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Jesus and Bread – the eucharistic image of the body of Jesus
The Synoptic Gospels mention that, during the celebration of the last supper, Jesus shared bread and wine with his disciples. He took a loaf of bread and blessed it. After breaking it, he gave it to the disciples, saying: “Take; this is my body” (Mark 14;22). He then also gave them the cup with wine. While the words Jesus spoke over the latter have cultic connotations, the sharing of bread is a secular motif.
Bread symbolizes the Word of God – a standard association in Jewish thinking, deriving from a reference to the manna story in Deuteronomy, which ends with the warning “you shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
At the same time the bread also has a sacramental reference. The Eucharist is the new Christian Passover.
In general, bread is both a basic (Matt. 6:11) and omnipresent staple in ancient cultural and biblical contexts. Its metaphorical meaning conveys its fundamental role for human existence. Jesus therefore called himself the “bread of life” (John 6:35), and bread was also at the centre of the feeding miracles (Mk 6:30-44;8;1-9; John 6:1-15). Thus bread represents, on the one hand, core scenes of the ministry of Jesus for those in need. Jesus had launched a reform movement that promoted the ideal of an inclusive society across traditional boundaries. This ideal was particularly communicated during meals (Mk 2:13-17). On the other hand, bread was explicitly identified with Jesus. When the disciples ate the bread that Jesus gave them, they understood it as a representation of him that referred to his entire ministry on behalf of others. When eating it , the disciples understood that they too, were sustained through his ministry. At the same time, the fact that the bread was broken conveyed, once more, the impending death of Jesus.
(i) Eberhart, C.A. “The sacrifice of Jesus. Understanding atonement biblically” Fortress Press (Facets) (2011) p.127-8
(ii) John, J. “The meaning in the miracles” Canterbury Press (2001)
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