The Lord’s Supper Breaks With Ancient Culture

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Many times during the Lord’s Supper you hear the phrase “memorial feast.” That is in reference to Jesus command to partake of the Supper “in remembrance of me.” There is an interesting bit of ancient Greco-Roman background concerning burial practices that makes this statement interesting to me. Everett Ferguson in his book  Backgrounds of Early Christianity mentions some interesting things about ancient views of death and the afterlife. He mentions the common desire in the ancient world to be remembered after one dies (Ferguson, 244). One way the dead were remembered was by providing them food or feasting with them. The rich would construct elaborate house-like tombs where family or friends could bring food and appease their spirit. He notes that the poor, who could not individually afford to be remembered would band together in societies to be taken care of and remembered after their death. Other burial practices included burying people in the ground with a pipe to pour food or drink down for the dead to feast on.

What is interesting to me is the contrast of the Lord’s Supper against such a background. We do not feast with the dead but with the living. We don’t feast with Christ to “appease the spirits” or so that Christ will rest well in his grave because his grave is empty! They feasted for the dead, realizing that all they could do was memorialize a fallen loved one. We feast with Christ in eager anticipation that one day we will do so directly in his living presence (Mark 14:25). I love the fact that we worship Christ among the living and not the dead. We don’t have to maintain a constant remembrance of him to keep his memory alive as if his posterity depended upon us. Rather, we worship our Lord who is alive and reigns victorious. He has given us the promise that we don’t have to remain in our graves forever or depend on the living to supply us with food or to remember us. Our posterity is totally dependent upon the only person in the history of the world who took on death and won! Praise God for that!

I do want to mention that I don’t mean to imply that Jesus had this contrast specifically in mind when he instituted the Supper, rather that it is an interesting contrast to show the superiority of our God over what the world has to offer.

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