The breaking of bread is a distinctive term of Luke, the author of Acts. He uses it most powerfully when Cleopas and his companion describe how Jesus had been made known to them ‘in the breaking of the bread’ (Luke 24:35).
It is not clear from Acts 2:42 how Luke is using the term when describing the life of the first Christian communities. Commentators are cagey about its use. Is it describing the act which opened a common Jewish meal? Is it a specific liturgical and sacramental act? C.K. Barrett argues that ‘“breaking of bread” was not a Jewish term for a meal and in this sense must have been a Christian development’ (Acts 1–14, T&T Clark, 2004, p. 165), i.e. an embryonic service of Holy Communion. James Dunn is more circumspect, suggesting, ‘We may assume that on some occasions at least the meal included a shared commemoration of the last supper but Luke has not gone out of his way to make this plain’ (The Acts of the Apostles, Epworth, 1996, p. 35). Hans Conzelmann points out that Luke makes no attempt to distinguish between an ordinary meal and the ‘Eucharist’ and suggests that ‘the unity of the two is part of the ideal picture of the earliest church’ (The Acts of the Apostles, Fortress, 1987, p. 23).
This exploration of breaking bread works with a broad understanding of the term: one that includes and honours the practice of Holy Communion, but reflects upon breaking bread in other ways and contexts too – ways that also make Jesus known.
When exploring the specific sacramental act in which bread is broken and wine shared, the term ‘Holy Communion’ is used most often. Other terms such as the Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist are also used when appropriate to represent different perspectives and traditions.
In first developing this resource, the team from the Birmingham Methodist Circuit centred their thinking on the reminder that the early Christians found God in every aspect of life and that they gathered together to share their lives as a community. They made mistakes, they didn’t always share and yet they found something so special that they tried to follow Christ’s example. So they, like him, took bread, the ordinary and everyday; they gave thanks to God, they broke it, they shared it and they consumed it.
Through breaking bread, you too are invited to gather and take the everyday; thanking God for it, breaking it, sharing it and eating it. And as you do this, in many varied ways, including sharing Holy Communion with Christ, our prayer is that you will be transformed by God’s love and be people energised by the Spirit to play your part in transfiguring your churches, your communities and the world beyond so that God’s kingdom may grow on earth as in heaven.
Above all, our prayer is that this habit helps you to deepen your trust, knowing yourself loved by God and challenging you to offer God your love, individually, as a church and as a community, through your living alongside others as a thankful, broken, blessed and sharing people.