Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Lord's table - thanksgiving

I think we have such an emphasis on "atonement" in our theology that we might have missed the point about the bread and wine by seeing them as symbols of the literal body and blood of a human sacrifice.

However, I believe Jesus is actually picking up on a very strong theme in the Hebrew prophets.

Here are just a few verses where the prophets talk about the kind of sacrifices God desires.

Having already said that the time would come when Israel "will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol" (Hos 3:4) Hosea went on to preach about what God wants when sacrifice is unavailable. He said "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings" (6:6).

In chapter 14 he spells it out further:
1 Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God.
Your sins have been your downfall!

2 Take words with you
and return to the LORD.
Say to him:
"Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
that we may offer the fruit of our lips. [a]

[a] Or offer our lips as sacrifices of bulls
Reading the Hebrew literally (as the NIV footnote does above) we realise that the sacrifices of bulls are to be replaced by "our lips" i.e our words/prayers.

When he was inside the fish Jonah prayed and said "with a song of thanksgiving, [I] will sacrifice to you" (2:9).

Micah 6 has a similar view on sacrifice:
6 With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Amos has a similar message (chapter 5):
21 "I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.

22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.

23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.

24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
The prophetic theme here is consistent. God would abolish sacrifices and remove the Temple and priesthood and replace them with "thanksgiving", the "sacrifice of praise" and a people who would act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God, when God's justice and righteousness would prevail.

Malachi 1 even suggests that the time would come when the Temple doors would be shut and the Gentiles (nations) would bring a "pure sacrifice" of prayer (symbolised by "incense" see Rev 5:8).
10 "Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you," says the LORD Almighty, "and I will accept no offering from your hands. 11 My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations," says the LORD Almighty.
Jesus' message of the coming kingdom reached a climax when He cleared the Temple, indicating that the time had come for the sacrifices to end. Almost immediately thereafter He has a meal with His disciples when He says the usual prayers (thanksgiving) over the bread and wine and says "do this" as a memorial. Do what? Offer thanks. Acknowledge God. Offer to God our lips as sacrifices of praise.

Little wonder then that the earliest word the church coined for the re-enactement of the last supper was "eucharist" which means "thanksgiving"! This partly comes from Paul's expression that we share a "cup of blessing/thanksgiving". The point of the bread and wine is that they are about giving THANKS in place of offering the body and blood of bulls. So Jesus said of the items over which the blessing/thanksgiving would be said "THIS is my body and blood" i.e. thanksgiving under the new covenant replaces the body and blood of bulls under the old covenant.

So much of what Jesus did and said was grounded solidly in the preaching of the prophets about the coming kingdom, and the cleansing of the Temple and the last supper were "eschatalogical moments" in which Jesus was declaring that they had reached a climax in God's dealings with humanity. But if we overlook the immense influence of the prophets in how Jesus understood His own role we miss these beautiful connections.


Cliff York said...

Hi Steve

All this is in keeping with the way that Jesus framed and delivered His message to Israel during His Ministry.

At His final meal before His death, Jesus re-framed the context in which people would worship and celebrate the God of Heaven and Earth.(cp John 4:21).

No longer would worshipers have to find (grow or buy) an animal and give it to the Priest to BBQ on the alter, to then share in fellowship with God and the Priests in the temple.

At Jesus' final meal, because the Gospel was about to go out to the Gentiles, every meal would now become the new "Flesh and Blood" and worship/celebration could now happen anywhere, at any time, with anybody who wished to also share in the Lord's blessings (food).

So Jesus chose the staple food items of the culture He lived in (bread and wine), and declared every time we "do this" (ie. have any meal in our culture) we can do it the way Jesus did it and share both the Gospel and the meal with those who would desire to be Disciples of Jesus.

So Steve, does it have to be "Bread and Wine?" What about Eskimo Disciples? (An extreme example, I know). But they aren't able to grow either Wheat or Grapes. Could they use "Fish and Milk" (ie. their staple cultural food) to celebrate in thanksgiving the Good News about Jesus?

We have used Fruit cake and a Poppa Juice whilst having an MM out in the bush. I know that we can see a lot of lessons in wheat and grapes, or Bread and Wine... but they are things that we inject into our reasoning... those are not lessons that the Lord made a big issue of.

Keep up the Good Work Steve,
Let the Sonshine in

Gerry said...

Hi Steve & Cliff,

It doesn't matter what we use to remember the sacrifice of out Lord, but it does matter that we remember.

The symbols that we use are just that, we are joined to Him in the experience and not in the taste and texture of what we use.

By GRACE your brother in the Lord

Dave said...

Hi Steve.

I think we get sacrifice and the Passover mixed up. I think Jesus used the latter for what he did, and less of the former. See what Passover originally was in Egypt, and I think even the Jews thought Passover = Sacrifice, when I don't think they were connected exactly that way. True Passover was different from sacrificing bulls and goats. Instead it was a family/community coming together for a meal as Jesus` Passover was. Sacrifice under Moses had no eating component (except for priests and not always).

Much more could be said, but Passover was consecrated by Jesus, NOT sacrifice of bulls and goats.

Thanks and love in Jesus

Dave E.