If it were up to me, I’d take the Lord’s Supper every week. I love partaking of such an important and mysterious sacrament of the community of faith. While everyone in the Reformed tradition has their own opinions about how often we should partake of the Supper, the words of our Lord ring in our ears that we must “do this in remembrance of me,” whether that be once a week, once a month, or once a year. But the longer I’ve been a part of the Church, the more I’ve realized that many of us don’t really know what we’re “remembering” precisely. We know that we’re reminded of Christ’s death for us, His body broken and His blood shed for our sins; but why the Sacrament to be reminded of something that we’re reminded of every week from the pulpit? How does the Lord’s Supper help us to remember our Lord’s death in a deeper or different way than the preaching of the Word?
Many in the Reformed tradition don’t think that the Lord’s Supper reminds communicants of anything more than what is already given in the Word; it’s just a more dynamic means of communication, like a good illustration, a powerful skit, and the like. But the more I’ve contemplated and studied the Lord’s Supper, the more I’ve come to realize that it’s far more important than we tend to make it out to be, and it contains within it multiple layers of meaning and blessing for communicants–meaning that we rarely take the time to search out or remember as we partake of it. Some of the significance of the sacrament of the New Covenant can’t be easily discerned in a simple reading of the New Testament, however. Through exploring some of the sacraments in the Old Testament, we can start to get a glimpse at how incredibly complex and meaningful is the Lord’s Supper, and hopefully approach the Table in a way that we can receive the full blessing imparted in the Sacrament of Remembrance.
Traditionally, when we think of the Old Testament link to the Lord’s Supper, we think of Passover. And that’s true, as far as it goes. Unfortunately, most of us content ourselves with stopping there and ignoring the other Old Testament sacraments that provide for us a much fuller understanding of the significance of the Sacrament. While there are many Old Testament sacraments that nuance the significance of the Lord’s Supper, I want to explore the purpose of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden (which many consider to be the “sacrament” of God’s relationship with Adam) and marvel at the beauty of the Lord’s Supper as the celebration of Christ, our Tree of Life.
Right after God put man in the Garden of Eden, He lavished him with gifts, saying “take and eat of anything in the Garden”–except the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil of course. We tend to focus on the last part, the rule of abstinence, yet as we zoom in on the what is forbidden, we miss the beauty of that first phrase: God had given Adam the fruit of every tree in the Garden as a gift of His free grace. And in this we see that eating, partaking of God’s gifts, was a central feature of God’s relationship with man. God gave food and man ate and gave thanks, and in this there was sweet fellowship.
Among all the wonderful trees in the Garden, the Tree of Life stood in the center as the sacrament of this perfect relationship. It was a daily reminder and representation of the life that God gave Adam daily. It represented in physical form the spiritual reality that all life came from the Lord of Life who had made Adam and who enjoyed daily fellowship with him in the Garden. Adam’s life was inextricably tied to his close fellowship with God, and as he ate of the Tree of Life, he was reminded of this. In this relationship, Adam walked with God, knew God, and was satisfied.
Interestingly, when the Serpent entered, he didn’t command anything new. Instead, he redirected the command’s focus. He told Adam and Eve to “take and eat” of another tree–the tree of self-satisfaction, of self-knowledge, of independence. And in partaking of what was forbidden, the man and woman were separated from that life-giving relationship as represented in the Tree of Life. They ceased to find their hunger assuaged in God, and relied on created things—and ultimately on their own hands—to gain the life that could only be found in God. No longer hungry for God, Adam and Eve were excommunicated from the Garden and separated from the Tree of Life so they might recognize the separation caused by their rebellion and might long to find life in God once again.
But thanks be to God that He didn’t leave us separated from Himself forever. Christ, as the Second Adam, has become for us the fulfillment of the Tree of Life. Christ gave Himself to restore fellowship with us, becoming a sacrament—the sign and the thing signified, the hope of eternal life and eternal life itself. And as we partake in His death, we are given new life and renewed fellowship with God.
And so in the Lord’s Supper we find those sweet words of fellowship again, as Christ says to us “take and eat” of my body and blood given for you. As we take and eat of the Sacrament, we remember that the Church has life in God and communion with Him once again, that we can only find true spiritual life and nourishment of our souls if we take and eat of Him (Jn. 6:56). Like the Tree of Life, it is a reminder that we find life in Christ, that we possess nothing in ourselves, that He is our fullness, that we find our nourishment in Him alone. He is our bread and our wine, and God has said that we “may surely eat of it” (Gen. 2:16). And so as we take and eat of the bread and the wine, we are reminded that daily we must come to the throne of grace to find life and fellowship mediated through Christ, our Tree of Life.