I KNOW THE LORD has reasons behind the commands he has put forth. The Lord’s Supper is no exception. Beyond the more obvious correlations between his body/bread and blood/wine there must be reasons why we eat and drink these elements rather than simply meditating or singing a hymn or praying about Jesus in order to “remember” him. After all, remembrance is a mental exercise. Why not just have a “moment of silence?” What does eating and drinking teach us about communion with Christ?
After all isn’t worship primarily a mental and spiritual discipline? What does food have to do with faith? In fact, fasting (physical deprivation of food) is promoted in order to gain some spiritual insight and closer unity with God (Matt 6:16-18, Acts 13:2, 14:23). Furthermore, there are commands against gluttony in which consuming too much food is sinful (Deut 21:20, Prov 23:20-21). So what does eating bread and drinking wine have to do with deepening our faith and honoring our Lord?
These are honest questions I asked myself in an effort to understand this apparent contrast between eating and spirituality in the Lord’s Supper. This study is an effort to better understand our communion with the Lord, enduring a long night of false trials.
This is where I had to start poking holes in my logic. Remembrance may be primarily a mental exercise, but nevertheless we often stimulate our memories with physical objects or rehearsals. On our wedding anniversary, my wife and I pull out albums of pictures in order to refresh memories. In the United States we remember our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day near the end of May. On this day some people may have a moment of silence (either to meditate or pray), but the President of the United States conducts a physical
ceremony in which he places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Similarly on July 4th many municipalities celebrate Independence Day with fireworks reminding us of the “rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air.” Sometimes we need more than a moment of silence to make something more real and meaningful.
Furthermore, when it comes to other forms of worship none are completely independent of physical activity. Singing involves making a noise with our vocal cords that requires movement of air and constriction or relaxation of various muscles in the chest, larynx, pharynx, and face. There is physicality to prayer as well; sometimes more than others depending on the positions we assume (standing with arms up/down, kneeling, prostrate). I am reminded of the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Perhaps that was the most physical prayer ever, where Jesus knelt and being under so much stress he began to sweat like blood (Luke 22:41-44). Obviously, God never intended our worship or our obedience to be a solely mental/spiritual activity. We are not just spiritual beings. We are commanded to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and body.” (Mark 12:30) Paul encourages us to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices” (Rom 12:1) showing that we must worship and obey with our whole being.
But food has even deeper meaning. The bread and wine do not merely serve as a physical catalyst by which we can relive the experience of that last Passover with the Lord. Food is more basic and when we realize that the Lord’s Supper is a real meal we can come to a deeper understanding of the Lord’s Table.
|Dynamics of food and life
God created food before he created man. God created Adam hungry and food was ready for him (Gen 1:26-31). Adam was placed into a garden and given every plant that was good to eat (Gen 2:8-9). It is no different today. Within minutes of taking their first breath, babies eat! We are all dependant on God for food. I don’t know about you but my stomach reminds me of this every few hours. He created me this way and he created food to fulfill this need. I cannot fulfill this need on my own. Thankfully he provides what is necessary.
This dependence that we have on God for food speaks to a deeper dependence. “Man does not live by bread alone.” (Luke 4:4) John Calvin claimed this to be a quite literal statement and I agree. It is true spiritually and physically.
Physically speaking, food is dead. It is dead matter by itself that is broken down by the digestive system into compounds that my cells absorb and break down even further into more basic chemicals that are eventually transformed into other chemicals that the cells of my body can utilize to preserve homeostasis and keep my body alive. To the “enlightened” mind, perhaps the knowledge of the precise physiology of digestion and immensely complex cellular biochemistry may serve as a distraction from what we really learn with all of this. How can dead matter be turned into life? It can’t! Note, my cells do not create life; they only preserve it for a time. God makes all of this possible through his miraculous ways. He created food and the tricarboxylic acid cycle (a series of enzymatic chemical reactions essential to cellular metabolism). I am dependant on God for the food I eat and for the physical processes that make it all work. He is truly amazing! Turning dead matter into life is no less a miracle than the seed that dies in order to produce more seeds (Jn 12:24). Man truly cannot physically live by eating bread alone.
