Maybe It’s Not About Food

Have you ever watched a movie, or read a book where what you thought the movie was about turned out to be nothing at all what it was truly about? Happens to me with the best of reads and flicks. I think good authors and directors design it that way. The writer of Hebrews sort of does that with this “paragraph” of text.

In the the last entry, I covered the consistency statement about Jesus sandwiched between trusting leaders to avoid false teaching. But, what the writer does with the “false teaching” reference is actually surprising. It turns out it’s not actually about food:

Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Hebrews 13:9-14 (NASB)

So, we start with the reference to teaching about food, and end up looking at Jesus in heaven. On the way, we leave Jerusalem and view the crucifixion. Yeah, it’s a weird journey when you think about it. From food laws through crucifixion to heaven…wait, that sounds vaguely familiar. Do you see it?

In this letter to Hebrews, one of the “elements” claimed to be missing is any reference to Communion. Yet, if you go back and read those last sentences of the passage above again, do you see it? It’s the path of Jesus from the upper room to His ascension. In common application of communion, that’s what the Lord’s Supper refers to as well (Luke 22:14-20, Mark 14:22-45, Matt. 26:26-29).

But, of course, the path chosen by Nicodemus, has to pass through Exodus, in a sense. The writer uses a reference to the sin offering, the type of offering which in English translations is often “whole burnt offering”. In this type of sacrifice, nothing is eaten, there is no portion for the priests, and all of it is consumed by fire. The problem is that, when it’s an ox or bull, that’s a lot of animal to burn up. So, it’s divided up, with specific parts of the organs burnt on the altar, and the rest taken outside of the camp and burned.

What the author does here is point out how Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem. Remember that he is trying to encourage his audience to endure rejection from their fellow Jews rather than give in, and compromise their faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Here, he calls them to go outside the camp.

For us, this is like calling us to reject “science”, or “philosophy”, of the learned and schooled, the wisdom of this world. It’s challenging us to endure the smirks, the eyerolls, the sighs of the ones who have “done the math”. For this world, to believe that there is a Creator, that this Creator loves His human creatures, and that He is our Savior through the historical figure of Jesus is ludicrous. To go further and claim deity for Jesus is simply irrational. And yet, it’s true.

The writer of Hebrews calls on his audience to go “outside” and join Jesus, because the view from “outside the camp” is a view of the heavenly city. What we are seeking we will never find among the “accepted” of this world. We, like the host of witnesses who have gone before, seek a city not made with human hands. We seek to pass through the Holy Place, through the thick curtain, and enter the Most Holy Place, there to find Jesus on the throne interceding on our behalf with the Father.

So, it’s not about food, not really. It’s the transition from food (the upper room) to the cross (the sin offering burned outside the camp), and then to the foot of the throne in heaven. One day, the cup of communion will be shared with our Savior once again, when we “drink it new in the Kingdom of God”.

The writer looks forward, and the path he takes is the path of communion. The elements are there, flesh and blood. The crucifixion is in sight, and also the scene in heaven. The call is to leave the comfort of acceptance by the world, and go outside, to the reproach of the Anointed One. Rather than be carried away by pointless rules, carry the reproach of our Savior.

I suppose this is a call for volunteers to be the “village idiot”. Or, it’s a call to follow Pilgrim away from his family and village, to the Celestial City. It’s likely both.

What’s your view through the knothole this morning?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation


Passion Week XIXb

And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.”  And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”  And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:17-20 NASB)

Luke preserves what is possibly the most detail of the Passover meal behind what has become “Communion” among Jesus Followers.  Of course, that “detail” really amounts to an additional cup at the beginning of his description.  I used a book, “Keeping Passover” by Ira Steingroot to examine the elements of the Passover mean and try and get at which cup was which, and where Jesus broke the bread symbolizing His body.  It’s a good book, but I’m still not sure (but that’s not Ira’s fault).

In the book, Steingroot reduces the elements of the meal down to a basic outline.  From there, any Haggadah can be used or built to form a supper.  It was that reduction outline in which I hoped to find the cups and bread referred to by Luke.  It was inconclusive.  And so, again, I want to emphasize that traditions about the Passover since the destruction of the Temple are very different.  The book was really helpful in seeing that Jesus could have used different elements to make different points about Himself (although Steingroot does not correlate the Passover to Jesus at all).

I believe the key in understanding Luke’s presentation is that the “bread” happens very much in the “middle” of the feast, and the cup representing His blood, toward the end.  The first cup mentioned in Luke could either be the first cup (benediction?).  But Luke refers to it as the “cup of thanksgiving”.  It could also be the second cup, which Steingroot doesn’t name in the outline. In either case, these precede the practice of breaking and hiding a piece of the “afikoman” (middle of three matzoh in a 3-chamber pouch).  The breaking and hiding has meaning for followers of Jesus in that His body was broken, and His body buried.  And then the finding of the afikoman refers to Jesus’ resurrection.

After this celebration of the first cup and the bread, a second cup is shared.  This is the one Jesus uses to refer to His blood, inaugurating a new covenant.  This cup could the third cup (cup of Elijah), or the fourth cup which completes the feast.  Luke refers to the cup, “after they had eaten,” but that still could be the cup of Elijah since nothing is consumed after that one either.  It’s really easy to devolve into a discussion about how it could be one or the other, but I don’t think that’s the point.

Mark and Matthew both skip swaths of detail about the Passover meal and which elements Jesus used.  I think that was on purpose.  In both cases, their audience was Jewish.  And I think by skipping those details, they both make it possible to celebrate the memorial apart from Passover.  Otherwise the Jewish believers would have to wait until once a year, and travel to Jerusalem for the feast.  The point was to remember often the inauguration of this new covenant relationship with God.  Luke’s audience may well have been in a different set of circumstances. They were most likely mostly Gentile, so adding some sort of Jewish influence added character necessary to remind them that this was, in fact, a Jewish Festival to begin with.  His inclusion of detail added depth unnecessary to Matthew and Mark.

So the point is not which cup or which time they ate the unleavened bread.  The point is that, for us Gentiles, this communion is built off of a celebration of God’s redemption of His people from bondage.  That, for me, is the point.  It’s rooted in a deep tradition illustrating the character of our Redeemer-King.  Jesus’ new covenant is in keeping with the character of God who redeems His people.  The grace of this new covenant isn’t new.  It’s consistent.  This is a new covenant, not a new god.  This is a new path to the same God. The relationship is somewhat different because of the different path, not because God is somehow different.

But what is different?  Jesus shatters the old with His blood.  It’s an uncomfortable truth that God has stated that the “life is in the blood” over and over.  From Noah’s covenant through the split pieces of sacrifice and Abraham’s covenant, to the altar of the tabernacle and, eventually, the temple; blood has been the price of life.  And so Jesus’ blood becomes the final price paid to end all payments.  The life is still in the blood, that hasn’t changed since Abel.  So, my life is not in my blood, or that of an animal acceptable to God; but through the sacrifice God Himself provides in His Son, Jesus.

I know that’s not exactly earth-shattering or newsworthy perhaps.  It is very comforting for me though.  I don’t have to be anything to be accepted.  I can be anything He wants because I’m already accepted.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?