The Meal of the New Covenant

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”  After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.  Luke 22:14-20

The meal that Jesus shared with his disciples, just before his death, was the Jewish Passover meal (Luke 22:7). Jesus celebrated the Passover to signify its fulfillment through his imminent sacrifice as the ultimate Passover lamb (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7: 1 Pet. 1:19). Through the sharing of this Passover meal Jesus also instituted the New Covenant and so, as well as being a Passover meal, Jesus’ last supper bears all the markings of a covenant meal.

A covenant is a legally binding contract. In Old Testament times, covenants were made between contracting parties of men, but also between God and his people. In fact, God has continually used covenants as a way of establishing and increasing the level of fellowship between himself and his people. Jesus used the last supper as a way of introducing the New Covenant—a covenant that reconciles us with God and brings a close level of fellowship with him.

Making Covenants in Archaic Times

From the books of Genesis and Exodus, as well as from other sources, we can see that there were several steps or elements involved in making ancient covenants.

(1) There were promises and commitments to which the parties bound themselves.[1]

(2) The terms of the covenant, or contract, would be clearly communicated and understood.

(3) The covenant would be sealed, or ratified, with a solemn ceremonial act that often involved a blood sacrifice.

(4) Sometimes this ceremony also included a meal, as in Genesis 31:54 and Exodus 24:4-8, 11.[2] A meal between the parties affirmed the friendly and peaceful acceptance of the terms of the covenant.

(5) “There was also a memorial, some kind of physical token of the oath, which served to remind the parties of their commitments.”[1]

(6) There were curses attached to the covenant for the one who might break it.

(7) There was always a sense of solemnity when making a covenant, because “it was a serious step of commitment.”[1]

Making the New Covenant

The making of the New Covenant includes the same seven elements of archaic covenants.

(1) The promises of the New Covenant are redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life in relationship with God.

(2) The terms of the contract, on our part, are trusting and following Jesus as Lord and Saviour. The New Testament is clear that having an abiding and active faith is our commitment.

(3) Jesus sealed the covenant with his death on the Cross. Jesus has purchased the means of eternal life and ratified the covenant with the sacrifice of his lifeblood (Acts 20:28b; Eph. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).

(4) When we accept Jesus’ terms of the covenant and willingly decide to enter into it, then we can share in the covenant meal. This meal is called by various names by different churches, names such as the Lord’s Supper, Communion, or the Eucharist. In most church gatherings it has become a simple, stylised and symbolic “meal”.

(5) The memorial tokens, which serve as reminders of the Covenant, are the unleavened bread and the wine. These are symbols of Jesus’ sinless body and his spilled “blood of the covenant” (Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 10:16).

(6) Jesus has made this New Covenant for all of humanity but some people remain in unbelief (John 3:16-18). Unbelief results in the “curses” of judgement and condemnation (John 3:16-18, 36).

(7) Today we still remember the ratifying of the New Covenant with reverence and solemnity when we remember Jesus’ death at the Lord’s Supper.

Reaffirming and Commemorating the New Covenant

When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we are not just remembering Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are also reaffirming our acceptance of, and participation in, the New Covenant that Jesus has secured for us.

While we may not always be aware of it, Jesus is always present through his Spirit when we meet together in his name (Matt. 18:20). And Jesus is also present whenever we commemorate the Lord’s Supper. We eat this meal in his presence with Jesus reaffirming his side of the Covenant as the Saviour and Redeemer who rescues us from the power of sin and death.

I am deeply grateful that Jesus bore the tremendous cost so that we can enter into a covenant relationship with God simply on the basis of faith. I am deeply grateful that Jesus has instituted a New Covenant with wonderful, eternal promises. And I am grateful that I belong to a community of similarly covenanted people who can share in the meal of the New Covenant.


Endnotes

[1] Bob Deffinbaugh “The Magnificent Meal on Mt. Sinai” (Exodus 24:1-18) From Exodus: The Birth of a Nation at Bible.org

[2] This is unclear in the NIV translation of Exodus 24:4-8

© 5th of July 2009, Margaret Mowczko


Related Articles

The Passover, the Seder, and the Eucharist
Redemption and Family Responsibility: Boaz and Jesus
Some of my Communion Messages.

Further Reading

The Lord’s Table as Covenant Meal