A few Sundays ago, I preached on the equality that the Lord’s Supper brings to those who are baptized into Christ. We spent some time considering how eating stratifies society both in Bible times and now. We considered how God enacted and emphasized the exclusivity of Israel by giving them a “kosher” diet, which illustrated the uncleanness of the Gentile nations in a daily and practical way, and how that the cleansing of food in the ministry of Jesus, Peter and Paul shows that the uncleanness of the nations has been purged in the baptism of the cosmos in Christ, and that now all nations eat together at the Lord’s Table.
The communion that God has inaugurated among the nations is demonstrated in the ministry of Jesus, as He ate with sinners; of Peter, as he preached to Cornelius; and of Paul, as he preached the equality of slaves and free, men and women, Jews and Gentiles. Thus, when the church at Corinth observed Communion in a way that divided the body of Christ, Paul rebuked them for failing to “discern the Lord’s body.” The entire point of Communion is that God is forming a new creation community where all walls are broken down.
Also, we considered the correlation between circumcision and baptism as the initiatory rite of Judaism and Christianity, respectively, while highlighting the very dramatic difference: circumcision was designed to set Israel apart from all nations as a covenant people while baptism was ordained to bring all nations together as a new creation in Christ. There were three principle markers of Jewish exclusivity: circumcision, Sabbath observance, and food laws. Paul specifically shows that these markers have been fulfilled in the New Covenant as baptism, the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Supper, and each of these now function as instruments of unity within the Christian community, which presages the final reconciliation of all things in heaven and earth into one, unified creation in the resurrection of all things at the last day.
A Feast for All Nations
Isaiah declared that all nations would come to eat on the mountain of the Lord (Isaiah 25). Jesus declared that His Father’s house, which is the Temple of the Lord upon the mount of the Lord, should be a house of prayer “for all nations.” Thus, Communion is no longer a feast of exclusion where only ethnic Jews may feast at the table of the Lord, but now all nations are called to come and eat at the table of the Lord. God once used food laws to demonstrate Israel’s exclusive covenant identity, but now He uses the table of communion to show that all people have been made one in Christ—which means, of course, that they must be in Christ through baptism before they can eat at the table. But if they will be made one body in Christ, then all may eat together with all boundaries broken down. Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women, Greek and barbarian—all may eat together, as Peter learned on the housetop.
The Lord’s Supper is a feast for all nations that signals the unity of all nations in Christ as the head of the new creation. Meals have spiritual significance. We have largely lost the meanings of meals in our fast food age, but remnants of the deep, primal idea remain. We all know on some level that eating together signifies communion. We include and exclude people from fellowship by the means of meals. We refuse to eat with those we exclude, and we are eager to eat with those we include. This is universal.
There is a long history of eating together in Scripture from the ministry of Christ and His conflict with the Pharisees to the ministry of Peter and his experience with Cornelius to, finally, the ministry of Paul and his conflict with the Judaizers. The Lord’s Supper is a meal where Christ invites all nations to eat together in anticipation of the resurrection when all things shall be made new. Everywhere the church goes, we eat a meal together as we gather together for worship. Indeed, this is one of the fundamental reasons why we gather, to eat together. Eating together is listed in Acts 2:42 as a fundamental ritual of corporate worship (along with doctrine, fellowship and prayer). Paul makes it plain by the implicit assumption in I Corinthians 11 that the church gathered for the purpose of eating the Lord’s Supper. Thus, the meal that we eat together is a proclamation of new creation: by eating, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” And by eating together with all nations—as Gentiles—we proclaim the power of the Lord’s death and resurrection for a new creation extended into every corner of the world. This meal, then, signifies the invitation for fellowship and oneness of all people in every nation.
This may seem insignificant to us at first glance because we have been inured to the spiritual significance of table fellowship, but if we can see by the Word of God what the meal means, then we shall regain its power in the present, fast food age. “Come, whoever you are! Come to the table! You all, every one of you, are invited to eat at the table of the King!” This is what we proclaim when we eat the Lord’s Supper. Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, Greek and barbarian—all are invited to come and eat at the table of the Lord, to enjoy “A Feast for All Nations.”
