Formations 03.15.2015: Soul Food

Isaiah 25:6-10; Mark 14:13-16, 22-26

Ham hock and black-eyed peas

Ham hock and black-eyed peas

Last month, Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois hosted its annual soul food dinner honoring the accomplishments of black people both living and dead. More than 150 people attended the event, at which fifth-graders from local schools portrayed twenty-eight important African Americans including athletes like Wilma Rudolph and Muhammad Ali and activists like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.

After the children’s presentation, attendees enjoyed a buffet that featured greens, sweet potatoes, chitlins, and other traditional dishes.

The event, which coincides with Black History Month, has taken place annually since 2001 and has been hosted by a number of local schools.

This year, the meal took a poignant turn as Michelle Mitchell, the organizer of the event, invited attendees to observe a moment of silence for Ida Brooks, a retired physical education teacher and an advisor for the event, who recently passed away after a long hospitalization.

Meals seem a natural way both to celebrate and to commemorate. In Decatur, Illinois, a tradition has developed of doing just that to remember the contributions African Americans have made to our culture.

The same was true in the time of Jesus, when Jews ate the Passover meal to celebrate God’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery. In this context, Jesus shared a final meal with his disciples that was rich in Old Testament symbolism. Part of that symbolism involves the future messianic banquet described in Isaiah 25 and elsewhere. Seen in this light, the Last Supper was an event of deep eschatological significance—a theme highlighted by Jesus’ remark in Mark 14:25 about drinking wine again in the kingdom of God.

As Christians share this meal today, we stand in the same tradition, remembering the death of Jesus but also proclaiming his resurrection and awaiting his coming again.

Theresa Churchill, “Black Lives Portrayed, Celebrated at Millikin Meal,”, 18 Feb 2015


• When have you attended a banquet in someone’s honor such as a retirement banquet, an induction ceremony, or some other celebration? What was this like?
• How do such meals help us remember and express our appreciation for others?
• How do such meals give us hope for the future?
• Should the Lord’s Supper be only about the death of Jesus? How can it also point to the themes of hope and fulfillment? How can it be a proclamation of resurrection faith?

Reference Shelf

The Messianic Banquet

In Isa 25:6 a promise of an eschatological banquet is found: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.” The prospect of this final banquet, where death will be swallowed up (25:8), is also relevant to the Christian understanding of the Eucharist.

In the Dead Sea Scrolls, a messianic banquet is described—a meal of the community at the end of days, at which the messiahs of Aaron and Israel would preside (1QSa).

John J. Collins, “Banquet ,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 85.

Jesus Gives Himself

The central point of Mark’s account of the Last Supper both structurally and theologically is the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the giving of the bread and the wine. Because of the early use of this tradition in the church’s worship, it has connections with key passages in the Old Testament, parallel texts elsewhere in the New Testament, meal scenes and pronouncements earlier in Mark, and practices and concepts reflected in a variety of ancient texts. Sacred meals were common in Graeco-Roman paganism as well as in Judaism, and bread and wine, along with fish, were staples of the Mediterranean diet. Not surprisingly, all of these common elements acquired religious significance. The Jewish text Joseph and Asenath refers to eating “blessed bread of life” and drinking “a blessed cup of immortality” (8:5, 11; 15:5; 16:16) in contrast to the idolatrous pagan meals that offer “bread of strangulation” and “a cup of insidiousness” (8:5). A Qumran text describes a messianic meal at which the congregation of Israel will eat the first fruit of the bread and drink the new wine (1Q28a[1QSa] II.17-20). The primary background, however, is the liturgy for the Passover meal as derived from Exodus 12 and developed over the centuries (Jub. 49; m. Pesahim…). Significantly, Mark makes no reference to most of the liturgy for the meal and does not mention the lamb or the bitter herbs, only the bread and the wine. Before the meal and after the second cup of wine the paterfamilias pronounced a blessing over the bread. Mishnah Berakoth 6.1 prescribes the traditional blessing over bread: “[Blessed art thou] who bringest forth bread from the earth.” Then, the head of the family broke the bread and gave it to each person, who dipped it in the bitter herbs and stewed fruit. Following the meal he blessed the third cup of wine. Again, Mishnah Berakoth 6.1 prescribes the traditional blessing over wine: “[Blessed art thou] who createst the fruit of the vine.” Following each blessing, Jesus departed from the customary liturgy and infused the meal with new meaning by the words he spoke relating the bread and the cup to himself, his coming death, the new covenant it established, the promise of the coming of the kingdom, and the eschatological banquet they would share when they next ate together.

This Passover meal was but the last of many occasions on which the disciples had eaten with Jesus, privately, as guests in the homes of others, and feeding the crowds who came to Jesus. In these accounts the consistent feature is Jesus’ signature act of taking bread, blessing it, breaking it, and giving it (Mark 6:41; 8:6; John 6:11; Luke 24:30; 1 Cor 11:23-24). The early Christian practice of the fellowship meal became known as “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7; Luke 24:30-31, 35). Mark uses the same verb for blessing (eulogein) in v. 22 that he used in 6:41 and 8:7. The parallels in language in the three feeding scenes are striking, with only minor variations in whether the blessing of the bread and fish or bread and cup are reported once or separately, whether eulogein or eucharistein is used for the blessing, and whether the simple or compound form of the verb “to break” is used. Just as Jesus had given the people bread earlier, so now he gives them himself….

The disciples’ last supper with Jesus not only fulfilled the Passover observance that was rooted deep in Israel’s history and interpreted the events that were unfolding that very evening, it also looked forward to the fulfillment of all of God’s redemptive work in the great eschatological banquet (Isa 25:6; 2 Bar. 29:5-8; Matt 8:11; Luke 14:15; Rev 19:9). Mark 14 has four of Mark’s thirteen solemn “Amen, I say to you” sayings (14:9, 18, 25, 30…). Because the meal ends with the singing of a song, traditionally the latter part of the Hallel (Pss 115–118), with no mention of a further cup—the fourth cup, Lane surmises that Jesus abstained from the fourth cup, making his pronouncement that he would not drink again of “the fruit of the vine” (cf. Num 6:4; Isa 32:12; Hab 3:17) until he drank it new in the kingdom of God (14:25; cf. Luke 22:15-16) even more dramatic. The kingdom of God, the reader will remember, is not an extension of the old, but the inauguration of a radically new reality, the glorious reign of God (cf. Zech 14:9). Old wineskins cannot contain it (2:21-22); it will be new wine.

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007) 493–96.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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