Jesus is not ‘mourners’ bread’ but ‘the living bread’

An intriguing text

My interest was hooked on finding a cryptic reference in Jeremiah 16:7 to breaking bread in association with a cup to drink, because on most Sundays throughout my long life I have witnessed ‘the Lord’s Supper’ – as an onlooker in my first decade and as a participant in subsequent years.

‘No one shall break bread for the mourner, to comfort him for the dead, nor shall anyone give him the cup of consolation to drink for his father or his mother.’ 

Jeremiah 16:1-13 was prophesying about a dreaded time of disaster that would come on the land of Judah because of the people’s gross unfaithfulness to God. ‘They shall die of deadly diseases’ and not be lamented … nor … buried’ (Jeremiah 16:4). To underline his awesome warning, the prophet himself must ‘not take a wife’ (Jeremiah 16:1) or ‘enter the house of mourning’ (Jeremiah 16:5). As the English Standard Version Study Bible comments: ‘All mourning rituals such as burial, lamenting, and feasting will cease, because no one will be left to do them.’

 The bread and cup of celebration, not of mourning and consolation

In the course of my ‘spiritual upbringing’ I attended a weekly service that was designated on the church notice board as ‘The Breaking of Bread’. All too often these occasions could have been described by the sentence in Hosea 9:4 – ‘It shall be like mourners’ bread to them.’ But Paul had made clear the intention of ‘the Lord Jesus’ in giving his followers this means of grace. They were not to mourn his death regularly by this practice but ‘as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes’ (1 Corinthians 11:26). The verb ‘proclaim’ suggests a bold announcement of clarion clarity (compare Psalm 97:6; Matthew 10:27; Luke 4:19).

A powerful example

Around fifty years ago I met a converted tramp in an English cathedral city whose first encounter with Jesus was at a midweek breaking of bread. All the members of a fellowship of evangelical believers had recently been baptized in the Holy Spirit and were overflowing in worship with new tongues. They had gathered in an upper room and, just as they were about to break bread, one brother looked out of the window and spotted a vagrant in the street below. On an impulse he requested that they pause till he had brought this hapless soul among them. After introducing him, reeking to high heaven, Maurice explained to him the good news of God’s kingdom and challenged him to partake with them of this means of grace that links us with the victorious death of Christ, if he was truly prepared to yield his whole life to him. His trembling hand hovered for quite a while over the plate of broken bread. Then he ate, drank and rejoiced. Very soon after, he was baptized and settled among that company of disciples, lodging with one of the families.

Jesus said, ‘Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’ (John 6:54). The implication of the Greek text is continuous ‘eating of me’ and ‘drinking of me’.

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