The First “Last Supper”

Scripture Focus: Hosea 14.2, 4
2 Take words with you
    and return to the Lord.
Say to him:
    “Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
    that we may offer the fruit of our lips.

4 “I will heal their waywardness
    and love them freely,
    for my anger has turned away from them.

Reflection: The First “Last Supper”
By Erin Newton

Each year, my dad texts me to say The Ten Commandments is on TV. A 1956 classic (although flawed in many ways), this movie was my favorite. Many Christians know of the story of Moses and the plagues but forget how that relates to the New Testament story of the death of Jesus.

The Hebrews were connected to God in a special way, covenanted to him through their lineage from Abraham. They were God’s chosen people, promised a blessing of land, progeny, and honor. But as time tends to reveal, the errors of a few people created ripple effects among the whole. Despite the promise of blessing, they became slaves to a brutal nation.

From Egyptian oppression, God heard their prayers for help. He raised up Moses to lead the people. Plagues tormented the land. With each plague, the Pharaoh continued to harden his heart until he became an immovable force. The final plague would cost the life of each firstborn child. It was to be the greatest tragedy of their day, “There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again” (Exodus 11.6).

But there was hope for the Israelites. Despite the edict that death would visit every family, a way of salvation was given. God told the people to sacrifice an unblemished lamb spreading the blood on their doors. The lamb would die so they could live. This day was to be remembered for generations. “And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians’” (Exodus 12.26-27a).

The Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover honored the day which God looked upon the blood of an innocent lamb and averted his wrathful judgment. This same meal is what Jesus and his disciples celebrated at the Last Supper.

As Good Friday approaches, remember Passover. This celebration was given as a picture of atonement that would one day be fulfilled in the death of Jesus Christ. Because of his death, judgment passes over us. We are safe, veiled behind the blood of the Lamb.

Let us pray just as the book of Hosea ends, taking words of praise to God. He loves us freely and his wrath has turned away.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Let them know that this is your hand, that you, O Lord, have done it. — Psalm 109.26

Today’s Readings

Hosea 14  Listen – 1:39)
Psalm 148  (Listen -1:28)

Read more about Fasting and Feasting
The one biblical feast most Christians know about is Passover or Pesach. This celebration is a combination of fasting and feasting.

Read more about Names of Jesus—Priest, Lamb, and Vine
He is called lamb, because of his perfect innocence; a sheep, to symbolize his Passion.

Dead Man Walking

Scripture Focus: Hosea 7.13b-14a
…I long to redeem them
    but they speak about me falsely.
14 They do not cry out to me from their hearts
    but wail on their beds…

Reflection: Dead Man Walking
By Erin Newton

Neither red nor blue can save you. Neither can apathy. Elizabeth Achtemeier says, “Anyone who thinks that the concerns of faith should never be mixed with the concerns of politics will have a difficult time with Hosea, chapter 7, for it is with Israel’s political life that this section deals.” 

Israel has reached a level of corruption that reveals she has reached rock-bottom. Like a cancer that has spread to every vital organ in a body, there remains no sign of health. Prophets were the faithful minority of the nation and even in this case, Hosea is married to a woman with a tainted reputation. 

The people are deceitful, thieving, and unfaithful. They sin with the flippant attitude that God doesn’t see. Israel is hedged by sin like a wildfire. Either they don’t know or simply don’t care. 

During the 8th century BCE, the political powers began to shift with the rise of the Assyrian Empire. Israel rushed to appease the Assyrians by paying an enormous tribute (2 Kgs 15) and later the nation appeased the Assyrian king with more money after a failed attempt to get help from Egypt (2 Kgs 17). Within Israel, four of the kings were assassinated during the two decades leading up to Israel’s demise in 722 BCE. 

Israel was desperate for help; she got in bed with any political alliance that promised security. The people were covenanted with the Creator of the universe, yet Israel preferred to reach out for any other tangible companionship. Playing the harlot, she gave herself to powers that seemed advantageous. Israel forgot her unique identity.

Israel was supposed to be different. God had called them from bondage and into freedom through a relationship with Him. The nation is described as a man with gray hair. As a sign of aging, these metaphoric gray hairs go unnoticed. She is terminal; Israel is a dead man walking. 

