Communion in the Context of an Ancient Covenantal Meal

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by Nancy Ann McLaughlin 

Reflection on Communion or Eucharist in the Context of a Sacrificial Meal

Presented at the Episcopal Partners for Faithfulness in Daily Life 2008 Pre-Meeting

May 29, 2008 - Lunchtime

The Lord be with you!

(And also with you.)

As we gather here together today sharing life and common passions,

Let’s take a few moments in guided meditation to reflect on how and why we celebrate the Eucharist in the context of a sacrificial meal.

I invite you to close your eyes.

Picture yourself in ancient times: you are a landowner with some resources.

You have been blessed with such things as farm land and sheep and cattle.

You know how to encourage your children and workers to do their best

for when you prosper they prosper and when they do well you all do well.

You are doing just fine most of the time and are proud of your accomplishments.

Sometimes though nature is harsh – either it rains too much or too little.

And sometimes the wild tribes come through and take what they “want” for themselves.

One day messengers come from the Kingdom on the hill.

It is good to have visitors.

You great them warmly, though cautiously.

The great Lord has noticed you they tell you.

You are invited to come with them to accept his offer of a covenant alliance.

This is the opportunity of a lifetime you realize and gladly accept. 

Quickly you gather your family,

and have your best workers follow right behind with your finest gifts

and a goodly share of your produce as a fitting tribute.

It is evening as you arrive, dark & cold outside the walls of the Kingdom.

Heralds with torches emerge from the darkness.

They greet you and your party:

You have been invited by the great Lord of the Kingdom.

The Lord who is strong and powerful

The Lord who is just and awesome

The Lord who has won the victory

The Lord who has won over the oppressors from the North and from the South

The Lord who has won over the evil from within and without

The Lord who comes bright and brilliant as the rising sun

The Lord who comes suddenly and mysteriously in the night

The Lord who knows all and hears all

                        Great is the Lord!

You who have dared to accept the Lord’s generous invitation

            Henceforth these will be your obligations in this union:

You will become his and his alone!

                        You will respond immediately to his summons

                        You will give of your produce, workers, resources

                        You will give as needed for the sake of the Kingdom

                        You will join in battles against the Lord’s enemies

                                    You will be loyal and you shall not die.

The herald continues:

            However if you become disloyal or disobey these commands

                        You declare yourself to be an enemy and:

                        You shall become cut off

                        You will be on your own

                        The forces of nature will overtake you

                        The raiders from the north will capture your daughters and your sons

                        And the tribes from the south will burn your fields

            And there will be none to call upon for help.

In the face of all this

            You shall be as this dumb beast and unable to speak

(And here before your eyes, a bull is sacrificed

– it is dark and you wonder was this bull the one you brought as a gift?)

Suddenly all is silent.

Then quietly and clearly your name is spoken

by the great Lord himself – awaiting your response.


You may open your eyes if you wish.

Now, if you accepted the invitation for a covenantal partnership with the great Lord,

You probably fell to the ground pleading   Lord, have mercy!

            You have indicated your willingness to serve.

Perhaps, the Lord would have again called your name, loudly this time & with conviction.

You look up.  The Lord reaches out, takes your hand and firmly pulls you up saying,

“Come, there is much to discuss.”  And you enter the gates together and the rest follow.

While the stipulations of the covenant are being written out in detail

the slaughtered bull is prepared and roasted. 

Once your mark is made to ratify the covenant, blood from the bull is sprinkled

on both you and all those assembled from the kingdom

or perhaps a common cup is passed around and shared

You and yours are officially united with the Lord and his kingdom!

And a shout goes out from the heralds: GREAT IS THE LORD!

And it is echoed by the assembled citizens, your family & workers.

So now I say: Great is the Lord!  (response:  Great is the Lord!)

Let the feast begin!  (…and lunch is served)


Over lunch discuss the following:

1.  How might the 1st century Jews felt making sacrifices at the temple while under Roman rule?

2.  Jesus said, “This is the blood of the new covenant.”  Comments?

3.  Much of the symbolism from this short version of an ancient tradition is continued in our baptismal and Eucharistic traditions.  What do you recognize?  What has changed?

4.  Shared meals (daily as well as special occasion) can bring people together – unite them.  Does this exercise help to see how the Eucharistic feast is meant to draw the people together and celebrate the union?

5.  How might you be able to use what you may have learned or experienced here in order to celebrate meals more fully on a daily basis?

Nancy Ann McLaughlin © 2008