So you started a brand new Christian community. That’s great. How do you make sure people are going deep with Christ?
So your Christian community is diving into mission. That’s great too. How do you make sure they don’t burn out?
The earliest Christians in Acts had a great approach. They did what it took to keep growing–growing deep, growing strong and, along the way, growing in numbers.
I’ve been posting about the great scene in Acts 2 after Peter’s sermon on the first Christian Pentecost (here, here, and here). 3000 came to faith and joined the community in one single day. Luke makes a point of listing the things they did together, their priorities for daily life as Christians and as community:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, NRSV)
As well as committing themselves to biblical teaching, and building relationships that matter, a key priority was “the breaking of bread.”
This is another place that the NRSV is a tad misleading in its translation. You might think the text is just talking about sharing meals, since in a few verses it says they broke bread together in their homes.
They devoted themselves to the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper.
Actually it is a reference to the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Communion. You know: The sacrament that most of us Protestants participate in about once a month or quarterly. They devoted themselves to it.
How, you ask, do I know?
First, if it was a reference to ordinary meals for fellowship it would be a bit redundant.
More important, follow the trail of breadcrumbs in the text itself.
Here’s a more verbatim translation of this portion of the verse:
They devoted themselves…to the breaking of the bread
Then take a step backward in Luke’s writings, to the appearance of Christ at Emmaus. Actually the disciples did not know who the stranger was. Then,
When he was at the table with them, he took [the] bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. (Luke 24:30, NRSV, “the” added from the Greek)
That is the moment Carravagio captured in his amazing painting. Shock and wonder as they recognized Jesus, just before he disappeared.
How did they recognize him? When they returned to the other disciples,
they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:35, NRSV, emphasis added)
Well why, do you supposed, their eyes were opened? What did they notice? Something happened that had already created a pattern in their memory:
he took [the] bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
They only had to look back to the time when Jesus was with the disciples in the upper room, just before the cross:
Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks [eucharistesas], he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ (Luke 20:19, NRSV)
He took bread. He gave thanks. He broke. He gave. At Emmaus they recognized him because he did just what he had done last time they were together — when he gave them the Eucharist.
That’s going deep with Christ.
So if you want your community to do what the Early Church did, commit yourselves to celebrating the Eucharist. That’s the breaking of the bread.
But we Protestants don’t really do that.
If you are a Protestant, unless you are in a Lutheran, Anglican, or Disciples congregation this probably sounds pretty foreign.
I can hear the objections. We don’t really do that. Having the Lord’s Supper every week is “too Catholic.”
If we have the Lord’s Supper every week it will be just a ritual. It will lose its meaning!”
As one colleague said, tongue in cheek,
Yeah, just like golf, and sex.”
Better not do that very often.
We Protestants need to repent.
So for a whole lot of Christian communities in my tradition, devoting ourselves to the breaking of the bread is a totally radical idea.
But when I look at how we have lived our lives in comparison with the biblical model in Acts, the problem is clear: We have neglected one fourth of the core commitments.
We need to change our ways.
Is weekly Eucharist a quick fix?
Will it solve all our problems if we celebrate the Eucharist every week? Will we suddenly be on the road to health and growth?
No. Probably not.
But we will be building on a firmer foundation. We will be doing one of the things that mark a Christian community as authentically Christian — like part of the Church.
And you may be surprised at how it helps you go deep in your discipleship.
After all, this is where we really see and feel and know our connection to Christ. The Eucharist invites us into Christ himself as we receive what he said is his body.
The Lord’s Supper teaches us experientially that we are part of Christ’s own body. It reorients us to our core identity.
Get that message every week and you know who you are. You know whose you are. You are strengthened for all Christ calls you to do and be in the world.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments! How does receiving the Lord’s Supper affect your faith and discipleship?
Fr. Dustin says
What’s the traditional counter argument against this verse?
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts,” (Acts 2:46 RSV)
Obviously, the Temple fell, but the breaking of bread can/should still happen “day by day” as the RSV says.
Gary Neal Hansen says
I’m not sure what you mean by the counter argument.
As I look at this verse, it seems to refer to table fellowship, rather than Eucharistic bread — the verse I wrote about is more clearly Eucharistic in its reference to “breaking of THE bread.”
Fr. Dustin says
I think a precedent is already set in Luke-Acts that the “breaking of bread” is more than just sitting down to a meal together; it’s an description of a liturgical act. In this verse (Acts 2:46), it’s directly connected to temple worship, so I think an argument can be made that, yes, this verse is a reference to the Eucharist.
By “counter argument” I’m referring to this verse’s reference that the Eucharist was celebrated daily. You had mentioned that modern Protestants were arguing, in contrast to this verse, that the Eucharist need only be celebrated monthly, or quarterly, rather than daily, or weekly.
Fr. Dustin says
In other words, what do those who argue that we shouldn’t celebrate the Eucharist very often do with that verse? Do this just argue there’s no Eucharist reference?
Gary Neal Hansen says
I think the first reference (in the list of four priority practices) is most clearly Eucharistic, and it fully argues the importance of regular Eucharistic participation.
The verse you cite is less explicitly Eucharistic, and I think since it lacks the article and, more importantly, is “house to house” or “in their homes” it sounds like ordinary table fellowship. It seems unlikelyl to me that every believer in every home was likely, even then, to celebrate the Eucharist without the gathered congregation or the leadership of t he Apostles.
The path to Protestant practice on this is not exegetical but historical. In the West in the middle ages the Eucharist was celebrated daily, but the faithful typically received the Sacrament only once per year. So when Luther practiced weekly Eucharist ( Calvin sought to do so too) or Reformed communities practiced quarterly or monthly Eucharist they were actually radically increasing the frequency vis a vis their Catholic neighbors. The Protestants expected all the faithful to be prepared and receive whenever the Sacrament was celebrated.