When we sit down at a table with someone to share a meal, we can pretend we are from a culture which no longer understands the ancient practices of acceptance and hospitality, but deep down we know this to be false. We do understand. Even the most modern and hurried corner of our souls appreciates the act of breaking bread with someone, particularly if it is food made at home by hands we know. Food is personal. Food honors the one to whom it is given. It not only meets a physical, daily requirement, it is spiritual. In sharing a meal, we admit to seeing God’s presence in another person.
Although the term breaking bread in the book of Acts is used interchangeably both for sharing a common meal as well as the symbolic act of the Lord’s Supper, they were likely not as separate as we view them today. Eating dinner with someone echoed the spiritual nourishment and confession that was part of the early church’s Eucharist practice.
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread…So they prepared the Passover. When the hour came Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table…After taking the cup, he gave thanks and broke it…”
Luke 22:7,13-14, 17,19
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God.
Acts 2:42, 46
…the Grecian Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food….Brothers, choose seven men from among you…we will turn this responsibility over to them.
Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
..[God] has shown you kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their season; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.
[Peter] became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance…Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.
‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied, ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.
The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’
Acts 10:10, 13-15
Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
When [Lydia] and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘Come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.
The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family.
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.
Just before dawn, Paul urged them all to eat. ‘For the last fourteen days…you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food. You need it to survive…’ After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.
Luke’s emphasis in these quotes is on bread and fellowship. Through this series of quotations, the first-century Christian physician and historian begins with Jesus to illustrate how a mundane, daily act signified something greater. Breaking bread is, in actuality, a healing, continuing thread, a holy rite. It is simultaneously recognizing our dependence on God and our love for one another.