Posted by: rcottrill | April 11, 2018

Break Thou the Bread of Life

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Words: Mary Artemisia Lathbury (b. Aug. 10, 1841; d. Oct. 20, 1913)
Music: William Fiske Sherwin (b. Mar. 14, 1826; d. Apr. 14, 1888)

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Miss Lathbury, the daughter of a pastor and sister to two more, was also a professional artist and a poet. One said of her, “She lived in the spiritual world, was in constant communion with heaven [and] had looked into the very face of the invisible God.” She also gave us the hymn Day Is Dying in the West. Mary Lathbury suffered from very poor eyesight, which makes the line in stanza four especially interesting and poignant: “touch my eyes, and make me see.”

Bread is the most widely consumed prepared food in the world, and has been for millennia. It’s portable, practical, and versatile. If made into a sandwich, it can contain meat, cheese, and vegetables, as well as various spreads and condiments.

Regarding the history of the sandwich, British statesman John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), is credited with the invention. He loved to play cards–particularly cribbage–and during games he wanted to have something to eat that didn’t require a fork, or get his hands messy. So he asked his valet to bring him some meat between two pieces of bread. Others thought this was a great idea, and began ordering “the same as Sandwich.”

In the Bible, the word “bread” is used over three hundred times. Sometimes it is a general term for food, but there are also many references to actual bread. The Egyptians ate bread with every meal, and the baker’s dream in Genesis 40:17 suggests they had “all kinds of baked goods.” A royal document from ancient Egypt describes thirty-eight kinds of cake, and fifty-seven kinds of bread made in Pharaoh’s kitchens.

Mainly wheat and barley were used in Bible times, though sometimes spelt or corn. Ground grain was mixed with water or olive oil. People did not always have fresh yeast (leaven), but a piece of fermented dough from a previous baking could be mixed in if the baker wanted loaves to rise. Loaves of bread have been discovered that are over five thousand years old. (A little stale now, no doubt!)

In the Mosaic Law, leaven was treated as a symbol for sin. Because it involves fermentation (corruption), and because of the way its influence spreads as evil does (cf. Gal. 5:9), the Israelites were commanded to use unleavened bread in almost all ceremonies (e.g. Lev. 6:14-17).

One of the greatest miracles of the Lord Jesus involved fish and bread–the latter being unleavened barley loaves, about the size of small pancakes (Jn. 6:1-13). The Lord also made a personal application of bread, symbolically, applying it to Himself:

“I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (vs. 35).

An important ceremony of the church is likely what Acts refers to when it speaks of the early Christians participating in “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42). It’s called variously: the Lord’s Table (I Cor. 10:21); the Communion (fellowship) Service (I Cor. 10:16); the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11:20); or the Eucharist, an English form of the Greek word eucharisteo, which means giving thanks (I Cor. 11:24).

So there’s literal bread, and symbolic bread both connected with Christ. He Himself is our source of spiritual food, needed to nurture our souls. And we remember His death with broken bread, which speaks of His bodily suffering on the cross, and wine which symbolizes His shed blood (I Cor. 11:23-26).

Sadly, some in the pagan culture of the early church were either ignorant of the meaning of this ceremony, or purposely spread false rumours. Roman senator Tacitus (AD 54-120) described “sordid and shameful rites,” claiming Christians were actually eating babies at the Lord’s Table!

How different, and how meaningful is the lovely hymn by Mary Lathbury.

CH-1) Break Thou the bread of life, dear Lord, to me,
As Thou didst break the loaves beside the sea;
Beyond the sacred page I seek Thee, Lord;
My spirit pants for Thee, O living Word!

CH-2) Thou art the bread of life, O Lord, to me,
Thy holy Word the truth that saveth me;
Give me to eat and live with Thee above;
Teach me to love Thy truth, for Thou art love.

CH-4) O send Thy Spirit, Lord, now unto me,
That He may touch my eyes, and make me see:
Show me the truth concealed within Thy Word,
And in Thy Book revealed I see the Lord.

1) What other symbols for the Lord come to mind, in addition to the Bread?

2) What does the line “Beyond the sacred page I seek Thee, Lord” mean in terms of our personal Bible study?

Wordwise Hymns (for another article see here)
The Cyber Hymnal


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