Longing for Communion
by Dean Briggs
And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:14–16 ESV)
Ponder this extraordinary scene for a moment. The sun is setting, light is fading. Inside, candles flicker, scattering shadows on the dried mud walls. It is gray and warm. Across the land and the crowded ancient city, the tension is building as the sacred ritual of Passover is about to be reenacted, just as it has for thousands of years. “Why is tonight so special,” children are beginning to eagerly whisper to their fathers. In that golden moment, Jesus tells His disciples He has “earnestly desired to eat” with them. He says, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”
Fast forward to our day. As a ritual of the redeemed, Communion (or the Eucharist meal) has fascinated the brightest and most devout scholars for millennia. What is it? First and foremost, it is the new covenant version of the Passover meal. It is when we remember that a very special lamb, the very Lamb of God, was slain. Where we inherited a penalty for sin and then earned that penalty of our own free will, and where our wages added up to a death sentence, separated from God forever, yet because of the blood of that Lamb, the destroyer passed over. We have been mightily saved.
Yet the meal itself remains a mystery. Is it transubstantiation (do the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Jesus?) or merely symbolic or somewhere in between? As we continue to reset our hearts for the next decade of unceasing devotion to the Lord, I am intrigued by what Jesus says at the beginning of the Last Supper, more than at the end. What does this indicate about His own emotions for that meal? His tone is almost like a mystery writer winking at us as we finally get to the chapter where all the clues come together. It is not hard to hear a certain longing, joy, and expectation in His voice. After all, this is the last supper before the cross. It is also His last meal before a close friend will betray Him. It’s the last moment of fellowship, camaraderie, and tenderness between a rabbi and His disciples before great suffering ensues. It’s the calm before the storm. If nothing else, as an indicator of timing, with “joy set before Him,” this meal signals that His 33.5-year journey is near its final destination. Eyes on the prize. Redemption draws nigh.
But I think there is both a deeper and simpler story unfolding here that Jesus hints at, and it comes from His timeless divinity more than His humanity. The deeper story is thousands of years old, not three decades; and the simple story is not simple at all, but utterly profound for its implications: God is about to fellowship with humans in a meal that will inaugurate a new covenant. Mind you, Abraham’s covenant has never stopped, but the nation’s (and humanity’s) covenant with the law has now been in effect for thousands of years—and the Son of God was present when it happened. While a new covenant has been promised and prophesied over and over, no one knows what that means, only that this new covenant will finally break the curse of the older covenant of Moses by writing the laws of God on our hearts. Our values and priorities will shift from being inclined toward disobedience to being inclined toward obedience. We will be reborn. Of course, this wasn’t understood fully at the Last Supper by anyone, anyone but Jesus.
So read it again. Jesus doesn’t just say He longs to eat food with His friends. They’ve eaten a ton of meals together, including at least two previous Passovers. Jesus said, essentially, “Boys, you have no idea how long I’ve waited for (or how earnestly I’ve desired) this meal, this particular Passover.”
What is it about this meal? To find the answer, we must not skip ahead to the Communion mystery (the Passover part), but to the covenant mystery. For that, we have to go back, not forward. In the typology of Scripture, Jesus is saying that this meal isn’t only a Passover meal but it is also a return to Sinai. There, on that mountain, an old covenant was made that man could not fulfill. The old covenant was complete in describing righteousness but incomplete in producing it. In other words, there was no fellowship, only performance. There was a meal, but God refrained from partaking of that meal. He did not eat.
And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.
The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” (Exodus 24:8–12 ESV)
All the elements are present: the blood enacting a covenant of law; sandwiched between, in token fulfillment of God’s desire for man to fellowship with Him, Moses and 73 others ascend the mountain, behold God, and eat a meal. But God does not eat! Perhaps part of this can be attributed to making a clear break with polytheistic religions, where food was presented by worshippers to feed the gods. Not so, Yahweh. He does not need our sacrifice, nor can we feed Him. On the contrary, He feeds us.
Yet the deeper tale is one of God’s faithfulness to His own values. In the perfections of His love, He yearned for the fellowship of the garden, signified in the simple intimacy of sharing a meal together. At Sinai, He cannot yet partake, cannot truly fellowship as God, because the law is about to bring the entire nation under the ministry of death and condemnation. Furthermore, He cannot truly fellowship as man, either, because the mystery of the incarnation has not yet occurred. Messiah has not yet come. Instead, Yahweh waits, revealing Himself progressively, more and more, in covenant faithfulness, in patience and mercy, in patterns, shadows, and types, until everything culminates in the historical fact of God becoming man and establishing a new-covenant reality built upon true communion, not proxy interaction via the agency of external laws, rituals, and obligations. At long last, humans could be reborn, made new, forgiven, and filled with His Holy Spirit. In the upper room of Jerusalem, on the night he was betrayed, Jesus, the God-man, broke bread and poured wine, then ate and drank with His friends. Without wavering, for thousands of years, the heart of God has been set on this meal, this very night, the suffering, resurrection, and ascension. Ultimate fellowship will be restored, but first, for a few tender moments, both parties can finally enjoy one another’s presence, for God is literally present at the meal, and in the meal: Emanuel, God with Us.
Yes, Jesus has looked forward to this meal for a long, long time. It is no accident that Jesus draws the comparison using the language of Exodus 24:8, “the blood of the covenant.” The language indicates a peace offering (Leviticus 3:1–16). This “shelem” (related to “shalom,” i.e. peace, wholeness, well-being) was a voluntary sacrifice often used to express thanksgiving to God or to demonstrate the fulfilling of a vow. Such an offering was unique because part of it was sacrificed to God and part of the meat of the sacrifice was eaten by the one making the sacrifice. Thus, the peace offering also indicated a positive relationship and the joys of communion between God and the one(s) making the sacrifice. The peace offering is a clear demonstration of God’s desire to be in a covenant relationship with His people.
As such, if we are to truly understand what it means to enjoy fellowship and present our lives in unceasing devotion to the risen Christ, we must see that even as He first loved us, He was also the first to be unceasingly devoted to us. Our devotion flows from His. He has been committed to fellowship with us from time immemorial. We are caught up in His story, His longing, His fellowship. Out of that generosity, sovereignty, and goodness, we find ourselves dining with God.
Communion . . . what a feast! This month, focus on that: the privilege of feasting on God in unbroken fellowship through the new, better, eternal covenant of His broken body, shed blood, and resurrected glory. Let this strike you to your core. What He could not yet offer at Sinai, He now offers freely: the meal of life is Himself.
How does God’s unceasing devotion move your heart and how can you respond?
For more from Dean Briggs, we recommend “Incarnation as a Revelation of the Unfathomable Grandeur and Humility of God,” his message given at Forerunner Church. Watch it here >>
Dean is happily married to Jeanie, and the proud father of eight grown children. His books include Ekklesia Rising, Consumed, the visionary, two-part Partakers of the Divine, and the YA fantasy series, Legends of Karac Tor. He also co-authored The Jesus Fast with Lou Engle, now available in multiple languages. A former pastor and church planter, Dean is a consultant, dreamer, and Bible teacher. As part of the senior leadership of IHOPKC, he travels and speaks around the world. The Briggs live in the midwest.