Unity, Community and the Lordship of Christ against Idols
There is something tugging at the back of my mind here. I know that Paul referred to the oneness of God when speaking about the oneness of Jews and Gentiles among the people of God, which implies the oneness of all nations—the Gentiles—in the new creation. In other words, the oneness of God casts down the pluralistic worship of false gods throughout the nations. The proclamation of God’s oneness as the basis for the oneness of the people of God says this: God is one—thus, His creation is one—and the pluralism of false worship is a lie that is exposed by the oneness of God. If there is only one God, then all of the gods of the nations are frauds. They are not gods at all. To tolerate and perpetuate the ongoing division of the nations—as Judaistic-Christian exclusivism did—is to abandon the nations to a damnable fate, to miss the point of Israel’s mission in the first place, and to deny the basic message of the Shema: God is one, thus all creation must be made one in Him.
We must grasp this. The Lord’s Supper is the supper of the Lord. We eat at the table of the Lord. We are celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ, which leads inexorably to His ascension and exaltation as Lord over all the cosmos. When we eat, we are declaring that Jesus is King of all kings, and we are His people. Thus, Communion celebrates that the one God rules over all as the one true God and that all other gods are frauds. All nations are called, then, to worship this one true God. And as we worship Him, we are all called to feast at the table of the King.
Remember, there were three things that marked the Jews off as separated people from the nations: circumcision, Sabbath observance and food laws. These things were given by God as temporary measures to ensure the distinction and preservation of Israel from among the nations of the world. This is why Paul asserts that the Law was “added” until the time of Christ. The Law was given to mark Israel off as separate from the nations. But now that the faith of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed to all nations, the marks of distinction are no longer needed. In fact, they must be removed, though it is acknowledged that this is a process that will take time and growth from the initial unity of the Spirit into the full-fledged unity of the faith (Ephesians 4). The marks of distinction have become a hindrance to the universal vision of God. If the Jewish contingent of the church insists that Gentiles are not fully Christian unless they become Jewish proselytes, then the church can never attain perfect unity, which means that the nations, indeed, all creation, will never attain the fullness of perfect unity for which it was created. The only way all things can be reconciled into one is if the one true God is worshipped properly by the one true people of God, made up of Jews and Gentiles, bond and free, male and female, Greek and barbarian. When the one true people of God worship the one true God in unity, then all nations will be brought to worship Him (John 17), and the idols of the nations will be exposed as the frauds that they are. All of this, however, is based on the oneness of God being lived in oneness by the people of God. A divided church perpetuates a divided world.
This is why the Lord’s Supper is so important. The most practical sense in which the church was divided was played out at Antioch when the Jewish Christians refused to eat with the Gentile Christians. People who can eat together can grow together in perfect unity and fellowship. Thus, Paul was absolutely insistent that the church must not be divided at the Table. He raised this point again to the church at Corinth. The church cannot be divided in its observance of the Lord’s Supper. The church must be brought together into one body by the indwelling Spirit, and one of the primary ways this is done is at the Lord’s Table. The Spirit makes us one as we eat together. And as we are made one, as the church is brought into eschatological unity, the entire world is brought into one reality together, fully consummated in the resurrection when Jesus comes again.
Thus, we must go into the world eating together at the Lord’s Table and inviting all nations to be baptized and join us. Now, certainly we do require that pagans leave the table of demons before they come to the Table of the Lord, and this decision is made in baptism; but we must not forget the significance of the “Feast for All Nations” when we eat together.
In the gospel something new and wonderful has happened. The Old Covenant marks of separation made Israel an exclusive people until God would safely bring Messiah into the world through Israel. The feasts of Israel shut out the world. God wanted His people to have no fellowship with pagans. But when the Spirit came at Pentecost, a new reality broke in upon the world that resounded from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the uttermost parts of the earth. This reality has new signs: baptism, Lord’s Day and Lord’s Supper. Moreover, these new signs are spiritual signs of a new universal mission, a new cosmic reality that has broken in upon the world. Now, all nations are called to be baptized confessing that Jesus is Lord, to be filled with the Spirit and to feast at the Lord’s Table. “Come all who hunger; come and be filled!”