On the night he was betrayed, Jesus sat down with his disciples to share the Passover meal. At that meal, he insisted not only that he was the host at the meal but that he was the meal itself. Jesus was the new Passover.
This was significant for his hearers. It would have been obvious to them that the bread and wine was not magically turning into his body and blood. This was not transubstantiation. However, he was saying more than Zwingli’s position that the bread and wine were symbolic representation. John Calvin is right to insist that we do feed on Christ in our hearts. Jesus is the meal.
This was important because to the Jews:
- The Passover meal was salvation for their people. It was only by eating the meal all those years ago and putting the blood on the doorposts that the Israelites were saved from slavery and death in Egypt.
- There was a sense in which they were eating the same meal as their forefathers. They ate the Passover because it was their salvation. They identified as part of the people saved all those years ago.
It’s fascinating then isn’t it that Jesus does not leave us with a “thin experience” in his instructions for how we are to gather as his people now. In fact, when we consider that the perfume from his anointment at Bethany would have lingered and still been heavy in the air at the Passover, we might consider the meal a deeply immersive, sensory experience with sights, smells, sounds and tastes all helping God’s new covenant people to grasp who Jesus was and what he was about to do for them. All of that to encourage them to come as hungry people and feed.
It strikes me then, that our big need as God’s people is a meal with Jesus and a meal that feeds on Jesus. This has important implications. If we need this meal for life and strength then we need to focus more on it. I know it is on trend these days to say that our teaching application needs to be much more about how to get through the week ahead but if it is a meal that we need, by focusing on the meal we will help one another to find the source of strength and nourishment we need for the week. Our obedience to Christ and service for him, Monday to Saturday should arise naturally out of that rather in a mechanistic and clunky way.
If we think of the whole of a Sunday gathering as the meal then this is both exciting and challenging. It’s exciting because this thing is big and because it is exactly what we need. It’s challenging because there comes a big responsibility for all of us. If we are welcoming people, then we are acting as hosts, we are stepping in to wash feet. If we are involved in teaching whether to adults or children, then we have a responsibility to serve up an appetising meal. If we are playing music, joining in with singing, bringing prayers, prophecies, testimony etc then we are pouring out worship like that scented oil as a sweet perfume so that all get to enjoy the beauty and nourishment of a meal with all its sights, sounds and smells.
There is also an important encouragement. If Jesus is the meal, then we do not have to find other sources of food and we ourselves are not the meal. That’s important because too often Christians have treated other believers as the meal or allowed themselves to become the meal. We even have a horrendous, pagan worship song that talks about God consuming us from the inside out. That’s all upside down as well as inside out! I think that one of the reasons Paul warns the Corinthians to “discern the body” is that they had taken to devouring one another. We should not, so the encouragement is part warning.
But the great encouragement is that if we come with expectant hearts then we should be ready for a feast because the best meal of all is being served, Jesus Christ the bread of heaven.