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Communion Meditations (2017)

Bread of Life

John 21:13

Originally scheduled for December 17

Most of the older Christians in the church today will remember a communion hymn, “Break Thou the Bread of Life.” The hymn itself is too patient for these rock ‘n’ roll days but worth examining:

Break Thou the Bread of Life,
  Dear Lord, to me,
As Thou didst break the loaves
  Beside the sea;
Beyond the sacred page
  I seek Thee, Lord;
My spirit pants for Thee,
  O Living Word.

From the language you can tell that this hymn comes from the era of the King James Version of the Bible. Its author, one Mary Lathbury, was actually better known as a commercial illustrator than she was for writing hymns. She wrote less than a dozen. She was part of the Chautauqua movement, and the leader of that movement asked her to write a hymn specifically.  What may surprise you is that the hymn was not designed to be a communion hymn, but rather a hymn to start a Bible study. If you study it carefully you can see this; this hymn has Christ breaking the bread “beside the sea.” The Last Supper of course was in Jerusalem. The hymn actually refers to the time when Christ met his disciples by the Sea of Galilee and offered them fish and bread to eat.

In that context, then, I would have you note that this is a meal provided by Jesus for his disciples. There are certain characteristics of this that I would point out:

·         Jesus provides the fish and the bread. He was anticipating them and had the meal ready — always a gracious host. The character of Jesus is herein proclaimed.

·         Notice also that Jesus approaches the disciples and asks them to dine. He takes the initiative to call his disciples to him. It’s clear from the passage they would hang back, knowing who he was but still afraid to approach him.

·         The 13th verse is usually skipped over in most Bible studies, but it should not be so. This is a preliminary to the restoration of Peter. In this we see the concept that sometimes disputes and failures can be resolved more easily over a breakfast table than over a negotiating table.

Communion shows us parallels to this.

·         Jesus provides the communion feast to us. He tells us that this is his body; this is his blood. He is the one who has brought the foodstuffs of the meal. And please note: the gracious host asks for no payment.

·         His church — his body — approaches you with this. This is not a matter of you qualifying to take communion by your good works but rather the church coming to you and offering the forgiveness of God.

·         Communion is a preliminary to the restoration of fellowship with those who have sinned. We are taught to examine ourselves and repent, then accept his forgiveness. It is as if Christ wanted us to work our grievances out over the breakfast table.

The hymn we mentioned is slow and stately, deep and profound. There is a sense of dignity to this hymn. Consider then that the communion you are about to partake has that same dignity. Examine yourself; repent as needed; and receive the body and blood of Christ.

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