Cancer starts with microscopic cells that begin to divide uncontrollably. These errant cells spread to the surrounding tissue. Unchecked, cancer corrupts every healthy part. Like cancer, sin begins in small ways. Israel was no exception to this rule. We are no exception to this rule. The small sins which we believe God cannot see can take root and infect our entire being.

Without repentance, we are dead men walking. He longs to redeem us if we call on him and not our tempters.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and in misery.
Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; save your servant who puts his trust in you. — Psalm 86.1-2

Read more about Come Out of Babylon 
For some Christians, political parties have become our true religion.

Read more about Pain and Healing
Hosea shows how far God is willing to go to heal and restore…God is committed to our healing and restoration. Call on him.

Proper Desire

Scripture Focus: Song of Songs 7.10-12
10 I belong to my beloved,
    and his desire is for me.
11 Come, my beloved, let us go to the countryside,
    let us spend the night in the villages.
12 Let us go early to the vineyards
    to see if the vines have budded,
if their blossoms have opened,
    and if the pomegranates are in bloom—
    there I will give you my love.

Reflection: Proper Desire
By Erin Newton

If we overheard this kind of mushy, lovey-dovey, colorful language, many of us would turn red. In this chapter, we are privy to the most intimate description of the woman. It is incredibly flattering; he loves everything about her.

In response, she suggests that they run off to a romantic getaway. Interjected into this proposal, she reaffirms their mutual commitment. 

Just like the previous chapter, she is for her lover. In this case, the second half of the line declares that her lover’s desire is for her. Is this sexual impulse, authoritarian rule, or something more?

Debate has occurred over the term “desire.” It is used only three times in the Old Testament. After the fall in Genesis 3, the woman is said to desire her husband. Sin desires to consume Cain due to jealousy. And finally, the lover desires the woman. The rarity of the word draws attention to its use.

In Genesis 3, the mutual relationship between the man and woman in Eden was suddenly disrupted. This fall from paradise produces “one of the most grievous ills of our world: the unequal power relation between woman and man that has been a feature of nearly every society from biblical times to the present” (Ellen Davis). Her desire after the Fall still entailed her longing for the man as it was in Eden but the new order was a distortion of their relationship.

When viewed in light of creation and the fall, it is desire which seeks to return people to proper communion. Aimee Byrd, in The Sexual Reformation, sees desire as the longing to restore the pre-Fall relationship between men and women.

In the Song of Songs, restoration between the man and woman is exemplified in the lovers’ relationship. She is fully committed to him. He longs for her in a way that echoes the woman’s desire in Genesis 3. Let us redirect our desire to restore unity that was lost in Genesis. 

In this picturesque view of intimacy, it is important to realize that despite the ideal nature of their relationship, the lovers can never satisfy their deepest longings. Aimee Byrd aptly warns, “Unlike the many resources marketed to Christians today, it isn’t found in so-called biblical manhood or womanhood. Unlike the many who oppose them, it isn’t found in egalitarianism…Joy is found in properly oriented desire.” And that desire is found in Christ, our Bridegroom. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me. — Psalm 101.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 7Listen – 1:55)
Psalm 120-122(Listen -2:12)

Read more about Love is Not a Panacea
Why would we interpret sin on her part for being slow to rise and not sin on the man’s part for being absent in the first place?

Read more about Love Without Red Flags
“I am for my lover, and my lover is for me.” This literal translation reveals the self-giving attitude of the husband and of the wife. They are for one another.

Love without Red Flags

Scripture Focus: Song of Songs 6.3
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine;
    he browses among the lilies.

Reflection: Love without Red Flags
By Erin Newton

…the lover’s pursuit continues. The friends ask (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) where her lover has gone. The woman replies that he has gone away but adds the comment: I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. Maybe she was threatened by the interest of the friends. Or maybe it’s another praise of the fidelity of the lovers’ relationship.

What is she trying to say about their relationship? Is this a statement about dominance or authority? Is she simply warding off the possibility of seduction by laying claim to the man? If we understand this phrase as a sexual commitment of two lovers, 1 Corinthians 7.4 echoes this same sentiment. “A wife does not have the right over her own body, but her husband does. In the same way, a husband does not have the right over his own body, but his wife does.” (CSB translation)

Couples will likely give a hardy, “Amen,” to the suggestion of their spouse giving their bodies to one another in the context of sex. The guidance given to the Corinthians reveals the mutual equality of the relationship between these lovers. The idea moves beyond the concept of one person domineering the other; the husband and wife have the same instructions.

