The previous posts in this series (listed in the Serial Index under “Biblical Texts”) have focused on exegetical detail within the framework of Luke’s two volume narrative (Luke and Acts). This final post in the series will serve as a summary of what I consider some of the more significant theological ideas embedded in Luke’s narrative concerning “breaking bread.” I trust that my exegesis (both in Come to the Table and the previous posts) grounds my theological summary. 🙂
The church continues the ministry of Jesus. The early church did what Jesus did; they followed Jesus into the world teaching what he taught and doing what he did (Acts 1:1-3). Part of this ministry was “table fellowship,” and more specifically the “breaking of bread.” Jesus sat at table with saint and sinner, insider and outsider. He broke bread with thousands (Luke 9), with the twelve which included Judas the betrayer (Luke 22) and with a wider range of disciples in post-resurrection meals (Luke 24; Acts 1). The continue continued this practice–they broke bread as a community and with outsiders. The church continues to break bread on the ground of what Jesus did, not on the ground of what the church did. We imitate the church as it imitated Jesus. Looking beyond the few “breaking bread” texts in the Gospel of Luke, the church finds its model for table in the table ministry of Jesus itself.
The church eats a meal of redemptive hope. Every “breaking of bread” in Luke-Acts is a redemptive and eschatological in character. Luke 9 is the eschatological presence of the Messianic Son of Man who feeds his people–the curse of hunger is reversed in that moment and the promise of a future aswell as the fulfillment of the past (the prophet like Moses has arrived!) is embedded in that moment. Luke 22 anticipates the coming kingdom of God and at that table Jesus announces it will come as a fulfillment of the Passover. Luke 24 declares that the future has arrived in the presence through the resurrection of Jesus. Acts 2 inaugurates a communal reality upon which the risen Christ has poured his Spirit. Acts 20 declares the hope and comfort of the resurrection through the resuscitation of Eutyches who is a symbol of the resurrection hope proclaimed in Jesus who was raised on the first day of the week and broke bread with his disciples. Acts 27 is the assurance of hope through breaking bread and eating; it is the promise of salvation. Eating the meal (breaking bread) is a promissory act–God pledges the future to us.
The church eats in the presence of Jesus. While the meal promises the future, it also is an experience of eschatological presence of the living Christ. When the church breaks break, they sit at the table of the Lord who is both the nourishment and the host of the meal. He is both lamb and host; indeed, he is servant at the table as well. When Luke uses “breaking bread” in his Gospel, Jesus is always the living host. This is particularly significant in Luke 24. Jesus promised he would break bread with his disciples again in the kingdom of God and in Luke 24 he breaks bread with them. The church eats a post-resurrection meal with Jesus through the breaking of bread. Eating in the presence of the living Christ is not a funerary act or a sad memorial of his death, but a vibrant declaration of the gospel (good news) that Christ died and rose again for the sake of the world. But more than a declaration–it is, indeed, an experience of the living Christ himself. Thus, joy and celebration encircles the table rather than mourning and sadness. Why would anyone eat a post-resurrection meal with Jesus in sadness?
The church invites “others” to share the meal. When the early church follows Jesus into the world, it is for the sake of the world. Their table is not exclusive but inclusive. Their table is inviting and includes “others” at the table. Just as Jesus willingly and intentionally sat at table with “others” (Luke 5), so the church intentionally sets a table that welcomes all. There is no reason to presume that the “breaking of bread” in Acts 2 or Acts 20 only included disciples. As communal meals, just as the communal meals of Israel, the inclusion of “outsiders” (“aliens” in the Hebrew Scriptures) is consistent with the purpose and meaning of the table itself and demonstrated by Jesus himself. He sets the table etiquette of his kingdom table and he practiced it as the presence of the kingdom in the world. The table is not simply communal but also missional (more on that in the next post).