It was yesterday during worship at church that my two year-old (almost three!) son announced what he had to do, first in the prayer before the bread during the Lord’s Supper, then a second time right after the amens had been said. You can probably guess what he needed to do, so I won’t spell it out for you. But suffice it to say, everyone around us was sitting in their seats snickering as I took him by the hand to walk him out. A few heads turned curiously and humorously as we walked rapidly to the back and he shamelessly continued to publicize his intentions.
But on the way to the back, I waylaid one of the men who was passing the trays of unleavened bread and took a piece for myself. It was one of those things that are completely normal and bland to adults, just a detour from our walk or a sidetrack from our mission. My son meanwhile, was intrigued. He saw me eat the small cracker as we continued walking. He considered it for a moment (a welcome moment of silence about our destination) and then broke back into his talking, this time about what I had just done. “Dad get food. Dad eat food? It good Dad? It taste good Dad? You eat good food Dad?”
Derailed in my thinking by my son’s questions, I thought about it for a moment then quickly responded, “No son, it was not good … it was very good.”
I am quite aware that my two year-old didn’t understand why I said what I did, but he will one day. And in the meantime I want him equating the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper to something beyond good. Indeed it transcends ‘good’ in the normal sense, it is ‘very good’ … to the point of being essential, elemental and divine.
Of course we all know that the bread and wine represents the body and blood of Jesus. And we know that the Lord’s Supper/Communion/Eucharist is a continuation of the Passover feast celebrated by the Jews. But the Eucharist has only preserved the simplified portion of the feast which is specifically related in the Gospels. For example, it leaves out three of the four cups in the feast (though Luke mentions two of the cups), it doesn’t mention eating the food fully clothed with your staff in-hand, and it doesn’t mention having your sandals on. Most poignantly though the gospels don’t mention bitter herbs, the purging of leaven or even the roast lamb that was the center-piece of the feast.
There are reasons for these omissions and they all center on Jesus. First, the bitter herbs are removed from the Eucharist because they were a symbol of the mourning and hardship of life. After many years of slavery, the Israelites were aware of pain and death and the bitter herbs were to remind their progeny of what had been removed from them by God’s intervention. More than that though, the bitter herbs were to remind the Jews of the bitterness of their sin. Sin always brings bitter results. Whether confronted with the wages of sin immediately, many years in the future, or having wrestled with guilt and remorse for years before resolution, it is all bitter and all of the generations of Israel knew it well (as do we).
Second, the purging of leaven from the house began many weeks ahead of the feast itself. A lot of theologians say that the instruction from God about eating unleavened bread during Passover was in order to be ready for moving once freedom was attained. This was certainly true for that first Passover, and has serious implications as an allegory for readiness today, but the main intention was in using leaven as a symbol for sin – i.e. the things which puff us up, the lusts and pride of life, must be purged completely in order to be worthy of taking (before both God and man) the spotless lamb.
Third, the roast lamb was the central part of the feast. The lamb had to be certified (by a Priest) as spotless, killed ceremonially and appropriately, and every bit of the lamb must be consumed during the night of the Passover. Its blood was the salvation of the house and its flesh gave life for those who ate it.
The parables for these three things are clear. The bitter herbs were consumed fully and finally by Christ on the cross, the sin (leaven) of our lives and its effects thereon were felt and completed through His death, burial and resurrection, and a little lamb – no matter how perfect and how kosher it might be – could never compare to the work done on our behalf by the sinless Lamb of God.
Our Communion feast today is a simple one, a little bread and a little wine passed from hand to hand amongst the redeemed. We don’t choke down reminders of sin that has been taken away. We don’t spend weeks rehashing reminders of sin purged from us 2,000 years ago, and we don’t try to out-do God’s sacrifice with our own. Our meager attempts to live perfectly fail incredibly. Our inadequate attempts to follow regulations result in impudent legalism and religious buffoonery. And our scanty understanding of the finality of Christ’s mediation becomes ever more evident in our revivalism of ceremony. Simplicity is what is called for, as a simple faith with unceremonious humility is required.
It is amazing, now and forever, how a simple wafer and a small swig of wine can be more than just “good,” it can be “very good.”