“The words express not clutching possessiveness but full belonging, one to the other,” Ellen Davis states. This is the ideal relationship. No red flags. No manipulation. This is the caring, selfless love of two people who seek the best for one another. It is easy to fulfill the desires of your spouse when that sense of mutual commitment and love is present.

This phrase which seems to summarize the essence of the ideal relationship is a four-word Hebrew phrase. You could translate it simply, “I am for my lover, and my lover is for me.” This literal translation reveals more of the self-giving attitude of the husband and the same self-giving attitude of the wife. They are for one another.

On Mount Sinai, God told the Israelites he would be their God and they would be his people (Leviticus 26.12). This relentless, fully committed love from God is our model.

A healthy relationship is a two-way street. The lovers share the same vision of respect, care, and desire for one another. In these statements, it can be hard to differentiate the words of the man and the words of the lover. Love is not self-seeking.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Let all peoples know that you, whose Name is Yahweh, you alone are the Most High over all the earth. — Psalm 83.18

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 6Listen – 1:48)
Psalm 119:145-176 (Listen – 15:14)

Read more about Sexuality and Spirituality
True love seeks to move beyond the self-absorption that is common in our culture.

Read more about You’re The Top
Balancing humility and honesty while receiving compliments is complex. Neither self-inflated pride nor self-effacing despair are healthy.

Sexuality and Spirituality

Scripture Focus: Song of Songs 1.15-16
15 How beautiful you are, my darling!
    Oh, how beautiful!
    Your eyes are doves.
16 How handsome you are, my beloved!
    Oh, how charming!
    And our bed is verdant.

Reflection: Sexuality and Spirituality
By Erin Newton

No other book in the Bible has elicited more diverging interpretations than the Song of Solomon. Also referred to as the “Song of Songs,” the title means the greatest of all songs.

Most interpretations are either allegorical or literal. The allegorical interpretation views the poetry as a depiction of the love between God and his people. Each body part mentioned correlates to some spiritual or geographical meaning. Throughout the Bible, the relationship between God and his people utilizes the language of marriage (and adultery).

The literal interpretation views the poem as a dialogue between two human lovers (ex: Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter). Some highlight the Ancient Near Eastern background connecting love songs to festivals.

Ellen Davis offers a complementary view into the Song which attempts to utilize both types of interpretation. “For a holistic understanding of our own humanity suggests that our religious capacity is linked with an awareness of our own sexuality.” This view balances the allegorical imagery of covenantal love with God and the marital love of two people. The Song should encourage us to apply holiness to our intimate sexual relationships. The Song also encourages us to keep our intimate spiritual relationship with God unadulterated. 

It can be difficult in our culture to imagine God’s love for his people as equivalent to the intimacy of lovers. We can barely talk about basic bodily functions without raising a warning flag that such content could be explicit. Likewise, our sexuality has become so taboo we have divorced the concept from our spirituality.

Our culture struggles with defining love. Ideas revolve around physical pleasure and reciprocal benefits. Love in our day is rarely long-lasting. Love is often self-centered and operates on a quid pro quo scenario.

Yet this poem opens with each lover praising the other. The attention of the lover is not to gratify the hormonal urge of the moment but to see each other in the fullness of one’s worth. You, as you are, are worthy of love. Love begins with praise.

In this way, Ellen Davis says that true love seeks to move beyond the self-absorption that is common in our culture. This same movement away from self and toward adoration of another is one that we ought to seek in our relationship with God. Selfless fascination with someone is only a small glimpse of the praise and adoration due to a far more worthy God.

Additional Reading: For more on Ellen Davis’s reading check out this article from The Bible Project

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Know this; The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. — Psalm 100.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 1 (Listen – 2:16)
Psalm 119:25-48 (Listen – 15:14)

This Weekend’s Readings
Song of Songs 2 (Listen – 2:15), Psalm 119:49-72 (Listen – 15:14)
Song of Songs 3 (Listen – 1:48), Psalm 119:73-96 (Listen – 15:14)

Read more about Setting a New Standard
No matter what culture’s moving needle says is moral, what matters to Jesus is God’s design.

Read more about Beyond Consent
When the only sexual ethic that exists is “consent” a lot of evil, manipulation, deception, and abuse gets a free pass.