Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Prepared to Come to the Table? שֻׁלְחַן אֲדֹנ

Seudat Hamashiach "Meal of Messiah" aka (Shulcan Adon) Table of the Lord

What exactly is this ritual that many non-Jewish believers in Yeshua call "Communion"?  How did we go from a full Passover Seder, with 4 cups, a Haggadah that tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt; and 4 Questions and 4 different types of sons... to a bunch of broken matzah on a plate with a cup of wine that is a symbol of the Messiah's Body & Blood?

As Messianic Jewish believers, we can easily see the fulfillment of Yeshua and who He is in the ritual of the Afikomen (the dessert part of the end of the Seder where the hidden matzah is wrapped in linen, buried away; and then brought back and redeemed - "Resurrected")!  We do this year in and year out, and its all great and awesome, right?

But really, should we go so far as to partake in a "goyisha" tradition that has some kind of resemblance to Kiddush, but really isn't "Kiddush"?  If so, what basis do we stand on for doing so other than that we Messianic believers are One with our non-Jewish brothers in the Body of Messiah as One New Man?

Many Messianic Jewish congregations struggle with this concept - some choose easily to do the ritual at home, in the synagogue, all the time, rarely, or sometimes even once a month.  Some Messianic congregations choose not to observe it at all and rather remember Messiah's death and Resurrection only once a year at the Passover Seder.  And while each community is autonomous and does it's own tradition (which is perfectly fine); as long as we are "remembering Him" as He commanded us... (I Corinth. 11:25)... Many unfortunately don't have an answer as to "WHY" they do "communion" or not!  So the purpose of this article is to give some answers as to "WHY" we do what we do here at Tikvat in Cleveland, Ohio.

Certainly, we as Messianic Jews, and Messianic non-Jews who stand with us in faith and in our community as members of our synagogue; DO NOT see Yeshua (i.e. Jesus) as coming to start a new "Religion" or start some weird ritual that transforms the Passover Seder; morphing it into some strange concoction of a hybrid  "Hebrew-Christian" cultish sacrament or "ceremony".  Rather, and for the record, most all Messianic Jewish mainstream legitimate congregations clearly see that Yeshua was observing and celebrating a Passover Seder, as it was observed in the 1st Century.

Now of course, rabbinic traditions have evolved and have been added to the Seder table for the last 2 thousand years, as it is debatable that all Jews ate a "Hillel Sandwich" at the time of Jesus; nor is it likely that a roasted egg was ever on a Seder plate at the "Last Supper".  The egg representing the Hagiggah offerings that once existed on the Alter in the Holy Temple, which at the time of Yeshua, the Temple was still standing and the Mosaic sacrificial system was still in full operation.

So we know certainly that traditions did and do evolve, and God does allow for religious authority to adapt customs that remain faithful to the Biblical narrative. 

With this said, let's tackle the question at hand - should Messianic Jewish believers keep a ritual commonly known as "Communion".  To answer this, I'd like to examine some very old sources that can shed new light on this tradition, and where it came from; namely even early Messianic Jews in the early centuries right after the Resurrection of Yeshua and the time of the Roman occupation. 

The Didache or "Teaching of the Twelve Apostles", is; According to the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906: "[it the Didache is] A manual of instruction for proselytes, adopted from the Synagogue by early Christianity, and transformed by alteration and amplification into a Church manual. Discovered among a collection of ancient Christian manuscripts in Constantinople by Bryennios in 1873, and published by him in 1883, it aroused great interest among scholars. The book, mentioned by Eusebius ("Hist. Eccl." 3:25) and Athanasius ("Festal Letters," 39) in the fourth century, had apparently been lost since the ninth century. The most acceptable theory among the many proposed on the character and composition of the "Didache" is that proposed by Charles Taylor in 1886, and accepted in 1895 by A. Harnack (who in 1884 had most vigorously maintained its Christian origin)— that the first part of the "Didache," the teaching concerning the "Two Ways" ("Didache," ch. i.-vi.), was originally a manual of instruction used for the initiation of proselytes in the Synagogue, and was converted later into a Christian manual and ascribed to Jesus and the Apostles. To it were added rules concerning baptism, fasting, and prayer, the benedictions over the wine and the bread and after the communion meal, and regulations regarding the Christian community (ch. vii.-xvi.). The Jewish student is concerned chiefly with the first part, the title and contents of which are discussed here."

