We have before us a Table, and not an altar. The distinction is not a slight one. We have gathered to offer a sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice of thanksgiving—not a sacrifice of propitiation. Propitiation is accomplished on an altar, and in God’s purposes that altar was the altar of the cross—prefigured throughout the Old Testament by the altars upon which sacrificial animals were slain. A different kind of sacrifice is offered up from tables—sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.
A moment’s reflection should show us that offering up true thanksgiving is not even a possibility unless propitiation has already been accomplished elsewhere and applied to us. Having been set free by the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross, we are invited to sit down at this Table and lift up a liberated sacrifice, gratitude and harmony together. This is the spiritual sacrifice that is the consequence of all that has gone before.
As a spiritual sacrifice, it supplants some of the tangible helps that our Old Covenant brothers and sisters used to employ. But even they looked forward to the time of our liberation. “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; And the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” (Ps. 141:2). Prayer replaces incense, and lifted hands replace the blood. Song fills all the space that used to be occupied by bloody altars. “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”” (Ps. 50:23, ESV). We are privileged to live in the day when we may without a qualm offer thanksgiving as our sacrifice. And that is what eucharist means—thanksgiving, not propitiation, thanksgiving because of the propitiation.
A sacrifice of true propitiation, by definition, can only happen once, and it did happen, outside Jerusalem, two thousand years ago. This means that it has to be a definitive sacrifice. As such, it provides a sure foundation for a continual sacrifice of another kind. “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:15).
And this is why I am no priest, offering up a victim. I, and the men here with me, are set apart to the privilege of being table waiters. We come to you in joy, bearing joy, and we call upon you to respond in joy.
So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.