Jesus and the Pharisees argued over his disciples’ plucking of grain on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-8). Instead of minimizing the seriousness of what his disciples were doing, Jesus actually magnified it, comparing it to the example of David’s eating holy bread in 1 Samuel 21, but insisting that “something greater than the temple is here” (Matt. 12:6). Thus, weekly communion: to sit at a full table is to enjoy the blessings of the new covenant, but to sit at an empty table is to taste the relative impoverishment of the old covenant, and to side in a small way with the Pharisees, who wished to keep such blessings behind walls of partition.
Paul teaches us that Peter’s failure to eat together with Gentiles was “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). Thus, weekly communion: if failing to eat together is such, failure to eat together at all is likewise a removal of our experience of the “one body” (1 Cor. 10-11) that is brought about by the gospel and is so inextricably connected to table fellowship.
It was to the Corinthians’ shame that their divisive practice of the Lord’s supper was so far removed from this truth of the one body brought about by the gospel that “when you come together, it is not [even] the Lord’s supper that you eat” (1 Cor. 11:20). Thus, weekly communion: if it is a shame to try to share the supper and fall short, it is a greater shame not even to try.
David sought out Jonathan’s crippled son Mephibosheth and honored him, so that Mephibosheth “ate always at the king’s table” (2 Sam. 9:13). Thus, weekly communion: if it is to David’s great credit and glory that Mephibosheth ate always at his table, it is to Jesus’s shame if we should eat only sometimes at his.
Whether we share communion or not on any given week, something is nonetheless being shown forth about the kind of table Jesus sets for his people, and the kind of welcome he gives to that table.
In the books of the prophets, God’s judgment upon his people, and their exile from the land and the fruits of the land, are often connected with a cessation of bread and wine.
In Lamentations, the people cry “where is bread and wine?” (Lam. 2:12). In Hosea, God warns faithless Israel that “I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season” (Hosea 2:9). In Joel, the coming judgment will ensure that “the grain is destroyed, the wine dries up” (Joel 1:10). In Haggai, God calls for “a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors” (Haggai 1:11).
Likewise, the restoration from exile involves a restoration of bread and wine. God promises through Isaiah that “I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink your wine for which you have labored” (Isa 62:8). Jeremiah prophesies that in the new covenant we “shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil” (Jer. 31:12). God promises through Hosea that Israel herself “shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine” (Hosea 14:7). God pledges through Joel that “I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied . . . the threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil” (Joel 2:19, 24). Zechariah prophesies that with God’s salvation, “grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women” (Zech. 9:17).
Thus, weekly communion: because Jesus has brought creation out of the relative exile of the old creation into the new covenant and new creation. Except for seasons during which a church is under the discipline of God, her experience in God’s house week to week ought to be one of tasting his blessing and acceptance rather than tasting—by the absence of bread and wine—the visible sign of his judgment and discipline and withdrawal.
I’m surprised that it’s taken almost two weeks for me to learn about the death of Rene Girard. May he find himself vindicated, not for seeing everything or even some things aright, but in Jesus Christ!
Watch this interview he gave in 2009 for an introduction to him and his work:
I’ve written previously that the long middle section of Deuteronomy serves as an inspired commentary on the ten commandments. If we examine the fourth-commandment section, Deuteronomy 14:21b-16:17, three themes emerge concerning the application of Sabbath-keeping: tithing, rest-giving, and feast-keeping.
We have already concluded that tithing has significant implications for feasting: tithing is linked to Abraham and Melchizedek’s covenant meal of bread and wine; the purpose of tithing is to bring food to God’s house; and in this very section of Deuteronomy feasting is commanded as part of bringing in the tithe.
In the case of the rest-giving of every seventh Sabbath year, there is again an aspect of feasting. The indentured servant set free was to be provided not just with necessary provisions, but with the means of feasting, in light of how God provides for us: “You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As Yahweh your God has blessed you, you shall give to him.” (Deut. 15:14)
Finally, Moses’s application of the Sabbath commandment culminates in the celebration of the three great annual feasts: Passover, Pentecost, and Booths. These were the three feasts at which Israel was commanded to visit the tabernacle and temple (Deut. 16:16), and here again we have an expression of tithe or tribute given to God (vv. 16b-17).
In the new covenant in Jesus, there is no longer a physical, earthly temple at which we worship. Instead of three great annual worship events, God’s people come to visit him in the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12) week to week as we worship. It is clear throughout the New Testament that the weekly appointed worship of the church is far more the heir of the old covenant’s temple worship than it is of the old covenant’s synagogue meetings. Thus, it is quite proper for us to speak of a weekly feast, because we worship at the very house of God—indeed, we are the house of God—week to week rather than three times a year.
Thus, weekly communion (and weekly tribute-bringing): following the inspired application of Moses, feasting on every appointed day of the Lord is how we are privileged to obey the fourth commandment in the new covenant.
We have seen that bread and wine in worship is commended such that there is “nothing better.” But more than that, the book of Nehemiah teaches us that feasting in worship is in fact commanded:
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to Yahweh your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of Yahweh is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. (8:9-12)
Thus, weekly communion: joyful feasting is commanded on every day set aside for the Lord, every Lord’s day.
The book of Ecclesiastes expresses a faith-filled perspective on life. In light of eternity, we can find joy in the midst of the seeming futility of this life, trusting in God’s wisdom and goodness even though we “cannot find out [that is, fathom] the work [of God] that is done under the sun [that is, in this life]” (8:17). Solomon’s famous counsel is not a counsel of despair, but one of contentment and joy with the gifts God has given us:
And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun. (8:15)
Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. (9:7)
Solomon’s counsel is true at our own tables, but it is doubly true at God’s table, where our experience of God-given joy is at its highest. Solomon would agree that we are especially to “eat and drink and be joyful” together with Jesus. Jesus has in fact commanded it:
And before Yahweh your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear Yahweh your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when Yahweh your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which Yahweh your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that Yahweh your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before Yahweh your God and rejoice, you and your household. (Deut. 14:23-26)
It is precisely in worship that we gain the insight that Solomon is sharing with us; our visit to God’s throne room reminds us that his plans for eternity give meaning to our seemingly meaningless existence in this life. Recall Asaph’s Psalm 73:
But when I thought how to understand [the wicked’s prosperity and righteous’s suffering],
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end. (16-17)
Solomon and Asaph are in perfect agreement, and their perspective allows us to have the kind of quiet contentment David expresses in Psalm 131, and the kind of contented joy that Solomon commends to us both at God’s table and our own.
Thus, weekly communion: as vital as sermons and other Lord’s-day activities are, especially in worship there is truly “nothing better” than to eat and drink and be merry before our king.