“He was known of them in breaking of bread.” – Luke 24:35
It is a remarkable provision – hardly less remarkable than the necessity of spending a third of life in sleep – the need of renewing the body every few hours by food. We have not the ability of some of the lower animals to go long without food.
We should know that this must be a provision for our spiritual good. One result of our need for food is that we are compelled to work, and that with some regularity. Many are driven to work by hunger; others, foreseeing the necessity, work to provide for it. If the need for food and clothing were taken away, many of the industries of the world would die out, currents of business would stop, and many men would be idlers. Such would not grow up to be angels; they would not increase in wisdom and in the love of use. The need of food keeps them busy and so receptive of intelligence and love.
Also their need of food makes men feel that they have no life or power in themselves. It is a rebuke to self-confidence to realize that our life depends upon our being fed. Unlike the animals, we do not find our food ready for use. We sleep and rise night and day, and the seed groweth up we know not how. The recurring necessity for food is an invitation to lift up our eyes to the Giver of all, to thank Him who opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing. So it is customary for us to give thanks to the Lord three times a day.
There are higher possibilities open to men in their daily meals than to beasts. If we think only of gratifying the palate, we make the meal an occasion for bodily indulgence. Then we make ourselves like the beasts. But if we choose what is wholesome, what will best enable us to do the work of the day, the body will become less and less our master and more our servant, and we shall grow less animal-like and more human.
And unlike the beast, man has capacity and longing for higher food than physical food. He has appetite for instruction; he even hungers and thirsts after righteousness. He lives not by bread alone, but by every word of God. Our minds are related to our bodies. The mind and the body act as one. Our daily meals are an occasion for satisfying the higher appetites also, for there is a parallelism between our physical and our spiritual faculties and needs. Physical states affect our mental states. When the mind is sound, the body is more receptive of nourishment.
We know, too, that food does us more good when taken in pleasant company and cheerful surroundings. The mind opens the vessels of the body to be nourished. The conditions in the home need to be taken into account. All have a part to perform in making the daily meals serve their true use.
During a meal the mind is more open than at other times to receive helpful emotions and thoughts. For this reason many transactions are completed around the table. Kind feelings are more easily received, sink deeper, and do more good than at other times. We have an instinctive perception that to eat together brings us nearer and affects union of thought and affection. We encourage friendship by inviting acquaintances to our board. It was well known to ancient people that men understand each other better as they meet at table. They confirmed an agreement by eating together. To share bread was an inviolable pledge of friendship; and so it still is with some eastern people.
Recognizing this fact, that in eating together we are peculiarly receptive of thoughts and affections, an opportunity for distinctly spiritual use appears to us in our daily meals. They are times to impart our interests to others and to receive from them. We become united by sharing with them. We rise strengthened not in body only but in mind as well. Not only is there a use in occasional hospitality in building friendship and promoting good will, but in the family the daily meals may become a means of promoting unity of feeling and interests.
And the uses of the meal do not end here. It is a time favorable to the reception of deeper – even religious – emotions, and to the interchange of spiritual thoughts. This fact led to the religious feasts of ancient times. In the case of many of the Jewish sacrifices the law directed that a part of the offering was to be returned to the giver, and it became a feast. He ate with his friends as a sign of their reception of new life from the Lord and of their interchange of thought and affection; and this was not as a sign only, but as far as they were open to spiritual blessing the feast really promoted such reception. Eating together was also an important part of early Christian practice.
This is not of mere historical interest. The principle helps us to understand the Sacrament of the Holy Supper. The supper seems to many people a strange thing to introduce into worship. Some religious bodies do not observe it. There are, they think, other things that might be done in remembrance of the Lord; in other ways our need of heavenly bread could be brought to mind – our need of the sustaining love which makes us spiritually strong, and the intelligence which guides us aright.
But the partaking of the Holy Supper is not a mere reminder of our need of spiritual food, not a mere symbol; if reverently taken, the Holy Supper opens the interiors of the mind to receive. It makes us more open to heavenly influences. At the Holy Supper we may more deeply than at other times be united with the Lord and with one another.
It is important that in our daily meals we refrain from unkind thoughts and feelings, that they be not drawn into the life and confirmed. Much more important is it that we come to the Holy Supper with humble and forgiving hearts, for in the Holy Supper it is the love of the Lord which is strengthened, and not mere human friendship. In the Holy Supper we are the Lord’s guests and there is established between us and Him a better understanding and a stronger bond of love. In the writings of the church we read: “In the Holy Supper, the flesh and the bread denote the Divine good of the Lord’s Divine love toward the human race, and the reciprocal love of man to the Lord; and the blood and the wine denote the Divine truth that proceeds from the Lord’s Divine good, thus the truth of faith.”
It was at meat that the Lord received the publicans and assured them of His love. It was as He sat at meat that He accepted the tears of Mary and gave forgiveness. It was at the Last Supper that the Lord washed the disciples’ feet and spoke the farewell words of encouragement and peace.
To remind us of the importance of regularly partaking of the Lord’s Supper let us think of the Lord’s words as He gave the bread and the cup: “This is my flesh and my blood.” To remind us that our souls are more open to heavenly influences at this Sacrament let us think how the Lord later made Himself known to the two disciples at Emmaus in the breaking of bread.
It was before the passover supper, at its beginning, that the Lord said, “With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you.” Then He took the bread and the cup, blessed them, and gave to the disciples. And after the supper He said, “This do in remembrance of me.”
The church on earth is not one thing and the church in heaven another. The church on earth and in heaven are one, as body and soul are one. The Lord so constituted the Holy Supper that by it the church in heaven and the church on earth might meet together at His table in His presence.
And as we partake of the Lord’s Supper, in the degree in which we are established in purpose and prepared, the Lord will strengthen in us love for Him and for mankind. The translation “With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you” lacks the real force of the original, which means “With my heart set upon it I have desired or longed.” This is the desire from a fixed purpose, a desire deep down and fixed in the heart.
The Lord longed to eat this passover with His disciples and to institute the Holy Supper that He might establish a means by which He could be most closely present with us and give us of His joy and peace.