Two years ago I wrote “They preach,” of the Lord’s supper, but it could be improved by turning the comparison on its head. Fellowship over a meal is a much clearer picture of how God relates to his people than preaching, so that preaching is itself a bit of both setting out the feast and also table talk (John 21), and evangelism is an invitation to the feast (Luke 14, Revelation 19). The Lord’s supper is not merely a picture of how God relates to us, but one of the ways that he actually, presently relates to us. It is the family meal, and we eat it in fellowship with him.
Even in Genesis 2 Moses makes much of the fact that God provided Adam and Eve with food to eat. Adam’s sin involved eating, and God’s curse after the fall meant not only that fellowship with God was broken, but also that eating would require pain and toil (Genesis 3). As God’s plan of redemption unfolds in his covenants with man, food and table fellowship are not far, so that we often speak of a covenant meal.
God gave Adam the plants of the field, and to Noah he added living things (Genesis 9): God’s covenants keep getting better! Melchizedek, who we know is a type of Christ, set before Abram a meal of bread and wine (Genesis 14). Later Abraham prepared a meal for the three strangers who visit him (Genesis 18).
The Mosaic covenant is full of covenant meals. Passover commemorates God’s deliverance from Egypt, and Israel was commanded to celebrate it throughout their generations (Exodus 12). God provided water, meat and daily bread for Israel in the wilderness; both the bread and the rock that gave the water are types of Christ. Through Moses God also established Sabbath days and years for feasting and refreshment, and a calendar of other covenant feasts throughout the year. These holy feasts were such times of rejoicing before God that grief and weeping in conviction over sin was to be put aside (Nehemiah 8). Even tithing seems to have been not simply handing things over to the Levites, but also feasting with them before God (Deuteronomy 14). “Whatever you desire” — oxen, sheep, wine, beer. Finally, sacrifices regularly involved the priests’ eating the sacrifice, and sometimes the worshipper’s eating as well (Leviticus 7, 1 Chronicles 16). Covenant meals and feasts are not merely gifts from God, but a real part of regular fellowship with God.
Even among the covenants of men we find covenant meals. Jacob and Laban established their covenant with a meal (Genesis 31). David kept his covenant with Jonathan not simply by preserving Jonathan’s crippled son Mephibosheth, but by ensuring his food was provided for and furthermore bringing him to eat perpetually at his table (2 Samuel 9). David is certainly a type of Christ here.
Jesus was falsely accused of sin over who he shared meals with and how he ate (Luke 7). He declared that “whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6). Many turned away at this; I wonder if they were offended not so much by the suggestion of cannibalism as by the implication of human sacrifice. John certainly intended for us to connect Jesus’s statement here to the Lord’s supper, which Jesus also explicitly relates to his sacrifice in the new covenant (Luke 14).
Feasting is a deep picture of how God relates to us. Peter Leithart has this to say about covenant meals and the Lord’s supper:
[T]he rite for animal offering ends, in most cases, with a communion meal. Priests and sometimes the worshipper receive a portion of “God’s bread” to eat. Eating together is a way to make a covenant or have fellowship. Throughout the Bible, when people conclude treaties, they eat a meal together to show that they are now friends. Jacob and Laban ate together after they had made a treaty of peace between them (Genesis 31:44-55). so also, when men draw near to God, they eat with Him. The elders of Israel eat and drink in God’s presence, and He does not stretch out His hand against them (Exodus 24:9-11). The end—the goal and the conclusion—of Israelite worship is a fellowship meal with God, and this renews the covenant. Our worship in the church is the same: After we have confessed our sins, heard God’s word, and praised Him, He invites us to His table to share a meal. We don’t eat the flesh of an animal, but the flesh and blood of the perfect sacrifice, Jesus. — A House for My Name, pp. 91-92
In a way, the old debates over “where is Christ in the Lord’s supper?” are asking the wrong question. Where are we in the Lord’s supper? We are feasting together in the presence of the one who clothes us and prepares a table before us.
God welcomes all of us to table fellowship with him, and this means we ought to welcome one another in the same way. Paul is concerned that we do not exclude one another from the Lord’s supper (1 Corinthians 10-11), and that our table fellowship does not become an occasion for despising or judging one another (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8-10). He even admonished Peter in this (Galatians 2).
Jesus invites and welcomes you to eat and drink at his table. Take, eat!
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 the Lord 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 the Lord 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. — Nehemiah 8:9-12