It’s a rather poignant scene. A father and son are spending some time together, working on a project. The father is sharing his knowledge and life experience, but the son is having none of it. Rather, the son is more interested in arguing and being rebellious than listening to anything the father has to say. The father finally says they need to get going, but he’s fed up with the son’s behavior and tells him to go on ahead. The son realizes his mistake and asks his father not to send him away all alone. The father has pity on the son. Spending time together is what he was after all along.
This is the story that plays out over the latter half of the book of Exodus, culminating in chapters 32 and 33. God brought the Israelites to Mt. Sinai to both give them the Law and to establish a covenant with them. He had brought them out of Egypt and now was formalizing their relationship, adopting them as His children. This covenant comes in back in chapter 24, where Moses, Aaron, and the elders of the people even get to share a meal in God’s presence without fear, the kind of thing families do.
Now in chapter 32, the people have gotten antsy and have quickly turned back to rebellious ways. The construct the infamous golden calf and begin to worship it as their god. Though it might be the worst thing they’ve done thus far, it isn’t the first time they’ve acted out against their Heavenly Father. It seems God has finally had enough of their rebelliousness. He doesn’t disown them. He loves them too much for that. But, he does send them off to start their journey all by themselves.
It might have all been downhill from their, but Moses intervenes. In chapter 33, Moses calls God to remember His covenant. Moses asks God to not send them away alone, but to go with them. He then asks one of the most significant questions in the entire Bible, “Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
This is, in fact, what the entire Bible is about: God being with His people. This is just as true in the New Testament era as it was for the Israelites. It is the presence of God that makes us who we are. Without God’s presence, we are no different than anyone else in the world. In the passage I’ve been really resonating with lately, St. Peter says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Peter recalls that relationship God had with His people in the Old Testament and reminds us that this relationship is ours now too. We as the church are holy, set apart to be His possession. He alone is light and the rest of the world is darkness.
The concept is the same for us in the church, but how it happens is a little different. Jesus has come into the world in the flesh, He who is known as Immanuel, “God with us.” In Ephesians 2, St. Paul says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”
It is this presence of God, incarnated in the person of Jesus, that makes it possible for the church to be known as God’s people. So, when Jesus sits down to share a meal with His disciples, as families do, and establishes a new covenant with them, everything from Exodus 24 is pulled forward to our own day. The words Jesus uses are saturated with meaning and import. “This is my Body.” “This is my Blood of the new covenant…” Jesus brings His presence into the daily life of the church, setting Himself at its cornerstone. He establishes His presence among us because it is only in that presence that we are distinct from the rest of the world. The rest of the world is darkness, but here light is found, and that light was the Light of men.
When Luther argues against Calvin’s point that Christ cannot possibly be physically present in the Lord’s Supper because He is seated at the right hand of God, he talks mainly about the plain language Jesus uses. “This is…” can only mean “This is…” There is no ambiguity to be had there. What is at stake is more than just semantics. It is the very cornerstone of the church. If Christ is not present among His people, then can we truly be thought of as His people? Moses thinks not.
Beyond anything else the church might do, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is what establishes it as a church, as the people of God. In light of this, any arguments made against having Communion as often as possible become absurd. It is in this place and time that we are most perfectly the people of God, for it is here and only here in God’s unique and special presence that we are known as His.