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  • Writer's pictureFr. Paul A. F. Castellano

A Meal of Thanksgiving.

Exodus 24:1 Now He said to Moses, "Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar.

2 "And Moses alone shall come near the LORD, but they shall not come near; nor shall the people go up with him."

3 So Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, "All the words which the LORD has said we will do."

4 And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel.

5 Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD.

6 And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar.

7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, "All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient."

8 And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, "This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words."

9 Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel,

10 and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity.

11 But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank. (NKJ)

As we enter Thanksgiving and anticipate the celebratory meal, prepare for the family gatherings, the Turkey, pumpkin pie, ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, et al, I would like to shift your focus ever so slightly. I would like you to think about the meal we are privileged to eat every Sunday (or at least, should be privileged to eat every Sunday), The Eucharist. As you contemplate the wonderful blessing, I would like for you to reflect upon one of the most important aspects of its meaning.

The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, or The Lord’s Supper, is a covenant meal. What do I mean by “covenant meal?” First, generally speaking, a covenant is a testament of agreement between two parties legally binding them mutually to the actions or undertakings on each other’s behalf. Theologically – when used of relations between God and man – it denotes a gracious undertaking entered into by God, solely because he chose to lavish His love and care on a particular people, for the benefit and blessing of man, out of a unilateral act of His divine will, and specifically for those people who by faith receive the promises and commit themselves to the obligations which this undertaking involves.

In the O.T., the making of a covenant was followed by a meal in which the participants had fellowship and were pledged to loyalty to one another (Gen 26:30; 31:54; II Samuel 3:20). The covenant between God and Israel at Sinai was likewise followed by a meal in which the people “ate and drank and saw God.” The New Covenant (Jer 31:1-34) between the Lord and His people, was thus ratified by Jesus in a meal!

Upon the conclusion of the legally binding contractual obligations made by each party to the other, the meal was preceded, where a sacrifice was offered as the sign of the ratification and potential consequences, of violation of the covenant. This was usually done in or before the presence of a deity; in the case of Israel, God was one of the parties of the covenant. Reread the above passage from Exodus again and you will see a foreshadowing of what God was about to present to His people, the Passover Meal. This meal was a type of covenantal meal pointing to the Holy Eucharist, which is ultimately a promise and reminder of that GREAT meal all of God’s people will experience in heaven, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

The Passover Meal, as the representation and anticipation of God’s covenantal binding of Himself to us (and we to Him) past, present, and future, comes to us in this anticipation, as the sacrament of the Old Testament, pointing us to the sacrament of the New.

The elements of Passover, even as we briefly look at them, should not be lost on our modern, Christian church-going, minds. The Passover involves a covenantal recitation of all that God has done for Israel - Deliverance from slavery, redemption from sin and God’s judgment, a blessing to be considered a people chosen by God, and praise to God for all that He has done! The father of the house would lead in remembering all that had transpired in Jewish history. Later this would move from the house to the sanctuary. In the Old Testament, God is the Father of the House compelling us, inviting us, commanding us to join Him as His guest, at His table.

In this meal, the Jews constantly recalled and reiterated the events culminating in their salvation which led to their being a participant in God’s covenantal meal (Exodus 12:1–13, 21–23, 28, 43–51). They were in essence reinstituting the covenant at each celebration.

However, this was far from a simple memorial meal; a meal relegated to the recess of our most vivid imaginings. Oh, on the contrary, its historical reality had significance as a type. The liberation and redemption of Israel out of Egypt was a picture of liberation out of the slavery of the house of sin. Here then, in this memorial meal it, at the same time, becomes a sacrament because in the historical liberation out of Egypt Israel could not see anything else portrayed than the spiritual liberation that would be achieved by the Messiah. God says (Exod 12:13): “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” There was therefore in the Passover a sign and seal of God’s pardoning mercy. The Judgment upon sin, and the death of all, due to that judgment, was required of the firstborn of the Egyptians; but Israel was delivered from God’s righteous judgment, although Israel also certainly had deserved death, because God saw the substitutionary blood on the door and the lintels.[1]

Participation in the Passover NOT ONLY was a remembrance of all that God had done, but it was protection from the impending judgment coming via the Angel of Death. Those and only those who were covered by the blood on the lintel and the doorposts, who partook and actually participated in this Passover meal, were in fellowship with God, were in communion with Him, were protected from God’s judgment – all others were under that judgment.

