Is Eating the Lamb of God Only an Annual Event?
"Look," said John the Baptist, "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
When you think of Jesus as the lamb of God, which lamb do you identify him with? Perhaps 1 Corinthians 5:7 pops into your mind: "For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." Jesus is our Passover Lamb. Based on that understanding, some people keep the Lord's Supper as an annual event.
Jesus commanded us to "eat his flesh and drink his blood" by taking the bread and wine of communion. In doing so, we partake of the Lamb of God. Some do it annually because they see the Lamb of God as the Passover lamb, and the Passover was an annual observance.
But Jesus is more than just the Passover lamb. As the "lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" he is every lamb of every burnt offering, sin offering, guilt offering or peace offering of the old covenant. In fact, Jesus is the fulfillment of all the sacrifices of the old covenant period. We read in Hebrews that the law with its sacrifices and offerings was a shadow of things to come, and that the reality or fulfillment of the shadow was Jesus Christ. His one sacrifice achieved everything foreshadowed by the sacrifices of the old covenant (Heb. 10:1-18).
The Passover lamb was not the only sacrifice eaten by the Israelites. In some offerings — sacrifices that could be offered at any time of year — after a few parts of the sacrificial animal had been burned, the rest of the animal was eaten by those who participated in the sacrificial ceremony. Sometimes it was eaten by the priest and his sons (sin offering and guilt or trespass offering), and sometimes the person who brought the offering and his family also ate of the sacrifice (various kinds of fellowship or peace offerings).
This practice is what Paul had in mind when he wrote in 1 Cor. 10:18, "Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?" Eating part of the sacrifice was an act that displayed the offerer's participation in the sacrifice, his relationship with the one to whom the sacrifice had been offered. Paul said that just as the people of Israel participated in the altar when they ate of the sacrifices they brought to the altar, so Christians participate in the body and blood of Christ when they eat the bread and wine of communion (verses 16-17).
How often, then, might an Israelite have partaken of the "lamb of God"? As often as he liked: there was no restriction. As often as he brought a fellowship offering, he would share in the meal. If the Israelite happened to be a priest or the son of a priest, he might be eating God's lambs many times a year.
What does all this have to do with the Lord's Supper? Just this: the priests of the old covenant freely and frequently ate of the lambs that were brought to the altar. The author of Hebrews points out that we Christians "have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat." His implication is that just as they had their altar to eat from, we have our own altar to eat from. And by extension, as freely as they ate from theirs, we may eat from ours.
This points us to the conclusion that Christians, who under the new covenant, are a nation of priests (1 Pet. 2:9), may eat of the sacrificial Lamb of God just as freely and frequently as did those priests of the old covenant. We are not restricted to eating the Lamb of God only once a year, any more than they were.
Jesus is always our sin offering; he is always our guilt offering; he is always our peace and thank offering. When we sin, he invites us to "eat my flesh and drink my blood," and remember that we have forgiveness in him. When we fall prey to guilt, he urges us to "eat my flesh and drink my blood," and remember we are free from condemnation in him.
When we rejoice in his blessings he calls us to his table to "eat my flesh and drink my blood," and rejoice in him. Thank God our Father for the communion he gives us with himself in his beloved Son!