When Adam and Eve sin against God in the garden of Eden by eating the forbidden fruit, they are driven out of the garden to the East (Gen 3:24, 4:16). In this moment, all of humanity experiences a break in relationship with God and is symbolically banished to the East. But God has a plan to restore the relationship. He chooses a special people, the Israelites, and tells them to build a tabernacle (a tent) so he can live among them. In the tabernacle there is a lamp-stand shaped like a tree, which is meant to remind them of the Tree of Life in the garden, and what life was like there with God (Ex 25:31).
In this tabernacle there are two sections, the holy place, and the most holy place. God’s very presence resides in the most holy place and is separated from the rest of the tent by a thick curtain. This curtain symbolizes God’s separation from people due to sin. Right outside this curtain is a table with 12 loaves of bread called “the bread of the Presence” (Ex 25:30). It has one loaf for each of the twelve tribes of Israel (Lev 24:5-9). The entrance to the tent faces East, where humanity symbolically lives separated from God. God is inviting the Israelites to come and dine with him at his table, but the curtain reminds them they can’t because of their sin.
Outside of the tent in the tabernacle courtyard is an altar. On this altar, once a year on the day of atonement, the High Priest sacrifices a bull and a goat for his sins and the sins of the people. Because of this sacrifice, he can enter into God’s presence in the most holy place. But this is a temporary solution.
After a thousand years of sacrifice, during which the people transition from worshipping God at the tabernacle to the temple, which also faces East (Ex 27:13-14, Ezek 43:1-7), God sends his son Jesus into the world to fix the problem. The night before Jesus is crucified, he breaks bread and says, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor 11:24) He then hands 12 pieces of bread (12 loaves) to his 12 disciples (Lk 20:19). Jesus is inviting anyone who trusts in him to enter into God’s presence through his bodily sacrifice.
But still, at this point in the story, people can’t enter into God’s presence. The curtain in the temple still symbolically separates people from God’s presence. Jesus fixes the problem not by shedding the blood of a bull or goat, but by shedding his own blood. Jesus next takes a cup of wine and says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor 11:25) Jesus sheds his blood so we can eat at the table in God’s presence.
Matthew 27:50-51a says, “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom…” (NIV®). God himself is so satisfied with Jesus’ sacrifice that he tears the temple curtain from top to bottom, inviting us to finally come and eat bread with him at his table.
As we approach the Lord’s Table tonight, we’re doing something the Israelites weren’t allowed to do. We’re eating in God’s presence. If you don’t know God, or you’re living in intentional sin, you’re still living in the East outside God’s presence. God wants you to come and dine with him, but before you can do so you need to confess your sins and trust in Jesus, the final sacrifice (1 Cor 11:27-28). For those of you who do trust him, come and eat with God. Come and eat with Jesus.
Pastor Jonathan Romig wrote this devotional on the Lord’s Supper after reading Tim Chester’s writing on the Tabernacle in Exodus for You, chapter 11 (Exodus 25-27). Please pick up a copy or read more reflections on the Lord’s Supper.