Spiritually speaking, even though my belly is filled, I am still “hungry.” Not in the sense that I need to digest more food. I am hungry for something even more basic than food; the Lord himself. Without him it doesn’t matter what I fill myself up with. I will still have that gnawing emptiness inside. With these thoughts I am beginning to understand why we eat and drink at the Lord’s table.
We will learn more by contrasting the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Paul recognized that both tables exist (1 Cor 10:21). Which will I choose to sit at? The difference between these tables is quite striking and provides more clarity as to why we eat and drink.
The table of demons is a real table, and apparently in Corinth there were active sacrifices being offered to idols. This idolatry consisted of offering real food and there was a debate as to whether this food could be consumed by Christians (1 Cor 8-10).
We know who sets the table of the Lord, who provides the elements of the meal, and who sends out the invitations. Consider who sets the table of demons. Where did the food come from? Did the demons or false gods create the food that was offered? No. That food was created by the Lord but misused by individuals who have been deceived by the devil. Demons, idols, and false gods cannot create their own food. Recall the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The devil could not tempt Jesus with food that the devil created. He asked Jesus to turn rocks into bread for himself. Similarly, the devil tempted Eve not with food that he had created but with food the Lord had made to grow in the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:1-7). The devil cannot create anything.
Consider how sin perverts our sense of taste for God’s food. The devil can only deceive us into thinking God is selfish, as if he is withholding good food from his table. Unfortunately Eve bought into this line of reasoning (Gen 3:1-7). We know better. The table of the Lord is a much different setting. Food is a blessing from God. Consider how the “land promise” is described fourteen times in the Torah; “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8, Deut 6:3). This bounty describes the Lord’s generosity at his table. This is nowhere more obvious than when we consume the food that is God in the Lord’s Supper.
But we are not the only ones who are hungry. There is an interesting story in 2 Kings 1 involving ailing Ahaziah. He seeks to inquire of a god of Ekron. The name of that god is revealing; Beelzebub means “lord of flies.” It is no coincidence that a derivative of this name comes to describe the prince of demons in the time of Jesus; Baalzebub (Matt 10:25, 12:24-27) means “lord of dung.” Like you, I have swatted many a fly away from my food and witnessed how flies and dung are related. Like flies, Satan is hungry and seeks to feed off of the good things that God has made hoping that he can deceive you and I into giving it up. If we let him, he will turn it into dung.
Perhaps Peter describes it best. “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). The devil is hungry. He can’t provide food for himself, so what will he dine on?
C.S. Lewis illustrates this poignantly in his short sequel “Screwtape Proposes a Toast.” In this story, Screwtape is a “very experienced devil” that, as the guest of honor, proposes a toast at the “graduation” of the “Tempters Training College of young devils.” At the feast, Screwtape bemoans the fact that the meal is rather tasteless. They are feasting on the souls of people who have fallen victim to the devil’s trap but only barely. Screwtape longs for the tastiest of sinners who are full of villany and terrible evils.
Perhaps Satan’s hunger is portrayed most clearly in Dan 6. Daniel is an antetype of Christ in that Daniel was cast into the lion’s den (the antetype of the grave and hell) only to be raised out of the pit as an antetype of the resurrection. He was preserved from the lions because he was innocent before God. After Daniel was “resurrected” the people who setup Daniel were thrown into the lions den and there we get a picture of the devil’s ravenous appetite.
At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones.
If we are not hungry for God, then maybe we have been deceived into craving bad food. Ultimately, if we do not feed on the Lord, we might as well feed on dung, because the “lord of flies” will feed on us
(1 Pet 5:8).
Eating and drinking at the Lord’s table reveals the generosity of God. He is a giving God; a loving God. He is our creator and provider. The Lord fulfills all of our righteous hunger. He has spread a rich banquet table before us both physical and spiritual.
“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!”