Break the Bread of Life



In the Collect or collective prayer used for the third Sunday of Easter, (CPWI, BCP, p.169) we recalled Jesus breaking bread with his disciples. This was one way Jesus chose to make known his resurrected presence to them. By breaking bread Jesus signals that the resurrection has implications for the practical day to day living of all people. Wherever and whenever people are in need of bread the resurrection has relevance. To this end, the Collect goes on to ask God to “open the eyes of our faith.” This means physical reality, as in the breaking of bread, has implications and is directly related to spiritual reality. Breaking bread and seeing by faith are closely related to each other.

This intimate connection between physical and spiritual realities (bread and life) reminds me of the well known song Break Thou the Bread of life written by Mary Lathbury (1841-1913). Lathbury was better known as a commercial artist than as a hymn writer. Her illustrations appeared regularly in popular American magazines. She was concerned about what she describes as superficial Christianity. In her observation too many Christians did not seem to have any depth. Their Bible reading only scratched the surface and they had no understanding of how culture and education could enrich their Christian lives.

During the summers, Lathbury often vacationed at Lake Chautauqua in New York and shared her burden with other Christians who vacationed there. Her interactions and strategic comments gave rise to the Chautauqua movement. It was a combination of Christian inspiration, culture, and education. The movement spread rapidly across the United States. A key feature of the movement was the study of scripture. Lathbury was of the view the more people studied the Bible the more they would get into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. It is against this background that she wrote the hymn “Break thou the bread of life.”

This hymn is often sung as a Communion hymn because of its mention of bread, but Mary Lathbury wrote it to encourage Bible readers to go “beyond the page” and let Jesus reveal himself as they read. To this end there is the recognition that physical encounter with the pages of scripture and discussion with fellow people of faith can give rise to meaningful contact with the God who is beneath, on and beyond the pages.

In thinking about the reality beyond the page I could not help but reflect on some words from Eucharistic Prayer A on page 134 in the Book of Common Prayer (CPWI, BCP). In a short paragraph following the acclamation the priest prays as follows:

Let faith and love increase in us.
Unite us with all Bishops,
All other ministers of your Word and Sacraments,
And with all the people of God,
Living and departed,
Whom you have made for yourself (CPWI, BCP, p.134)

Using physical reality to penetrate the meaning of lived reality requires three things. First, lived reality requires that we pay keen attention to our physical and spiritual lives. A good example is preparation for, and during retirement.1 According to one writer, retirement enables the enjoyment of God forever. In other words, a physical activity, retirement, has the potential for lasting spiritual benefits that is, enjoying God for ever. On the one hand, retirement brings with it grief for the loss of daily routine and engagement that one has become accustomed for years. On the other hand, once the grief is engaged boldly, there is a sense of freedom to enjoy life with God, others and all of creation.

Second, physical reality points to spiritual reality through Christian unity. Using retirement as an example, we learn that physical and spiritual reality is ultimately one in God. In fact, retirement gives people the freedom to fall upwards (Richard Rohr). In this sense, one is no longer torn apart by competing activities as one strives to be who God created us to be rather than simply to please others.

Finally, both physical and spiritual life is made possible by the work of God. Leisure, according to one writer, is one way to appreciate God’s work in all things and at all times. To this end, “leisure time is time open to what we decide belongs there. That doesn’t mean jettisoning our earlier commitments and values. It does mean that the proportionality of values can and should shift. We can fill our time with enjoying what we have passed by in our too busy engagements.”2 Retirement in this sense gives a new perspective on life, it allows for a freeing of the personal and ego agenda to focus on God’s agenda. One can do this without feeling guilty that work for the boss is being left undone. Once again we are free to be.

In summary, all three perspectives on physical and spiritual reality point to life in all its fullness (St John 10:10). Physical life feeds us with the bread God has provided from the “fruit of the earth and the work of human hands (CPWI, BCP, p.126). Spiritual life connects us with ultimate reality and fills us with the experiences that really matter. These three realities reinforce the fact that all of life is one. No longer do we need to fight one another; instead we can be friends of everyone and indeed all of creation.

– Contributed by Canon Garth Minott