“They Saw God, and They Ate and Drank”

Last Supper by Simon Ushakov (1685)
Last Supper by Simon Ushakov (1685)

by Gjergji Evangjeli

 

Exodus 24 is not among the parts of the Bible that most Christians are familiar with. This chapter, however, recounts one of the most important events of the Torah: the ratification of the Mosaic Covenant between God and the people of Israel. For Christians, the story invites a comparison with the Last Supper, where Christ proclaims a New Covenant with all those who believe in Him.

Two points about the Mosaic Covenant are particularly interesting. After Moses tells the people the content of the Covenant, they respond, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” (Ex. 24:7). After this, Moses takes half the blood of the sacrifices offered for each of the tribes of Israel and sprinkles the people with it, saying, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Ex. 24:8).

 

After this, Moses and the elders of Israel go up the mountain, where they see God: “Yet He did not stretch out His hands against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and c (Ex. 24:10-11). The occasion is remarkable because of the belief that all who saw the face of God would perish (cf. Gen. 32:30). We find then in the ratification of the Old Covenant the twin themes of the sacrifice and the meal.

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Moving on to the New Testament, we find in the Last Supper these same two themes recapitulated; in fact, they are blended together. In the context of a meal, Christ says, “Drink from [the cup], all of you; for this is My blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28). Once again, the new elders of Israel (the Apostles) are eating and drinking with God. They had, in fact, been living, eating, and drinking with Him for three years, and He did not stretch out His hand against them.

 

Additionally, notice that Christ speaks as if His blood had already been offered. Pope Emeritus Benedict points out in Jesus of Nazareth that the only way a Jewish mind would have seen the events of Good Friday as a sacrifice is through the events of Holy Thursday.

 

There is, however, one important difference between the two stories. Whereas in the Old Covenant, Moses sprinkles the people with blood, in the institution of the New Covenant, Christ instruct His Apostles—and us, by extension—to drink His Blood, to be marked not on the outside, but on the inside. The Jewish people are distinguished as descendants of Abraham by physical circumcision. Christians, who have been made children of the promise through the blood of Christ, are circumcised in the heart (Rom. 2:28). Jesus Himself expands the Ten Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount, when He includes in the Fifth Commandment not only bodily murder, but also the act of being angry with one’s brother (Mt. 5:21-22).

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The author of the Letter to the Hebrews blends together the accounts of the ratification of the Covenant, the dedication of the tabernacle, and the festival of Yom Kippur to show that Christ accomplished all of these things once and for all through His sacrifice on the Cross (Heb. 9). At the end of the section he calls us to “draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

 

When we celebrate the Eucharist, we participate in the re-presentation of precisely this event. We also are invited to go up to the Lord and receive His Body and Blood. The Eastern prayers before Communion echo the fear the elders of Israel must have felt when seeing God: “Behold, I approach for Divine Communion. O Maker, burn me not as I partake, for You are fire consuming the unworthy. But cleanse me from every stain.” Thus, we are able not only to contemplate but to participate in the mystery of eating and drinking with God.   

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