Meals fill an interesting place in our culture. In one sense, everyone has to eat or they will die. Meals provide nutrients and calories to provide health for our bodies. Because of this, sometimes we simply eat out of convenience or necessity, sometimes even eating by ourselves because from a nutritional aspect, there is no advantage of eating in community.
Meals, however, also serve a relationship function in our culture, in which sense they must be shared together. Many times we get to know people better around a table. The table is a place where barriers are brought down and we share life in more intimate ways. Meals are times for celebration and remembrance. Birthdays and anniversaries are celebrated with a meal, while weddings and funerals are almost always followed with a meal for family and friends. Because of this meals are more than just eating. They are relationship, celebration, remembrance, and community.
God’s relationship with Israel through the exodus story was remembered and celebrated with a meal. While there were many plagues on Egypt before the tenth plague, it was the killing of the firstborn sons that enabled Israel to find rescue from slavery. The tenth plague took on extra meaning when God told Israel to share a meal together the night before the plague. It became known as the Passover Meal, a time when Israel for generations would remember and celebrate their redemption from slavery. It was at the table where Israel remembered what God had done, and celebrated the new life that God had made possible through the exodus story.
After Israel finds redemption, God leads them through the wilderness to Sinai where God gives them the ten commandments and the Law. Israel’s relationship with God had already been established through the exodus story. The Law was not a contract that had to be signed in order for Israel to gain freedom. It was instead an invitation to not just live free lives, but abundant lives. It was God’s offer to say, here’s how to live a life that truly matters. Live this way and you will become true image bearers of God; lights to the rest of the world. After receiving the Law, Moses comes down from the mountain to ask the people if they will obey the commands of the Lord. With one voice the people say, all that the Lord has said we will do.
Moses then leads the people through a covenant ceremony with sacrifices and ritual purification. He builds an altar and makes sacrifices for atonement. Then he takes some of the blood and sprinkles it on the people for purification. They are being set apart for mission. Israel is taking its role as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Israel is being set apart; commissioned for a task in service to God.
The relationship is then made complete when Moses and the leaders go up the mountain and share a meal with God. God is the host, inviting Israel to share a meal to consecrate their new relationship. This meal is to both remember the redemption that has taken place and to celebrate the new life that is to come. Israel is both looking back and looking forward at the same time.
Each week we celebrate a covenant meal with God. God invites us to come and feast at the table. Just as God welcomed Israel on the mountain, God welcomes us to come to the table. The feast is prepared; the body and blood of the Son have been offered so that we can be in fellowship with God. Now, God is inviting us into relationship. God is inviting us to come and feast together, because good things happen at the table.
The table is a time of remembrance as we sit with God, and with each other, and remember our past. We remember the cross, and the empty tomb. We remember that we were once slaves to sin, slaves to our sinful nature, and slaves to idolatry. But we have been set free from our slavery.
The table is a time to look to the future. We weren’t redeemed to dwell in the past. We were redeemed so that we could be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. We were redeemed to be image bearers of God and shine a light to the world. The table consecrates us for ministry. We eat the bread and remember the sacrifice that was made to set us free. We drink the blood of the covenant as a sign that we have been purified and consecrated for ministry.
God invites us to the table and says: come eat, be nourished, be refreshed, be changed. God invites us to the table and says: go into all the world, make disciples, love your enemies, serve the poor, be image bearers of God. At the table we feast in remembrance of the past, in celebration of the present, and in hope to live into the future of God’s story.