A meal like no other: the significance of the Lord’s Supper

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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Like the Passover meal which typified it, the Lord’s Supper captures the core of God’s relationship with his people. It depicts the covenant idea, God’s fellowship with his chosen people, their dependence on Him, forgiveness of sin, and redemption through atonement. Through the medium of food, the message of the Gospel is displayed in a way words can hardly convey. And it not only presents us a sight to behold; we are invited to partake of it.

 

A blood covenant

The Passover was instituted several centuries earlier on the occasion of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. Having been in captivity for about four centuries, God decided it was time to set them free. He sent Moses to announce His plan to Pharaoh but the Egyptian king was unwilling to release such valuable slaves. After a series of supernatural attacks on Egyptian society and economy, ranging from pollution of their water source, destruction of their livestock and widespread bodily ailments, God struck the nation with the worst judgement: the death of all firstborn males.

 

At this point, God instructed all the Israelites to observe a sacred rite. They were to take a lamb for each household and kill it. Its blood was to be smeared against the door of each house and the meat would be roasted and eaten with unleavened bread. The point was this: an angel of death would go through the entire Egyptian country. Any home without the sign of the blood would lose its firstborn males. And it did happen as predicted. The firstborn in every Egyptian house was killed, but every Israelite family was spared.

 

The Passover was to be perpetually observed as a feast (Leviticus 23:4-5). It would be a reminder of their deliverance from Egypt. They were saved from captivity through the killing of an animal, through the spilling of blood.

 

Looking backward

It was not a coincidence that Jesus used the occasion of a Passover meal to foretell his own redemptive death. He had come to effect precisely what that feast ultimately pointed to: deliverance of God’s people from the captivity of sin. Several months earlier, John the Baptist had declared him to be ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’, a likely reference to the Passover lamb (John 1:29).

 

Just as the Passover was celebrated as a memorial feast – a looking backward to God’s rescue from the tyranny of Pharaoh – in the same way, Christian believers look back to the sacrifice of Jesus by which he destroyed the tyranny of Satan. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper today, we look back to the sacrifice of Christ, the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7).

 

A table of fellowship

When the Passover was first celebrated in Egypt, God’s command was clear: a lamb was to be selected per household or shared between 2 small households (Leviticus 12:3). It was a feast centred on the family and was thus eaten together. Every member of the household was called to recollect Yahweh’s deliverance and to trust in Him as their covenant God. The feast of the Passover brought God’s people together in fellowship with Him.

 

The same idea is brought over into the Lord’s Supper. It is a meal to be shared together by believers. One of Paul’s severest rebukes was over the abuse of this meal in the Corinthian church:

 

“When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.” (1 Corinthians 11:20-22)

 

He concluded with a stern reminder that they were to wait for one another before eating (v.33).

 

When Jesus also instituted the meal, His words clearly indicated that he had in mind a meal jointly shared by his disciples. It was a fellowship together with the Christ whose body and blood they were taking. For Christ had already promised that He would be present in any gathering centred on Himself. And as we share the meal, we are reminded of our dependence on Him for life and grace. By eating the meal, we are receiving the One whom those elements point to.

  

Pointing forward

Finally, in John’s vision of heaven, our fellowship with God and Christ is presented as a feast – the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-8). The bride, which is the Church, is prepared for her husband and she meets with him for an eternity of bliss. All tears would be wiped away and all mourning or pain would have ceased (Rev. 21:1-4). And the event comes with God’s assurance that all things are being renewed (Rev. 21:5). At the heart of that celebration is a feast.

 

The American pastor and theologian Peter Leithart observes:

Scripture teaches that the final order of things will be the kingdom of God, and Jesus consistently described the kingdom as a place of feasting. Better, the kingdom is not a place where feasting occurs, but the feast itself. At the Lord’s table we receive an initial taste of the final heaven and earth, but the Lord’s Supper is not merely a sign of the eschatological feast, as if the two were separate feasts. Instead, the Supper is the early stage of that very feast. 

Thus, the meal introduced by Jesus about 2,000 years ago, shared by every community of believers since then, lies at the centre of God’s future renewal of the universe at the Resurrection.

 

Through the Lord’s Supper, God invites us to partake of the story of redemption – its blood covenant and its fellowship of love. As we eat the bread and drink the wine, we share in the life given by Christ Jesus. It does not end there, though. The feast invites us to look forward to that future when sin, death, and Satan would have been forever dealt with, and God dwells with his people in the new Jerusalem.

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