(1 Corinthians 10:14-22)
All of the things the Lord taught His disciples and requested them to pass on to the disciples they made for Him were done for a purpose. Nothing the Lord asks, did or gave to man is without reason or without purpose.
One of the key things Jesus taught the disciples to do was the breaking of bread, or taking communion as it is referred to in many churches. And like all the things the Lord taught us, it is important we understand what it is and why we do it. Otherwise it becomes a meaningless thing done by rote that has no meaning for those doing it.
This section of scripture is one of those that explains just exactly what breaking of bread is and what it means to those who take it.
Breaking of Bread
First let us look at when and where this started, at least where it began from the perspective of Christianity. I say that because there were precedents in the Old Testament, particularly where Abraham met Melchizedek after the rout in the Valley of the Kings where they broke bread and wine and Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek.
From the Christian perspective and breaking of bread in the new covenant however, we need to look only as far back as the Last Supper where Jesus blessed and broke bread and wine giving them to the disciples. Recall now his words at that time.
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. – (Matthew 26:26-28)
Note Jesus's words when He gave both the bread and the wine to His disciples. First the bread He described as being “my body,” and the wine He referred to as “my blood of the covenant.” Those who eat the bread are symbolically eating the body of Christ. Now I do not hold with the whole transubstantiation thing, but we do symbolically eat the body and drink the blood of Christ when we participate in the breaking of bread or the taking of communion.
This is what the sacraments of the bread and the wine represent. They represent the body and the blood of the Lord which He gave up for us.
Body and Blood
OK…so it is worth looking a little deeper at the “body” and “blood” so that this doesn't come across as some weird kind of flesh eating zombie or vampire thing…which it most definitely is not.
So what does it mean to “eat the body” and to “drink the blood” of Christ?
Jesus made a comment on this saying and even His disciples were confused. This is what He said,
48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. – (John 6:48-56)
So we see here that Jesus made it quite clear that if we are to enter eternal life we MUST “eat” His flesh and “drink” His blood. The Jews who heard these things were both puzzled and horrified at these words. They did not understand what He was saying, and even His disciples found it confusing for they said amongst themselves that this was a “hard saying” meaning, it was hard to comprehend what He was talking about.
Now look at what Jesus said to the disciples by way of explanation.
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. – (John 6:60-63)
Jesus now opens up to the disciples what He was talking about. He shows that the flesh is of no avail. The flesh does not and cannot give a person eternal life and the flesh does not inherit the kingdom of God.
It is the spirit that gives life and it is by the spirit that we inherit the kingdom of God. And we see Jesus finally say in verse 63 that when He was speaking of eating His “flesh” and drinking His “blood” He is speaking about the spirit and life.
So what does He mean by the spirit and life in relation to His flesh and blood?
Well to eat anything, such as food of some kind, we consume it and take it into ourself. So how do we take in or consume the “flesh” of Christ? There are two ways. First we consume the teachings of the Lord that He gave us, which we hold onto by faith that leads to eternal life and salvation. Second, we receive the in dwelling Holy Spirit into our bodies and so “eat” of the spirit of the Lord who teaches, guides, counsels and comforts us on the pathway to the kingdom of God. This is how we “eat” the flesh of the Lord, by consuming His teachings and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit into our bodies to do the spiritual work of transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ.
The second part of what Jesus spoke about was “drinking” his blood.
In the law it was commanded that you must not drink the blood of an animal because the life of the animal is in the animals blood. 10 “If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. 12 Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood. – (Leviticus 17:10-12)
When you read this in the law you can understand why the Jews and the disciples were horrified by the words of Jesus that they MUST drink His blood.
But we know from this law that the life of a person was in the blood of that person, just as it is for all forms of animal life. So what Jesus is talking about is not consuming the actual blood, but to take in the life that Jesus gives us throug the shedding of His blood. It was in His death and the shedding of His blood that we received the ability to be set free from sin, set free from law and set free from the bonds of death in this age to be able to receive life in the spirit.
We receive His sacrifice and take on His death through faith when we believe He died for us and we are baptised into His death as He commanded us to do in the great commission.
So eating his flesh and drinking his blood are achieved by receiving His teachings in our hearts, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit and taking His death as our own through faith in the working of God.
This is what He was showing the disciples at the last supper.
Breaking of Bread or Communion
So coming back to the scripture we are reviewing today in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 we gain some more perspective on what this act of breaking bread means.
The Jews worshiped at the temple and each year there were sacrifices for sin made to atone for the sins of the nation. There were other sacrifices also for other things, and after the sacrifices were made, the people ate the meat of the sacrifice and consumed the sacrificial lambs or goats or whatever they were sacrificing and so became partners in the sacrifice.
In a similar way, the pagans also sacrificed to their false gods and demonic deities and those who participated in the sacrifices also ate of the meats of the sacrifice and so participated as partners in the sacrifice. They became partners in the sacrifice by eating of the sacrifices.
This was a standard approach to being part of the sacrifice and showing agreement with what was being done both in the Jewish and pagan religions.
So to we see that this same approach is used in Christianity. However the sacrifice made for us at the altar of God in the heavens was the body and blood of Jesus Christ Himself. And we know that Jesus did not remain in the grave but was resurrected to life so that He could give life to those who believed in Him.
Thus, in place of eating the “meat of the sacrifice” as Jews and pagans do, we now eat the bread and drink the wine to participate in the sacrifice of Jesus as He instructed at the last supper. He taught us to take the bread and break it and to drink the cup as a remembrance of His sacrifice on our behalf.
But it also goes deeper than just remembering, for like the Jewish and pagan sacrifices, when we take the bread and the cup we participate in Jesus' sacrifice and we show to all that we accept and agree in this sacrifice and so are collectively part of the one family of God in Jesus Christ. Consider the words of Paul that he wrote here.
15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? – (1 Corinthians 10:15-18)
When we break bread and drink the cup of the Lord all over the world, we are collectively participating in the body and blood of the sacrifice of the Lord, who dies so that we may live. We are collectively saying we are part of His family and we come together as one in Him through this action of breaking bread and drinking the cup. In this act we “eat His flesh” and we “drink His blood” and so participate in the sacrifice He made for us.
Paul continues on about not participating in the sacrifices of demons and idolatry also in this section, and that is good warning for us today too. Jus as he taught them to abstain from the impurities of sacrificing to false gods and demons, so too we should put away our idols and all forms of evil from us.
So let us take the bread and cup of the Lord in purity. And let us seek to understand the depth of His sacrifice when we remember what He did for us as we take the bread and cup and participate in His sacrifice on our behalf.
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