Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Shared Meal

A couple weekends ago, my mother-in-law and I attended a wedding of a family friend. While the ceremony, itself, was sparsely decorated with a simple arch and a few pre-lit candelabras, the reception hall was quite extravagant. I can't even begin to guess how many man hours went into creating the decorations and cooking all that food.

In the middle of the hall was an open-air arbor that stretched the length of a table large enough to seat the entire wedding party. Solid white lanterns of every shape hung in rows from the innermost wall. But most impressive were the four life-sized store-fronts positioned around the room, representing various eateries. Each was three-dimensional, hand-crafted of wood, and complete with signs, faux windows, flowers, lanterns, awnings, and other decorations one would expect at such an establishment.

In front of these buildings labelled "Sweet Shop" and "House of Good Fortune" were several tables literally overflowing with a broad selection of food found at that type eatery. In short, it was a sumptuous feast.

The ceremony, itself, witnessing two persons entering into a solemn marriage covenant--this was the reason I attended. Yet, as I've been learning, the celebration of that covenant, the marking of the occasion with some symbol of remembrance, seems to be just as important as the covenant, itself.

Over the past month, this space has looked into covenant in Scripture and how the trappings of the Old Covenant point us directly to the New Covenant in Christ Jesus. Old Testament covenants are all marked by some symbol to serve as a reminder. Two of the most memorable signs of covenant are the rainbow God put in the sky for Noah and Johnathan's gift to David of a robe and other gifts for battle.

One other interesting way to mark a covenant was through sitting down with one's covenant partner and sharing a meal together. Scripture shows this many times.

First was a covenant between Isaac and Abimelech of Gerar, these two coming nations making peace after much fighting over who owned a certain well dug in the desert. Scripture says, "he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. In the morning they arose early and exchanged oaths; then Isaac sent them away and they departed from him in peace" (Gen. 26:30-31). In this instance, the meal preceded the covenant.

A few chapters later, Jacob and his father in law, Laban, are parting ways. The two men covenant together, Laban promising not to not trespass into Jacob's land and Jacob promising to take care of his wives, Rachel and Leah, Laban's daughters. To mark this covenant, the men erected a pillar of stones, "Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his kinsmen to the meal; and they ate the meal" (Gen. 31:54). Blood marked the covenant. Then, there was the meal.

We have already looked into David's keeping of a covenant made with Jonathan, one which required him to take care of Jonathan's descendants in the event of his death. Moments after meeting that one remaining descendant, Mephibosheth, David marks the event with talk of a meal, eating together in remembrance of covenant: "and you shall eat at my table regularly...So Mephibosheth ate at David's table as one of the king's sons" (2 Sam. 9:7,11).

And finally, after the Israelites promised to obey God's Ten Commandments, Moses sprinkled them with the blood of sacrifice as they entered into covenant with God, Himself. Then, there was yet another feast: "Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel...and they saw God, and they ate and drank" (Ex. 24:9-11).

A meal shared together was and is important. It emphasizes the unity, the brotherhood shared between the covenant-partners . It also serves as a reminder.

Consider the Last Supper in light of this understanding of the Old Covenant.

The night before our Savior was crucified, He, too, shared a meal with his disciples. Much like the covenant between Isaac and Abimelech where the meal preceded the actual oath-taking of covenant rather than coming after, at the Last Supper, Christ shares the meal before offering His own life's blood as the sacrifice required for covenant.

Paul tells of this meal: "and when He had given thanks [for the bread,] He broke it and said, 'This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Cor. 11:24-26).

Partaking of the Lord's Supper "proclaims," publishes, declares, makes known Christ's death, His sacrifice, His making of a New Covenant of faith with the one who partakes of the meal with Him. And yet, Scripture warns against taking this meal lightly, implying some have died for doing so: "Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord" (v. 27).

Growing up, I never understood this passage. Yet, in coming to understand how God views covenants--between us and Him or between each other--this makes so much more sense. In God's eyes, entering into covenant of any kind is serious.

Why would we expect the partaking of the shared meal that accompanies such a covenant to be any less so?

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