And note, the ONLY protection from God’s judgment, judgment for sin, was this covering, this “atonement,” for sin was pervasive and no one was exempt; no one was sinless; everyone was under the direct threat of God’s judgment of sin. Only the “Passover,” the covering of sin, the atonement, ensured their safety.

The fact that this Passover sacrifice took place, later, in the tabernacle and the temple, out of the view of the Jewish congregation, is thus made to convey the idea of a contrast between the hidden character of the supreme mystery of the old covenant and the open character of the fulfillment corresponding thereto in Christ.[2] The Old Testament mercy seat was sprinkled with foreign blood; in Christ’s case, the blood was that of the living mercy seat himself.[3]

Always eating the same meal already indicated a certain fellowship, but this comes out very strongly here in the eating of the one unbroken lamb; one unified people; “communing” in one sacrament. The taste of bitter herbs, referred, NOT only to the bitter Egyptian slavery (Exod 1:14); but the bitterness of sin in the sinful life was thereby portrayed, and the thought that therefore resides in this is, that eating of the meal of God’s grace is associated with eating of the bitterness of sin, that repentance accompanies faith.

The meal itself, the paschal lamb was to be whole, not dissected, no bones broken. A foreshadow of Christ’s sacrifice and our participation in the one, entire, complete, unified body of Christ. Oh! that the Church learn this point.

With the sacrifice of Christ, our sin-bearer, serving our sentence and receiving our punishment for that sin, His dying and rising again, brings with Him divine cleanness, the washing away of sin. Christ first had to be sacrificed before we could partake of His meal.

It is called “communion” because, in it, we are in “union” with Christ, “com” (with) “union.” Not only in what we believe, or what we are remembering at the time we partake, but in actual union with Christ; we are by the Holy Spirit, grafted into Him!

As God in the Passover, in the tabernacle/temple was the host, Jesus was both the guest (Luke 5:29–32; 7:36–50) and the host at meals during his ministry (Mark 2:15). Additionally, the feeding miracles of Jesus (Mark 6:31–44; 8:1–11) point not only to shared fellowship but also to the future “messianic banquet” (see Isa. 25:6–12). Jesus spoke of meals and joyous banquets in his parables (e.g., Matt. 22:1–14; Luke 14:15–24). Further, according to Luke, the disciples “ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:41; cf. Luke 14:30).[4]

Paul has a reference to proclaiming the Lord’s “death” ‘till he come.’ The Supper then is to be understood in the context of the Jewish Passover. In this the people of God not only remembered, but again lived through, the events of their deliverance from Egypt under the sign of the sacrificed paschal lamb as if they themselves participated in them (See Ex 12). In this context, giving the bread and wine as His body and blood, with the words, “this do in remembrance of me,” Jesus points to Himself as the true substitute for the paschal lamb and to his death as the saving event which will deliver the new Israel, represented in His disciples, from all bondage. His blood is to be henceforth the sign under which God will remember His people in Himself!

In celebrating the Supper, Jesus emphasized the messianic and eschatological significance of the Passover Meal. At this feast, the Jews looked forward to a future deliverance which was foreshadowed in type by that from Egypt. During the later Passover celebrations, 4 cups were used[5], and one cup was set aside for the Messiah lest He should come that very night to bring about this deliverance and fulfill the promise of the Messianic Banquet (cf. Isa 25—26; 65:13; etc.). It was that separated cup that Jesus took in the institution of the new rite, indicating that even now the Messiah was present to feast with His people!

After the resurrection, in their frequent celebration of the Supper (Acts 2:42-46; 20:7), the disciples would see the climax of the table fellowship which Jesus had had with publicans and sinners (Luke 15:2; Matt 11:18-19) and of their own day-to-day meals with Him. They would interpret it not only as a bare prophecy but as a real foretaste of the future Messianic Banquet and as a sign of the presence of the mystery of the kingdom of God in their midst in the person of Jesus (Matt 8:11; cf. Mark 10:35-36; Luke 14:15-24). They would see its meaning in relation to His living presence in the church, brought out fully in the Easter meals they had shared with Him (Luke 24:13-35; John21:1-14; Acts 10:41). It was a supper in the presence of the risen Lord as their host.

