The substance and character of this meal is the substance and character of our God. That is the essence of Easter, the substance of Sunday, the center of all we experience in these next three days. That is what the betrayal and trial, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus is all about: the substance and character of this meal; the substance and character of our God. This is the Lordβs Passover βa meal meticulously proscribed in ancient times for those being freed from slavery; a meal meticulously celebrated by all still longing to be free; yet well aware of all that constricts them. In the substance and character of this meal, God gives us all that we need so that we can live in freedom. As we will hear insistently on each succeeding Sunday, βChrist our Passover is sacrificed for us:β that is the substance and character of our God. It tells us all that we need to know about God.
It is, first and foremost, a meal meant to be shared by family, friends and neighbors; it is meant to be consumed completely β if there are not enough who can eat it, more must be invited and welcomed. Its venue is a home; its place, an open table.
It has never required a temple, never needed, nor used a sacrificial altar β not at its very beginning, not in the days of Jesus and not ever down to this day. It was never an offering for thanksgiving or atonement or appeasement; it was always nourishment for a community and food for the journey. The substance and character of this meal tells us all that we need to know of our God.
None of this is new. Yet over the centuries, and especially in our day, this seems particularly to have been forgotten, or at least obscured, by an emphasis on our unworthiness, by a heightening of shame, by a story about an angry God who needs to focus that anger somewhere and who, rather than punishing us, punishes Christ instead, substitutes the punishment of one for the punishment of all; satisfaction β for God β guaranteed. If the temple, not the home, were the venue; if a sacrificial altar, not a common table, was the place; if appeasement and atonement were the purpose, than the character and the substance of our God would be as difficult as such things imply. And we would be most to be pitied, because we would find ourselves completely captive and utterly on our own.
But this is a meal, not a sacrifice; its purpose is our freedom, not appeasement; its venue is home; not a temple; it is meant to be consumed and not just offered β if there are not enough who can eat it, more must be invited and welcomed. Inviting and welcoming, nourishing and freeing, given to all and not just to some: the substance and character of this meal is the substance and character of our God.
As we will try to live this, as we are willing to mold our lives to this meal, and our Godβs, example; as we are willing to bend our lives, our families, our city and our world to this model, this can become our substance and character too. Inviting and welcoming, nourishing and freeing, never alone, but always with and among us all. This is our beginning and our ending. This is our resurrection. Our substance and character; nourished and formed by a meal that is the substance and character of God.