Meal of the Covenant
Topic: Biblical Verse: 1 Corinthians 11:23–11:32
April 1, 2021
1 Corinthians 11:23-32
“Meal of the Covenant”
When we think of special times in life, these are often associated with food: Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner; family reunions with mountains of good things; enjoying seafood while on vacation at the beach; that memorable meal at that expensive restaurant celebrating a special occasion; recreating grandma’s signature dish. When you get down to it, food is what brings us together. The Gospels often speak of Jesus’ sharing a meal with his disciples and followers: the wedding at Cana in Galilee (John 2:1-11); eating with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:10ff.; Luke 5:27ff.); with Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) as well as Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10); multiplying loaves and fish to feed thousands (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13). Jesus enjoyed spending time and having a meal with all kinds of people. Again and again in Scripture, it is this image of a meal, a feast, a banquet, that is used to describe what the kingdom of heaven is like (Matthew 22:1-14, 25:1-13; Luke 14:16-20). It all comes down to food and faith. On this Maundy Thursday evening, we remember and give thanks for the meal which Jesus instituted on this night of his betrayal, and its basis in that Passover meal which celebrated God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. Our Lenten preaching series, “People of the Covenant,” continues this evening with the theme “Meal of the Covenant.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Tonight’s Old Testament lesson (Exodus 12:1-14) reminds us of that meal of the old covenant through which God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt. The tenth and final plague, the death of the firstborn of the Egyptians, would be the tipping point that would finally break Pharoah’s will, causing him to let God’s people go. The blood of the Passover lamb marked the doorposts and lintels of the homes where God’s people lived, and this is what saved them from experiencing the same terrible fate as the Egyptians. This Passover feast of unleavened bread was to be celebrated each year by God’s people so that they would always remember and give thanks for God’s mighty act of deliverance. Passover continues to be observed by our Jewish friends and neighbors each year. This year, Passover began at sundown on March 27 and concludes on April 4. Although the sacrifice of the Passover lamb is no longer observed within Judaism since the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 A.D., by faith we understand that this sacrificial Passover lamb points us to Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). With the sacrifice of his very life, the Passover meal gives way to the meal of the fulfillment which Jesus instituted on the night of his betrayal.
Whenever we celebrate Jesus’ meal of the fulfillment, as we will do in this service tonight, we hear these familiar words: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which he was betrayed…” (1 Corinthians 11:23). From the meal of the old covenant that was Passover, Jesus institutes the meal of the new covenant that is Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Eucharist, the Breaking of the Bread. This meal goes by many names, and it has been observed by Jesus’ followers for some 2000 years ever since he first gave it to his church with these words: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). This is not just remembering; it is re-membering. Through this meal of the new covenant there is much more happening than just recalling all that Jesus did through his life of ministry, his suffering and death. Through this meal, we are re-membered to Jesus and to one another. We are re-connected; we are re-joined through the bread and wine which convey to us the very Body and Blood of Jesus himself. This is not just a memorial meal; not is it just a symbol or picture of what Jesus did as some teach. We take Jesus’ words at face value: “This is my body… This cup is the new covenant in my blood…” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). We believe and teach that in this meal of the new covenant Jesus comes to us and gives us himself – his true Body and true Blood – in, with, and under forms of bread and wine. How this happens, I cannot tell you. It is a sacred mystery received by faith and for faith.
This meal of the new covenant does for our soul what a good meal does for our body: it nourishes and strengthens us. Through this holy meal, instituted by Christ on the night in which he was betrayed, we are built up in faith toward God and in love toward one another. Through this holy meal, we realize anew that we need help and encouragement from outside ourselves for the journey through this life. We need this holy Sacrament in order to live out that new commandment that Jesus has given us “… that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Are you feeling weak in faith and weary in life? Come to the Lord’s Supper. Are you feeling lost and uncertain? Come to the Lord’s Supper. Are you struggling to understand God’s will for you and what’s next for you? Come to the Lord’s Supper. It is here in the Lord’s Supper that the Lord Jesus comes to us in all our need. It is here in this meal of the new covenant that we receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
May our eating and drinking of Jesus’ meal of the new covenant strengthen and keep us all in true faith until that day when we eat and drink together in the kingdom which Jesus has prepared for all who love him. May the Lord who has begun this good work among us bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Amen.