So, even Jewish scholars see this document, first as "very ancient" going all the way back to the very beginning, perhaps even the Apostles themselves; and secondly, they see that initially it is a very, very, "Jewish Document" frankly originally used for conversion into Judaism by rabbis at the time.  If both of these theories are historically accurate; which we have no reason to assume they are not; then what it says about the the traditions concerning the Lord's Table can teach us a lot today.

Like the Brit Chadasha (New Testament); the Didache was originally written in Greek, the common vernacular used by the entire world for use in common everyday business and communication after Alexander the Great's Hellenization of the known world he conquered. Chapter 9 of the Didache gives direction on how the ritual of "communion" was to be observed.  It begins by using the Greek word: εὐχαριστία "eucharistía", which is where we get the word "Eucharist".  This word automatically creates a picture in the 21st Century mind of a Catholic priest wearing a long robe holding up a white (almost plastic) wafer over a brass chalice standing underneath a Crucifix!!!  However, I challenge the reader to exercise your mind and realize that no such thing existed in the first century, and this Greek word simply means "To Give Thanks".  In this definition we can clearly see we are not necessarily talking about the image I just described.  Didache 9 continues with instruction on how to do this and what to say first over the Cup and then over Bread; the Jewish Encyclopedia continues...

"the dependence upon Jewish custom is especially indicated by the following thanksgiving formulas:
(1) Over the cup: "We give thanks to Thee, our Father, for the holy wine of David Thy servant which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus Thy servant." This strange formula is the Jewish benediction over the wine,"Blessed be Thou who hast created the fruit of the vine" Christianized (compare Psalm 80:15 , Targum 116:13 refers to David at the banquet of the future life Pes. 119b John 15:1 compare Taylor, l.c. pp. 69,129). (2) Over the broken bread: "We give thanks to Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus Thy servant. As this broken bread, scattered upon the mountains and gathered together, became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy Kingdom!" (compare the benediction "Raḥ em" according to Rab Naḥman, which contains a reference to Psalm 147:2 Ber. 49a). (3) Over the meal: "We thank Thee, O holy Father, for Thy holy name, which Thou hast caused to dwell [κ α τ ε σ κ η ν ω σ α ς , reference to the Shekinah] in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus Thy servant. Thou, Almighty Lord, didst make all things for Thy name's sake Thou gavest food and drink to men for enjoyment that they might give thanks to Thee, but to us Thou didst freely give spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Thy servant. . . . Remember, O Lord, Thy Church to deliver her from all evil and to perfect her in love of Thee, and gather her together from the four winds, sanctified for Thy Kingdom which Thou didst prepare for her. Let grace come and let this world pass away! Hosanna to the Son of David" (ix.-x:6).

The original Jewish benediction over the meal was a thanksgiving for the food and for the Word of God, the Torah as the spiritual nurture, and a prayer for the restitution of the kingdom of David. The Church transformed the Logos into the incarnated son of God, while expressing the wish for His speedy return to the united congregation (the Church). It is the prayer of the Judæ o-Christian community of the first century, and this casts light upon the whole Christianized "Didache." (Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906)

Interestingly, it is the Didache that even instructs early believers to say Grace After the Meal in Chapter 10!  This too is completely Jewish!

Therefore, coming back to our original question, should we, today, as Messianic believers observe the Shulcan Adonai (Table of the Lord)?

Well, the evidence shows that truly, the Apostles and early Messianic Jewish believers did keep the custom of giving thanks over bread and wine, and said the Grace after Meals, and it was symbolically connected the vicarious death and powerful Resurrection of the Messiah.  This said, it is indeed our custom here at Tikvat Yisrael to keep the traditions of our Jewish people, including that which has come from the early generations of Messianic Jews.   So ultimately the answer is YES.  But that leads to another question...

