While the idea of men walking between the two halves of a sacrificial animal as a means of ratifying a covenant may seem strange to our modern mindset, this is exactly what is being pictured when Yahweh “cut” a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15:18. Covenants in the world of the Old Testament were often accompanied by the ritual of a shared meal between the parties (e.g. Gen. 26: 28-30). And the three major festivals of the people of God in the Old Testament (Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles) are, well, also known as feasts for a reason! Fellowship meals are used to commemorate, celebrate, and express thankfulness. I think its pretty much a universal human thing to want to get together with friends and family, share a good meal together, and enjoy each others company – it’s how we celebrate. For a disillusioned Solomon near the end of his life, it may be the best we can expect in this life of “vanity” (Eccl. 2:24, 8:15). My point is this: that there is a long, proud history of covenant memorial meals throughout the Old Testament.
And it continues in the New Testament! The most important of the feasts under the Old Covenant, Passover, is the source and background for the New Covenant ordinance of Communion (just as Baptism in the NT parallels circumcision as a rite of “initiation” – entrance into membership with the covenant community). When Jesus ate the last supper with His disciples instituting it as a rite of remembrance, it was a Passover meal! And “time would fail me to tell of” (cheesy reference to Heb. 11:32) the banqueting theme in the gospels (see esp. Mark & Luke). John pictures our eschatological hope with the image of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19). And finally Jesus Himself stands at the door and knocks, that he might come in and have fellowship with us in a long leisurely meal shared together (see Leon Morris, TNTC Commentary on Rev. 3:20). I guess that Table Fellowship is pretty important in the Bible!
So here’s my issue! Why (in the modern NT church) have we separated The Lord’s Supper from its context as a covenant memorial meal? Why have we made it into a religious ritual snack? For convenience? For logistical reasons? Because its too messy or too hard? Because we don’t have time to sit and enjoy a long, slow fellowship meal together? Isn’t that missing the point! Look, I understand that Jesus instituted this ordinance for the church “in remembrance of Him” but let’s not forget that another important element of communion is fellowship (koinonia – “a sharing together in common”). Isn’t that exactly what Paul is correcting the church at Corinth for (1 Cor. 11:17-34). Their fellowship at the Lord’s Table had been shattered! Isn’t that exactly what the context tells us why a person should “examine himself” in preparation to “eat of the bread and drink of the cup” – we are “unworthy” when we fail to “discern” our own broken fellowship with “the body” of Christ, His people – the ekklesia! Or do we just refuse to learn the principles that God has given us in Paul’s Letter and implement “Lessons Learned” from Corinth in our own churches! Or is it just too impractical to follow scripture on this?!?
So yes, I’m advocating that we bring back the covenant memorial meal in the New Testament church today – the Agape Feast!
Lest I be the king of the Debbie Downers here, let me make a few practical suggestions to address the logistics Elephant in the Room! Consider a monthly or quarterly Agape Feast (yes celebrate the Lord’s Supper as part of a full meal) as part of, or in place of your weekly corporate assembly. Or better yet make this Christ centered fellowship meal a part of your weekly small groups and when someone asks you why you don’t celebrate the Eucharist in your church point them toward the Info Table with the Home Fellowship flyers. Then when they come back and say: “No, I mean why don’t we celebrate the Lord’s Supper in real church!” – I suggest you give them a hearty lecture on ecclesiology, what it means to be the church “wherever two or three are gathered in His name,” a greek word study on ekklesia, and a general education on God’s people assembled as compared to a “church” building!