Interesting fact: The term “breaking bread” goes back many centuries and crosses many cultures and religions. It’s a shared term for coming together in meal and friendship. The term applies today — you can find it in some urban dictionaries.
For as long as we’ve been around, we’ve come together and connected over a meal. We enjoy breaking bread and telling stories, restoring friendships and creating new ones.
Bread has been a staple of diets for a long time, so it’s a natural choice to capture the essence of eating together. Also, it’s wonderfully symbolic. When we break bread, each of us gets one piece of a bigger loaf. It feeds our sense of connection. Each of us is wholly bread, but none of us is the whole loaf.
It’s not surprising that bread-breaking is a touchstone religious practice. For instance, it’s part of Jewish tradition. Two thousand years ago, a Jewish rabbi chose it as a way for his followers to remember their unity.
That rabbi spent the last years of his life teaching that everyone is responsible for everyone else and must live that way — feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, care for the poor. Breaking bread is a reminder that our lives are about more than ourselves.
His followers not only recognized their teacher in the breaking of bread, they recognized each other, too. They were reminded of their commitment to love one another. They invited everyone to join. And they lived in communion, sharing what they had with one another.
For them, breaking bread wasn’t just a way of eating. It was a way of living.
All of that changed over the centuries. What we know as communion became institutionalized. Ritual replaced meal. The bread-breaking became a set-apart observance with strict regulation and legalistic definition.
Eventually, bread was no longer broken; everyone got their own, pre-processed wafer (and lay people were prohibited from sharing the cup). The spirit of interconnectedness was erased and replaced by individual reverence.
The individual piece had become the whole loaf.
And communion was replaced by contention. There were arguments over what it meant and who could participate. Churches developed tests of allegiance that had to be satisfied in order for the bread to be shared. Many still use them today.
Instead of union, there was division.
And it’s not just that way in the realm of religion. Bread-breaking has fallen out of favor in our individualistic, industrialized societies. Extended families rarely get together to appreciate and renew their connectedness. Meals are no longer a primary way of sharing with friends and neighbors and strangers.
Instead of breaking bread together, we drive-thru alone.
Can we recapture the spirit of breaking bread? Can we commit ourselves to reconnecting? Can we remind ourselves that we’re one small piece of a bigger loaf?
Can we once again break bread together?