THE BREAD AND CUP OF BLESSING
A COMMUNION MEDITATION – Jack Cottrell, February 2018
Imagine you are sharing a meal with some fellow Christians, and you say, “Brother Smith, will you ask the blessing on our food?” The prayer that follows often includes this: “Dear God, we pray that you will bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies.”
“Ask the blessing”? “Bless this food”? Where do we get these ideas and this language? Maybe from our Bibles. The KJV of Matthew 26:26 says, “Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.” The ESV is similar: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat, this is my body.’”
Most NT versions say something like this in 1 Corinthians 10:16, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” (KJV).
Whether or not this is where we get the language of “blessing” when we “say grace” at meals, these Scripture texts raise this question: what is this act of “blessing” that precedes the taking of the Lord’s Supper? What does “blessing” have to do with the bread and cup we are about to eat and drink? What was Jesus doing here? Did he actually “bless” the bread and cup? Was he asking God the Father to bless it? What would such a blessing accomplish?
At this point we should note that the gospel records of the Last Supper do not actually say that Jesus blessed either the bread or the cup. In the KJV of the Matthew account above (26:26), the word “it” is in italics. This indicates that the word “it” is not actually in the original Greek text! (The ESV does not employ this handy use of italics to show that a word is not in the original.) The original of both Matthew 26:26 and Mark 14:22 simply says that Jesus took the bread and eulogēsas (aorist participle of eulogeō), which would be translated, “having said words of thanks or blessing.”
So, just before Jesus passed the bread to the apostles for eating, he said a blessing. The crucial question is this: who or what was he blessing? The answer: he was NOT blessing the bread and the cup; he was blessing GOD! When the Jews had something to be thankful for, they blessed not the gift but the GIVER—GOD! See Psalm 103:1, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name” (NASB). As we say in one of our old hymns, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
That is what Jesus is doing when he institutes the Lord’s Supper. He and his apostles are celebrating the traditional Passover meal, which included the eating of specific bread and the saying of a specific ritual prayer called the Motzi prayer, one English version of which is this: “Blessed are you, Adonai our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” (The Hebrew of “who brings forth” is the origin of Motzi.) You will note how similar this is to our mealtime prayer, “God is great, God is good; and we thank him for our food. By his hand we must be fed; give us, Lord, our daily bread.”
How can we apply this understanding? First, at our regular mealtimes, when saying (not asking) the “blessing,” our main point should be to BLESS GOD! The purpose is to bless God by praising and thanking him for providing our food. See Romans 14:6, “He who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God.”
Then second, how does this affect our regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper? Of course, it means that we should be thanking and praising God for the bread and cup, i.e., we should be blessing HIM for it. But even more importantly, we should be blessing God for a much, much greater gift than just little bits of cracker and juice. We should bless him for what these things represent: The Bread of Life! The Blood that gives Eternal Life! As John 6:35 says, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst’” (NASB).
Here’s the deal: if we are doing this right, in the end we are not blessing the bread and cup; this bread and this cup are blessing us! What we are doing right now is not just taking a bit of food into our mouths, which might preserve our physical life for a couple of seconds. In addition, and much more significantly, with our minds we are taking hold of the immeasurable gift of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice on the cross is the only reason we will live forever!
Here is a prayer of blessing:
God, you’re great! God, you’re good! Now we bless you for Christ’s blood.
By your gifts we must be fed. Give us, Lord, this holy, eternal-life-giving Bread. Amen.
[Thanks to my former student and fellow Kingdom-worker, Dr. Lee Fields, whose helpful essay called “Lord, Please Bless This Donut!” inspired me to prepare this meditation.]