If so, "HOW"?  How should a Messianic Jew today observe the Lord's Table (i.e. Seudat Hamashiach)?

The question is NOT about the procedure of just showing up and saying a "Barucha" and then taking a piece of matzah and a sip of wine.  The Didache as well as the Brit Chadasha have much to say about the spiritual "PREPARATION" of ourselves that goes into the ritual of the Shulcan Adonai.  And this is what I'd like to conclude this article on.

I Corinthians 11:27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the Lord’s cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and then let him eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For the one who eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and quite a few have died. 31 For if we were judging ourselves thoroughly, we wouldn’t be coming under judgment.

Most people today - take about 5 minutes to pray and then walk down the isle and pop in that matzah.  When you study the history of Messianic Jews, the Didache, as well as the practices outlined in the Brit Chadasha, we see something different. 

While Didache 9 outlines the procedure of the liturgy and blessings when taking the elements of communion; it is Didache 8 that actually tells us how a person "PREPARES THEMSELVES FOR TAKING THE BODY AND BLOOD OF THE MESSIAH YESHUA"...

Didache 8.1 says, "Your fast should not coincide with those of the hypocrites, for they fast on the second day of the week and on the fifth day.  But you are to fast on the fourth day and on the Preparation day."

From this, as well as other Biblical passages, we clearly see that it was the custom of Messianic believers to regularly pray & FAST two days a week!  Yes, FASTING TWO DAYS A WEEK!  REALLY?  YES REALLY!  This was all in preparation for Shabbat (7th Day) - (i.e. Saturday), in the Messianic Synagogues when the believers would come together for the Shulcan Adonai.

According to Janicki, "In the late Second Temple Period, these public fasts were limited primarily to Monday and Thursday, which were both market days and times when public court hearings were held." The Talmud in Ta'anit 1:4 says, " In the seventeenth of Marcheshvan (Cheshvan) came and no rain fell, the Jews begin to fast three fasts, (Monday, Thursday, and Monday).  Some pious individuals took to fasting on Monday and Thursday every week, regardless of whether or not public fasts had been declared.  The evidence for this appears in the Gospels, in which a Pharisee in one of Yeshua's parables boasts, "I fast twice a week." (Luke 18:12). (Janicki, 2017).

It is also common today, for the Torah to be read in public synagogue services on Mondays and Thursdays with the idea conveyed that a person must eat food no less than once every 3 days; so too one must have Spiritual Nourishment, with the Devar Elohim (Word of God), Torah read no less than once every three days.  If you go to Shul and hear Torah on Mondays, Thursdays and Shabbat - you have the basic essentials for staying alive, spiritually.  (Of course we all must eat more than that)!  So the early Messianic Jews while not wanting to separate completely from the Jewish community did yet want to make a distinction by preparing and fasting on Wednesdays as well as Fridays (Preparation Day), getting ready for Shabbat and the Seudat Hamashiach.

So to wrap things up; what are you doing to prepare for the Shulcan Adonai each week or month?  Here at Tikvat, we observe the Seudat Hamashiach (Meal of Messiah) on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, (Sabbath of the New Moon), which is the last Sabbath that preceeds the first day of each Hebrew Calendar Month. See Numbers 28, which commands Israel to sanctify Rosh Chodesh as a festival unto Adonai.   As I am writing this article, we are only 2 days away from Shabbat HaChodesh!

Shabbat HaChodesh ("Sabbath [of the] month" שבת החודש) precedes the first of the Hebrew month of Nisan during which Passover is celebrated. Exodus 12:1-20 and the laws of Passover. On the first day of Nisan, God presented the first commandment of how to "sanctify the new moon" (kiddush hachodesh) for the onset of Rosh Chodesh and thus Nisan becomes the first month of the Jewish year (counting by months.).

So it is timely that I ask you again - WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO PREPARE FOR THE NEW MONTH - THE MEAL OF MESSIAH?

This is not only a new month, this Shabbat... but also a New Biblical Year!

Exodus 12:2 “This month (Aviv) will mark the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year for you.

HAPPY NEW YEAR - CHODESH TOV!

R' Eric 






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