As we meet the Lord at his table this Sunday it will help us to think on the relation of Old Testament sacrifices to "the body and the blood" we find on the table.

The late Louis Berkhof, in his wonderful 1938 work, Systematic Theology, spells out the connection for us:

Just as there were analogies to Christian baptism among Israel, there were also analogies of the Lord's Supper. Not only among the Gentiles, but also among Israel, the sacrifices that were brought were often accompanied with sacrificial meals. This was particularly a characteristic feature of the peace-offerings. Of these sacrifices only the fat adhering to the inwards was consumed on the altar; the wave-breast was given to the priesthood, and the heave-shoulder to the officiating priest (Lev. 7:28-34) while the rest constituted a sacrificial meal for the offerer and his friends, provided they were levitically clean (Lev. 7:19-21; Deut. 12:7,12). These meals taught in a symbolic way that 'being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.' They were expressive of the fact that, on the basis of the offered and accepted sacrifice, God receives His people as guests in His house and unites with them in joyful communion, the communal life of the covenant.

The necessity of a sacrifice revealed that the worshiper does not have within himself that which makes peace with God. We are not justified before God by our works (Eph. 2:8-9). Even the most sincerely pious communicant needed to bring a sacrificial substitute. No one was exempt. Neither the young nor the old could find peace with God without the shedding of blood. The sacrificial requirement said to all: "What you see in the cutting off of this animal in curse must befall you if you would presume to approach without a sacrifice. You must have a sin-bearer."

But the Old Testament sacrifices were not sufficient to atone for sin. They were repeated again and again as God required merely proving they were not taking away sin (see Hebrews 10:1-4). The repetition of the sacrifices pointed, however, to that one sacrifice which was sufficient: the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, God incarnate. The shedding of his blood brought an end to all sacrifices. Atonement for sin was finished by the precious blood of the unblemished Lamb.

When we come to the Lord's Table this Sunday there will be no blood. Not the blood of beasts nor the blood of man. Not even the real human blood of Jesus Christ. Why? Because it is finished. We do not come to the table to be justified. There is no blood there. We come to the cross to be justified. We come to the table to be renewed in the grace we already found at the blood-stained cross. The true sacrifice was offered once and for all for our justification. Now we engage in a new and very different repetition - the repetitive eating and drinking of the flesh and blood by symbol of bread and wine. This is no repeating of a sacrifice. This is a repeating of a feast for those once dead but now alive in Christ know the true strength of their pilgrimage is the grace of Christ crucified for sinners.

Berkhof again: "The all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ rendered all further shedding of blood unnecessary; and therefore it was entirely fitting that the bloody element should make way for an unbloody one which, like it, had nourishing properties."