Humans are complex creatures, consisting of body and soul. God formed us out of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7a). He gave us bodies, making us physical creatures. And He nourishes our bodies with physical things. The Lord provides soul food to satisfy our hunger and drink to quench our thirst.
But that’s only one aspect of the person. God also breathed into us the breath of life (Gen. 2:7b). He gave us souls, making us spiritual creatures. So if He provides physical things for our bodies, how does He nourish our souls?
How God Nourishes Us With Soul Food
For many Christians, the answer is obvious: God nourishes our souls with His word. In the Old Testament, listening to the Bible was equated with eating and drinking (Isa. 55:1-2). Jesus also spoke this way in his earthly ministry. As he was tempted in the wilderness, he quoted an ancient truth: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4, cf. Deut. 8:3). Clearly, the Bible is soul food, drink for the spirit.
Yet God offers a full course meal for his people. Besides the word, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper gives us nourishing soul food. In the story of the Last Supper, Jesus instituted His sacrament in a most unforgettable way. It’s told in three gospels (Mt. 26:26-29, Mk. 14:22-25, Lk. 22:14-20) and mentioned in one epistle (1 Cor. 11:23-26). All four accounts speak of a connection between sensory things (bread and wine) and spiritual realities (Christ’s body and blood). They share the provocative statements: “this is by body” and “this is my blood of the covenant.” Luke and 1 Corinthians also include the language “new covenant in my blood” and the command “Do this in remembrance of me”.
These words have led people to different conclusions. Some view the sacrament as a mere symbol pointing back to Christ’s words and historical actions. Others see something deeper. Rather than a bare remembrance, they argue for a real presence. They regard the Supper as soul food and spiritual drink. This post will explore this deeper, spiritual notion by analyzing some key Biblical texts: Melchizedek’s ceremony (Genesis 14:18-20), the Passover/Last Supper rituals (Exodus chapter 12, synoptic gospel accounts), the manna/bread of life discourse (Exodus chapter 16, John chapter 6), and the contrasting spiritual/demonic tables (1 Corinthians chapter 10).
Melchizedek’s Ceremony and Soul Food
In Genesis 14:18-20, we’re introduced to the mysterious figure of Melchizedek. We know he was an important person by his titles: King of Salem and Priest of God Most High. Melchizedek came out to meet Abraham after the patriarch’s victory over the eastern kings, and he didn’t come empty-handed. He brought a blessing from God Most High (vv. 19-20), the same God that Abraham worshiped. And along with blessing, he brought bread and wine (v. 18). The text even links these things. The blessing (the word of God Most High) was accompanied by the meal (the sacrament of God Most High).
Moreover, the blessing and meal administered by a priest-king of God Most High indicates divine participation. One could even say that Abraham was eating and drinking with God. Rather than a banquet for a victorious servant, this was a worship service led by a priest-king. Abraham was receiving God’s blessing through the bread and the wine.
Such a mysterious character, this Melchizedek! As the Old Testament unfolds, he fades into the background. Yet he’s anything but trivial. Melchizedek the priest-king ends up foreshadowing a greater priest-king, Jesus Christ. Hebrews chapter 7 explains this connection. First, Melchizedek remains a priest “forever”, because he has no traceable genealogy (vv. 2-3). Thus, he foreshadows the priest-king who has always existed forever (v. 17, cf. Ps. 110:4). Second, Melchizedek blessed Abraham through word and meal. In a similar way, Jesus blessed His disciples with his words in the context of a meal. In the Lord’s Supper, He continues to bless His people (Abraham’s descendants by faith) through word and sacrament.
Soul Food: The Passover and Last Supper Rituals
While bread and wine are prominent in the Melchizedek story, they’re best known for their connection to the Passover ritual. The story is told in Exodus chapter 12. Each household needed to sacrifice an unblemished lamb (v.5), roast the meat (v. 8), eat in haste (v. 11), and mark the entrances of their homes with the blood (v. 7). The meal celebrated their deliverance from Egyptian bondage, as the blood covered them from God’s wrath upon the Egyptian households. After the Israelites gained their freedom, God commanded the Passover to be a lasting ordinance (v. 14).
While the Passover lamb was the main course, it wasn’t the only food served. Chapter 12 also mentions unleavened bread, representing the swiftness of God’s deliverance. The exodus wouldn’t allow time for any leavening (v. 39). Moreover, this part of the meal was so important that the festival accompanying the Passover would be called by its name. It would become the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Yet the bread was only part of the equation; the meal also included wine. While Exodus 12 doesn’t mention any wine, Jesus assumed its inclusion. He spoke of it during the most famous Passover of all: The Last Supper.
The Last Supper narratives present the Passover in broad brushstrokes. The gospel writers made no mention of the lamb, but focused entirely on the bread and wine. Even though Jesus was the fulfillment of the Passover lamb who takes away the sin of the world (1 Cor. 5:7; Jn. 1:29; Rev. 5:6), he associated his sacrifice with bread and wine.
Let’s begin with the bread. The disciples were devout Jews who celebrated the Passover their entire lives. Imagine the shock of seeing their master hold the bread and proclaim, “This is my body.” It must have been astonishing.He took the unleavened bread of a practiced liturgy fixed in Israel’s consciousness and solemnly proclaimed its fulfillment.