The Lords Supper, or Breaking of Bread, was instituted by the Lord Jesus on the eve of His death. It is a gathering in remembrance of Christ. The command was put into practice by local assemblies in the Acts of the Apostles. The purpose of the gathering is explained more fully in the epistles.
Breaking of bread
The term "breaking of bread" does not always apply to the Lords Supper. On a number of occasions these words indicate the eating of a common meal. For example, the Lord Jesus "took bread and brake" with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24.30). In Acts 2.46 there was "breaking bread from house to house". The reference is to sharing a meal with others in a home environment since the verses go on to say that they "did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart". In Acts 27.34-35 Paul "took bread" and broke it. Here Paul is instructing his companions on board a ship to eat it for their "health". The context is always critical in the understanding and application of Scripture. The context of these Scriptures shows that each refers to the partaking of a common meal.
The Lords Supper
The phrase to "break bread" is also used to describe the gathering for the Lords Supper. Such a gathering is recorded as first taking place in the Acts of the Apostles. The words are used in a list of other activities of the local church such as fellowship and prayers (2.42). The use of the definite article in the verse suggests that specific events are in view when believers met together. At 20.7 a specific action is also in view and the context shows this to be more than a common meal.
The Lords Supper is an expression of assembly fellowship. When practised in Acts 20.7 we read that "the disciples came together". In 1 Corinthians 11 it was evidently a meeting of the whole assembly. The words "when ye come together" are significant (see vv.17,18,20,33). It was not a private occasion celebrated in an individuals home. It was a gathering for the participation of all believers. It was a command for the local assembly to carry out as a collective exercise. Today, therefore, we are to remember the Lord at the Lords Supper in the local assembly, not in circumstances to suit our convenience.
The first day of the week
The "first day of the week" is distinct from, and marks the end of, the Sabbath. It is our Sunday or the "Lords Day". It was the day of the Lords resurrection (Mt 28.1; Mk 16.2,9; Lk 24.1; Jn 20.1), the day when the Lord was found in the midst of His disciples. It is a day specifically linked to Christianity and the introduction of a new order, telling of a Man beyond death, risen and exalted. 1 Corinthians 16.2 substantiates the idea that the saints gathered on the first day of the week. From these instances it is clear that this day is set aside for specific spiritual exercises including the remembrance of Him.
A weekly remembrance
Linking these thoughts together it is apparent that we should remember the Lord in the Breaking of Bread on the Lords Day. But with what frequency should we gather to celebrate the Lords Supper? A close examination of the Scriptures cited shows this gathering should be on a weekly basis.
Acts 2.42 shows us that the Breaking of Bread was held on a consistent basis. It was to be a constant feature in the life of every church. 1 Corinthians 11.26 uses the words "as often as ", and this indicates that the Lords Supper would take place on a frequent basis. These words mean "every time it is done". Verse 26 also says, " till he come". These Scriptures show us that a pattern for Breaking Bread was established as part of New Testament Church practice which is to continue through our present dispensation until the time of the Lords return.
Acts 20 is most helpful in indicating the frequency with which the Lords Supper should be celebrated. By the time we get to Acts 20 the Breaking of Bread was practised as a weekly gathering on the first day of the week. Paul travelling from Macedonia was in a hurry to arrive in Jerusalem for Pentecost ("he hasted", v.16), but he stayed in Troas for seven days. Despite his haste he purposely waited in Troas so that he would be there on the Lords Day to Break Bread. Given his hurry, no other reason can be offered. He did not call the Church together on any other day so that his journey might be expedited. He did not continue his journey and Break Bread at a convenient spot along the way. Consistent with his teaching to the saints at Corinth he remembered the Lord in the Breaking of Bread with a local assembly on the Lords Day.
In support of a weekly gathering, particular note should also be taken of the expression "the first day of the week" in v.7. The Newberry margin indicates that the word "week" is plural and the expression should therefore read "the first of the weeks". This implies a continuous action that was repeated on a weekly basis. The gathering is therefore to take place on a weekly basis.
The time of gathering
Discussion might be entered into as to the time when the Lords Supper should take place on the first day of the week. Irrespective of whether Luke is following the Jewish or Roman reckoning of a day, Acts 20 suggests this was the activity that took priority on that day.
Acts 20.7 suggests that the believers at Troas had no previous meeting prior to their Breaking Bread. This was followed by preaching. The order suggests the importance of the Breaking of Bread. This example shows that before other spiritual activities took place the saints kept the Lords command in remembering Him.
There is no justification for convening the Lords Supper on a Saturday or Sunday evening from this Scripture. The principle that worship precedes service pervades Scripture. Ideally, therefore, the Lords Supper should be celebrated as the first collective spiritual exercise of the Lords people on the first day of the week. However, it is acknowledged that in certain countries there may be local constraints which make this impossible.
There are some simple practical lessons which arise from this brief study.
1. As the Lords Supper is an assembly gathering it is both unscriptural and unwise, where there is no assembly in the area, to Break Bread in a home, a hotel room, on board a ship, or at a camp site. The Scriptures do not support the Breaking of Bread in the home of a person unable to gather because of physical incapacity. Breaking Bread in the home is, however, appropriate if this is where the whole assembly meets in the absence of other suitable accommodation.
2. The Lords people should plan their travel and holiday arrangements so that they never have reason to miss the Lords Supper.
3. Absence from the gathering means that we fail to fulfil the Lords command and we miss the blessing of His presence.
While a weekly Breaking of Bread is supported by Scripture it is important that this meeting does not become a matter of routine, formality or ritual. Conversely, where the Lord has promised to be present this should dispense with any notion of informality, coldness or carnality in language or actions.
All assembly gatherings are important, but there is something particularly precious about the Breaking of Bread meeting. It is the occasion when we speak to the Father about the glories of His Son. It is the occasion when the affections of the saints are stirred by the remembrance of the Lords love in the presence of memorials that are the proof and expression of that love - His death. While it is a special occasion, this does not mean attendance at this meeting alone and absence from all others is satisfactory. The Lords people should order their lives so that they are at as many assembly gatherings as possible, and the Breaking of Bread is not a meeting to be missed lightly. This meeting distinguishes assembly testimony from most other groups of Christians. It is to be recognised as a part of assembly life as a weekly exercise.