They would see, in the Messianic miracle of His feeding the multitude, His words about Himself as the bread of life, a sign of His continual hidden self-giving in the mystery of the Lord’s Supper.

But they would not forget the sacrificial and paschal aspect of the Supper. The table fellowship they looked back on was the fellowship of the Messiah with sinners which reached its climax in His self-identification with the sin of the world on Calvary. They had fellowship with the resurrected Jesus through remembrance of His death. As the Lord’s Supper related them to the coming Kingdom and glory of Christ, so did it also relate them to his once-for-all death.

It is against all of this background of thought that we should interpret the words of Jesus at the table and the NT statements about the Supper. There is a real life-giving relationship of communion between the events and realities, past, present, and future, symbolized in the Supper and those who participate in it (John 6:51; I Cor 10:16). This communion is so inseparable from participation in the Supper that we can speak of the bread and wine as if they were indeed the body and blood of Christ (Mark 14:22; “This is my body,” cf. John 6:53).

There is in the Lord’s Supper a constant renewal of the covenant between God and the Church. The word “remembrance,” (anamnesis) refers not simply to man’s remembering of the Lord, but also to God’s remembrance of his Messiah and His covenant, and His promise to restore the Kingdom.

Therefore, as you partake of the Eucharist (“blessing”), “Holy Communion,” and you receive the bread in your hand and the wine in the cup – the very sacramental body and blood of our Savior, right there where you are, remember, REMEMBER, this anamnesis¸ that what is happening is you are reenacting, reciting, reliving, renewing the NEW COVENANT that Jesus made with His church! That you are, in a very real, sacramental sense, in this covenantal meal, participating in all, ALL the events of the life of Jesus - birth, childhood, life of obedience, proclamation of the Gospel, announcement that the Messiah had arrived and with it brought His kingdom, His betrayal, anguish, suffering, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and ultimately His glorification - that culminated in His making this New Covenant with you! That in order for you to receive all the blessings the God promised to His people in the New Covenant, the New Testament, the New “Will,” the testator had to die! And in His death, which He suffered in our place as our substitute, He made His New “Will” active.

This is what we should be doing each and every Sunday.

Soli Deo Gloria

A Prayer for Thanksgiving

Psalm 136:1 O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

2 O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever.

3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.

4 To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever.

5 To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever.

6 To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever.

7 To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever:

8 The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever:

9 The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever.

10 To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn: for his mercy endureth for ever:

11 And brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy endureth for ever:

12 With a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm: for his mercy endureth for ever.

13 To him which divided the Red sea into parts: for his mercy endureth for ever:

14 And made Israel to pass through the midst of it: for his mercy endureth for ever:

15 But overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea: for his mercy endureth for ever.

16 To him which led his people through the wilderness: for his mercy endureth for ever.

17 To him which smote great kings: for his mercy endureth for ever:

18 And slew famous kings: for his mercy endureth for ever:

19 Sihon king of the Amorites: for his mercy endureth for ever:

20 And Og the king of Bashan: for his mercy endureth for ever:

21 And gave their land for an heritage: for his mercy endureth for ever:

22 Even an heritage unto Israel his servant: for his mercy endureth for ever.

23 Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever:

24 And hath redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endureth for ever.

25 Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever.

26 O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever. (KJV)

[1] Vos, G. (2012–2016). Reformed Dogmatics. (R. B. Gaffin Jr., Ed. & Trans.) (Vol. 5, pp. 202–203). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. [2] Vos, G. (2001). Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos. (R. B. Gaffin Jr., Ed.) (p. 376). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. [3] Vos, G. (2001). Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos. (R. B. Gaffin Jr., Ed.) (p. 376). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. [4] Toon, P. (1996). Lord’s Supper, The. In Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed., p. 492). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. [5] The cups were/are, “Sanctification,” “Deliverance,” “Blessing/Redemption,” and “Praise.”f

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