Thoughts at the Breaking of Bread (book review)



As a community we have very few rituals.  Baptism, the wearing of head coverings by sisters in certain circumstances and the breaking of bread are the only three rituals we observe.  All of these are very important, however, as an expression of our faith and our commitment to God.

In baptism we publicly identify with the sacrifice of our Lord, and at the breaking of bread each week we commemorate that sacrifice “until he come”.  The breaking of bread is a very simple ceremony but it is central to our life as brothers and sisters of the Lord.  Ideally it is a ceremony in which we participate on a weekly basis.  Its simplicity and frequency is a blessing but it can also dull us to its significance and power.

Anything that we undertake as a routine can become mundane so we do well to remind ourselves of the wonder and power of the act that the ceremony commemorates.  The Bible reading and exhortation which typically accompanies the memorial meeting can do much to help us to focus on the profound meaning embodied in the sharing of a loaf and a cup of wine in memory of our absent Lord.  Anything else that can assist us in this regard is very valuable.

From May 2002 to October 2003 The Christadelphian published a series of eighteen meditations on the breaking of bread written by Bro John S Roberts.  These brief essays were subsequently published in a 20 page booklet under the title Thoughts at the breaking of bread.  This collection addresses a range of themes relating to the memorial meeting and encourages the reader to think more deeply upon those themes.

Bro Roberts combines exposition and exhortation as he challenges us to consider the significance of this ritual with which we are so familiar.  In doing so he introduces a number of ideas which might not have been expected in this context.  Obviously he meditates upon the events in the upper room on the night in which our Lord was betrayed, and in that context readers will find his comments on verses such as Luke 22:15 (“with desire I have desired”) and John 13:30 (and it was night”) of great interest.  Bro Roberts also deals with other passages that some readers might not have associated with the breaking of bread.  For example, would you have linked the trial of jealousy described in Numbers 5 with the memorial meeting, or considered the relevance of Jonah 2:9 to these things?  One of the essays focuses on the word “cup” and draws out some powerful lessons from both the Old and the New Testament.

The churches have corrupted the simple ceremony that our Lord introduced and overlayed it with liturgical paraphernalia.  For good reason we are wary of this, but we should not allow this to distract us from the profundity of the act.  Bro Roberts discusses the term “eucharist” in relation to the memorial meeting and, although this is a word that we might prefer to avoid, demonstrates that the Greek word from which the term is derived is highly significant.

This is a small booklet which deals admirably with a large and important subject.  It is highly recommended for all.

Geoff Henstock

This review was first published in The Christadelphian for January 2014