It is easy to overlook minor details but details are often not minor—they only appear to be minor. Consider the Passover story in Exodus 12 where we read what initially appears to be a minor detail about sharing.
God had sent nine plagues against Pharaoh and Egypt for Pharaoh’s obstinacy in refusing to let Israel go. Then God warned a tenth and final plague was coming. To prepare for this final plague the people of Israel were to take a year-old male lamb or goat and kill the animal at twilight. They were to place some of the blood on their doorposts and on their lintels (the top cross beam of the doorway). They were to roast the meat and eat it with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs. God was very specific: it had to be roasted and neither boiled nor raw. They had to eat the meat in its entirety. They had to burn anything that remained. They were to eat while dressed and ready to leave. God promised that he would pass over the houses protected by the lamb’s blood when he struck down the firstborn of Egypt.
What is very striking to me is God’s instruction regarding the amount of meat they were to eat—and who they were to eat with.
Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb.Exodus 12:3–4 ESV
The Passover meal was intended to be eaten in households. In that day households were typically larger than the nuclear family, often including parents and grandparents, along with a host of children and perhaps other relatives. God is very specific in his instructions. They were to determine the amount of meat based on the number of persons eating. This was important because all of the meat was to be consumed.
It is very interesting that God instructs them to include other households in order to meet this requirement. It seems a minor detail. A typical grass-fed lamb yields approximately 40–70 pounds of meat. While there were certainly times I thought my children could eat that much, that’s a lot of meat. This is why God instructs them to calculate the amount of meat that would be consumed and if a household were not large enough to consume it, they were to include other households. This ensured that very small households, whether a younger or older couple or a family with very young children or even single people, would never eat alone. The meal was always consumed in community. The meat had to be consumed in its entirety because it was symbolizing the unity the people of Israel had in being the people rescued by God. Scraps and leftovers would not represent the oneness of the nation. In short, everyone had to eat meat, and all the meat had to be eaten.
But why? What’s the big deal? The Passover meal was a celebration of God’s rescue. They were to use this time as a teaching tool for their children (see Exodus 12:24–27). This shows us the importance of community. As this story was being retold to the children, the adults were also being reminded of God’s mercy and grace poured out on them when he passed over their homes (this is also a great reason we have a childrens’ story in our services!).
This is the meal Jesus shared with his disciples on the night he was betrayed. He was demonstrating that this Passover meal—and the sacrificial lamb—had always been intended to point the people to the one who would truly cause God to pass over them in judgment. Jesus transformed this meal by telling his disciples its true meaning: this is my body which is for you, and this cup is the new covenant in my blood. Paul tells us that as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
These words of institution, which we repeat each week when we share this meal, are only possible in light of his resurrection. This is implicit in Paul’s words “until he comes” for he can only come back because he is risen. Notice that each time we share this meal we proclaim the Lord’s death. That is, we demonstrate with our actions and proclaim with our mouths the gospel of the Lord Jesus, that he died in accordance with the Scriptures, was buried, and was raised from the dead in accordance with the Scriptures.
This is why we share this meal. Communion is not a meal that is intended to be consumed alone or in a small group. Instead, it is to be shared together as a visible and tangible demonstration of our unity in Christ. We are, after all, one body. While we do not have the same level of specificity as to how we are to eat this meal that Israel had for the Passover meal, the central truths of the meal are essential. Through it we demonstrate our unity through the body and blood of our Lord.
This seemingly minor detail of making sure they chose a lamb whose size corresponded to their households or their households combined with other households serves a significant purpose: it ties the lamb to the people. God told Moses to “tell all the congregation of Israel” to participate. The connection between the lamb and people was vitally important for only the blood of the lamb would spare them as an entire congregation. By sharing this meal together they were made holy—they were set apart—for their journey out of Egypt and into the promised land.
When we come together as the gathered assembly—as a household—of Jesus, we, too, are set apart. The Lord’s Supper is a meal shared by his people. Through it we are made holy, set apart for our journey out of Egypt and into our promised land. Though we remain aliens and strangers in this world, our shared identity as the people of God is reinforced and repeated each week as celebrate our Passover Lamb and proclaim his death.
Let’s remember our true identity as we navigate the wilderness of the world, thinking back to our Passover Lamb and looking forward to his return.