I don’t believe you can find a single communal meal in the Hebrew Scriptures that is eaten in sadness. When God’s people eat together, two things are true, without exception: 1) they eat in the presence of God and 2) they eat with great joy.
Sacrificial meals and covenant meals were a regular part of daily life for God’s people. At the ratification of the Mosaic covenant, to inaugurate the priesthood, at the conclusion of vows, at the renewal of commitments, at the inauguration of kings, when the Ark of the Covenant was brought back to Jerusalem, to celebrate the end of plagues, to give thanks to God, at the dedication of the temple. The list could go on for pages.
Eat and rejoice in the presence of the Lord your God (Deut. 12:4-7), eat in the presence of the Lord…rejoice before the Lord (Deut. 17-18), eat the offerings in the presence of the Lord (Deut. 14:23), eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice (Deut. 14:26), eat in the presence of the Lord (Deut. 15:20).
At the table, God’s people were “joyful and glad in heart for the good things the Lord had done” (2 Chron. 7:10). They celebrated “with joy…because the Lord had filled them with joy” (Ezra 6:22). Nehemiah told them “Do not mourn or weep…enjoy choice food and sweet drinks…celebrate with great joy” (Neh. 8:10-12).
Sacrifices cleansed the people. The blood spilled on the altar was sprinkled on the stones, on the ground, on the people themselves, to clean them, to sanctify them, to take away their sins. Sacrifices were intended to make a place or a people holy so God could dwell there. God’s eternal covenant with his people is that he will live with them and they will be his people and he will be their God. Sacrifice made that dwelling possible. Without sacrifice, there could be no righteous relationship with God. Following the sacrifice, intimacy with God is not only possible, it’s realized and experienced.
And it’s always celebrated at the meal. At the table.
Peace. Fellowship. Communion. Koinonia with God and with one another because of the sacrifice. Now, that’s something worth celebrating with great joy. Right?
Why do our Lord’s Supper observances on Sunday mornings tend to be quiet, solemn ceremonies marked by individual introspection and feelings of sadness and guilt? Why aren’t our communal meals with our God and one another characterized by interactive expressions of uncontained celebration and overflowing joy?
Have you tried singing upbeat, uptempo songs of praise and thanksgiving as you gather around the table? Instead of burying your nose in your Bible, have you ever tried sharing that special passage with the person seated next to you? A neighborly “clink” of your cups with the people on your pew and a shared “Thank you, Lord!” can express that much-needed communal joy in a simple, yet powerful, way. Try something. Try anything. I just urge you to stop “doing” the Lord’s Supper by yourself in that room full of Christian brothers and sisters and stop being so sad about it.
The Lord’s meal is shared on Sunday, not Friday! He’s not on the cross anymore, praise God! The tomb is empty, hallelujah! The Lord Jesus Christ has paid for your sins and mine! We stand today — right now and forever more! — in a righteous relationship with the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth! He has removed our sins. He doesn’t remember them or hold them against us! It’s as if we’ve been perfect from day one! Because of what Christ already did at the cross and what the Holy Spirit already did at the garden tomb, we belong to God! It is finished! We are his people and he is our God!
Seriously. How in the world are we able to eat the bread and drink the cup without breaking out into huge grins?
I’ve updated the “Around the Table” page with tonight’s lesson outline and handouts. As you’ve already gathered, the focus tonight is on the presence of God and the joy of his people at the meal. Click on the green “Around the Table” tab in the upper right hand corner of this page to access these class materials and to find the assignment for next week’s session.