat together with glad and grateful hearts; and we open up our kitchens and dining halls to those who have little or nothing. In all these ways, we are following the example of Jesus and his first followers.

So today, we are going to talk about the food!


Take a close look at the text of Acts 2:42. My New Living Translation reads like this: “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper*), and to prayer.”

The translators cannot decide what the Greek text means. It literally says, “breaking of bread” as it is translated in most versions, including King James, New RSV, and NIV. The Good News Bible, translated by Robert Bratcher, Georgetown College class of 1941, puts it this way: “sharing in the fellowship meals and prayers.” Eugene Peterson, in The Message, translated it this way, “the common meal.”

What is the breaking of bread?

Does it hark back to Jewish festival rituals, like the Passover?  Does it evoke the practice of Jesus to eat with saints and sinners? Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the meal at Matthew’s house when tax collectors and sinners came to eat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees—the Bible teaches of the day—asked the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” The hallmark of Jesus earthly ministry was table fellowship with anyone and everyone.

Does this phrase, “breaking of bread” refer to what we now call the Last Supper, when Jesus took the loaf and broke it, and took the cup and blessed it, and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Or “Remember me when you eat this meal, when you break this bread?”

Or is this the generic reference to the agape feast, the love feast that was at the center of Christian community in the early days. A few verses later, Acts of the Apostles reads: “they shared their meals with great joy and generosity.”

All of these things might be true.

But this much is also true: that these fellowship meals that marked the ministry of Jesus and the community of The Way gradually evolved into the liturgical ritual we observed this morning. In the early days, the common meal and the memorial meal were together.

This is the meaning of the familiar text in First Corinthians, chapter 11: “For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.’”

By the end of the first century, the common meal and the ritual meal were going their separate ways, like two strands of fireworks, exploding together on the ground but slowly moving in different directions.

Today, when translators of any and every tradition come to the Greek text and try to give it meaning for today, they are pulled into to different rooms of their church.

Somebody in the fellowship hall is holding one hand, saying “Come on in, the food is good, and everybody is welcome.”  That sounds like Jesus and also like those first followers. But it’s probably somebody’s favorite grandmother cooking in the kitchen and smiling as big as the sun.

But the other hand of the translator is holding fast to somebody in the sanctuary, the minister, no doubt. She is saying, “Here is where the real stuff happens. This is the Eucharist, this is communion, this is worship.”


The common element in all these ways of eating is the food.

Remember what God told that first man and woman? “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant and all the fruit trees for your food. I have given every green plant for food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.”

Clearly whoever wrote that famous text in Genesis has never watched YouTube.  Or TikTok.  Or Facebook reels.  Because if they had, they would see that many of us on planet earth are not content with salads and fruits and vegetables.

Have you seen a lion track down a water buffalo? Have you seen an alligator come out of the water so fast not even a deer can move quick enough to escape its jaws? But then, one good Burmese python can swallow whole a medium size gator.  That is one more reason not to go to Florida, along with the hurricanes, the heat, and those two goofballs vying to be the next president of the United States.

I’m not here to advocate the vegan diet. I expect to demonstrate that at the meal to follow this sermon.

But I am here to point out how God supplies food to all living creatures. Psalm 145 declares this: “The Lord always keeps promises. The Lord is gracious in every way. The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads. The eyes of all look to you, O lord, in hope. You give them their food as they need it. When you open your hand, you satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing.”

It is not just the tax collectors and the sinners who gather around the Lord’s table, it is the Russians and the Ukrainians, the Muslims and the seekers; it is the atheists and the archbishops, it is you, and me, and the neighbor we both dislike.

When Paul the Apostle went to Athens on his missionary journey, he preached a strange doctrine. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” the texts of Acts records the city councilmen as saying. And so Paul did, saying (among other things), “This God whom you worship without knowing, is the One I am telling you about. This God is the one who made the world and everything in it.  This God is lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples made by you and me. No human hands can serve the needs of this God. This God indeed gives life and breath to everything and satisfies the need of every creature.”

That is a pretty expansive understanding of food, and God, the human family, and indeed, all creation.

No wonder there is a common meal embedded in the most dramatic scene in Acts of the Apostles.  Near the end, Paul is a prisoner on a ship headed to Rome when the emperor himself will judge the case of the then unknown missionary. A mighty storm drives the ship off course and onto the rocks. It is one of the most famous shipwreck stories in all ancient literature.

Paul warns the captain not to harm the prisoners and passengers. He calls them altogether, with winds howling, waters rising, and their ship sinking. Think Titanic, only smaller. He gathers them on the deck of the ship and says this, “Take courage. None of you will lose your life…. Last night, an angel of God stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid.’… As the morning was dawning, Paul urged everyone to eat…. He took some bread, gave thanks to God, and broke a piece and ate it. Everyone was encouraged to eat, all 276 of us on board.”

So read the first-person account of the common meal served in the spirit of Jesus himself. It was the fellowship meal. It was communion. It was the Lord’s Supper. It was, truly, the breaking of bread.


A few minutes ago, we sat quietly, prayerfully, peacefully as we broke bread together. It was a time of stillness, of reflection, of contemplation. It was holy time. It was helpful time. It was, in the deepest sense, happy time, as we remembered the One who died for us, the One who lives for us even now, the One we know and love and worship, the One we will see one day on the other side, as we say.

In a few minutes more, many of us will sit around a table with a high degree of rowdiness, drinking beer and telling jokes. We will laugh and talk and laugh some more as we remember this week, this service, even this sermon. We will behave just like those first disciples did when Jesus called them all together, and blessed the food, and promised them something good was about to happen.

This afternoon, some of you will obey the first and most famous command of Jesus, buried in this string of six: serve the thirsty, visit the jailed, welcome the stranger, clothed the naked, heal the sick, and yes, feed the hungry. All of those people and more will gather in the Providence House looking for Jesus today.

Here is the gospel, the good news: the sacrament in the sanctuary was and is the Lord’s Supper; the Sunday dinner at the restaurant, for the saints and sinners of The Way, is also the Lord’s Supper; the worship meal in the House where are welcome so many people who will never step foot into the sanctuary or the restaurant—that also is the Lord’s Supper.

Which helps us understand and embrace these final words of Jesus: the kingdom of God is like a man who prepares a great banquet, a feast, a kingdom-size party and says to us, “Go out to the streets and corners and invite everyone you see.”

The banquet hall was filled with people, breaking bread with glad and generous hearts!



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