Covenant meal

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 fulfilment 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 fulfilment 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.

In the Bible, in the Old Testament, in particular, we see that some people made covenants, binding agreements or promises made between two contracting parties of people (e.g., Laban and Jacob in Genesis 31:44ff). These covenants defined the terms regarding how the two parties would relate to each other.

More importantly, in the Bible there are also covenants between God and his people. In fact, God has continually used covenants as a way of increasing the level of fellowship between himself and his people.

And Jesus used the last supper as a way of introducing the new covenant—a covenant that reconciles us with God and makes possible a close level of fellowship with him that was largely unknown after Eden.[1]

Making Covenants in Ancient Times

From the books of Genesis and Exodus, as well as from other ancient sources, we can see there were several steps or elements involved in making ancient covenants.[2]

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

(2) The terms and conditions of the covenant would be clearly communicated.

(3) The covenant would be sealed, or ratified, with a ceremonial act that often involved a blood sacrifice (e.g., Gen. 15:9ff).

(4) Sometimes this ceremony also included a meal, as in Genesis 31:54 and Exodus 24:4-8, 11.[3] A meal between the parties affirmed the friendly and peaceful acceptance of the terms of the covenant.

(5) There was usually some kind of memorial token, an object or monument (e.g., Gen. 31:45ff)—a rainbow in the case of God’s covenant with Noah (Gen. 9:12ff)—that helped the parties to remember their commitments.

(6) Sometimes there were curses attached to the covenant for anyone who might break it.

(7) There was always a sense of solemnity because entering into a covenant was a serious commitment.

Making the New Covenant

The making of the new covenant includes the same seven elements.

(1) The promises of the new covenant, on Jesus’ part, are the forgiveness of sins, redemption, 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 the condition for our redemption.

(3) Jesus sealed the covenant with his death on the cross. Jesus ratified the covenant with the sacrifice of his lifeblood (Acts 20:28b; Eph. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; etc).

(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 shed “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—”For God so loved the world”—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.

Reaffirming and Commemorating the New Covenant

When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we are remembering Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, but we are also reaffirming our acceptance of, and our participation in, the new covenant that Jesus has secured for us.

Jesus is always present through his Spirit whenever we meet together in his name (Matt. 18:20). And Jesus is present when 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 and friend.

It’s a great deal for us, as Jesus has borne the cost. I am deeply grateful that Jesus willingly took on 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 covenanted people with who I can share the meal of the new covenant.


Footnotes

[1] According to the letter to the Hebrews, the new covenant is founded on better promises than previous covenants and it renders the covenant with Moses obsolete (Heb. 8:7, 13).

[2] Several of the seven points comes from Bob Deffinbaugh’s article, “The Magnificent Meal on Mt. Sinai” (Exodus 24:1-18) from Exodus: The Birth of a Nation at Bible.org

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

© 5th of July 2009, Margaret Mowczko

Image credit

Last Supper from the Sigmaringen Psalter c.1220-1240 (Wikimedia)


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