Maundy Thursday – The Table and the Bread of the Presence

[The LORD said to Moses,] “Make a table of acacia wood—two cubits long, a cubit wide and a cubit and a half high. . . . Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times.” (Exodus 25:23,30)

[Jesus said,] “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)

It was an astounding miracle right before the Passover Feast. Thousands had come to Jesus on the hillside. Jesus took the lunch of a boy and gave thanks. Five loaves fed five thousand, not counting women and children.

The next day crowds went out to search for Jesus. They found him on the other side of the lake. They pursued him because they had full stomachs and wanted the gravy train to continue. Christ admonished them: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

The crowds wanted miracles. They wondered if Jesus could one-up Moses and the menu of manna from heaven. In response Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry.” Sadly, grumbling greeted Christ’s invitation. Hard hearts could not hear the grace offered.

Jesus used the context of miraculous meals to present himself as the only food that nourishes a soul with the gift of eternal life. Consider the context in John 6. Crowds fed by the loaves of a boy. A miracle. Desert wanderers sustained by manna. A miracle. Sinners alive forever, sustained by the Word Incarnate. “I am the living bread  that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” The miracle of grace, of forgiveness, of eternal life provided by a gracious God.

This same gracious God used bread to reveal the same gracious truth  in the Old Testament. Only God sustains life, both physical and eternal. In the Tabernacle there was a table of acacia wood overlaid with gold. It was placed in the Holy Place. On it was the “bread of the Presence,” sometimes called the showbread. There were 12 loaves, one for each tribe, arranged on the table. Every Sabbath new loaves were made while the old loaves were consumed by the priests. Week after week, month after month, decade after decade, a silent testimony was visible on the table of showbread.

The Savior God provides for his people. Over and over, he has proven his power to miraculously provide for the physical needs and nourishment of his people. The Scripture is replete with such testimony. Do not doubt Scripture’s promise that the Word of God creates and sustains our faith life. But beware. The desert wanderers of old quickly tired of the manna and God’s faithful daily providence. Does that ennui endanger our soul if we feel surfeited with Scripture? Satan tempts us to such sinful contempt. Lord, for the sake of your Son’s blood, cleanse our souls. Lord, instill in us a daily desire for quiet time in the Scriptures so that we are fed richly with Jesus, the Bread of Life!

Blessed Lord, who has caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, and that by patience and comfort of your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Rev. Mark Zarling serves Martin Luther College as president.