We are here today, assembled in the name of Jesus, for several reasons. But perhaps the biggest reason is that we are God’s ekklēsia,* his church.
Jesus and the apostles call us the ekklēsia because the word has an important history going back to the Exodus.
You know, we often fail to realize how deeply the Exodus account is embedded in Christianity. But much of our language is taken from the Exodus.
For example, we know that as Christians, God has “redeemed” us. We forget that to “redeem” is to rescue from slavery — just as Israel was rescued from Egyptian slavery.
Just so, we begin our Christian journey with God by passing through water, just as the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea.
And we are gathered here to take part in God’s spiritual food — just as God fed the Israelites in the desert.
Indeed, just as was true for Israel, we’re on a journey to the Promised Land, led by God, making our way through the desert together.
And as God’s ekklēsia, we are in camp together, traveling together. Outside there is only desert. But inside the camp, God himself dwells among us to lead us through the wilderness to the Land of Milk and Honey.
During the Exodus, God’s ekklēsia was the children of Israel, encamped together and gathered to hear God’s word.
In Deuteronomy, God describes this event as his ekklēsia —
(Exo 19:16-19 ESV) 16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.
God then spoke the Ten Commandments.
(Exo 20:18-20 ESV) 18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”
(Exo 24:7 ESV) 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”
Get the picture. God is on Mt. Sinai — visible as fire and clouds, and the Israelites can hear his voice, sounding like a trumpet and thunder. They are terrified. They beg Moses to tell God to speak through Moses, so scared are they of the voice of God.
God has Moses gather the people at the foot of the mountain, and Moses announces the Ten Commandments and four chapters of other laws. The people respond, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”
And in Deuteronomy, God himself calls this ekklēsia. This is church.
Later, God tells the Israelites —
(Deu 31:12-13 ESV) 12 “Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, 13 and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”
God called for assemblies in every town where his Law would be forever read and the people would renew their covenant with him. This is church.
Here’s the story of the church. God chose certain people to believe in him and to be rescued from slavery. He freed them and led them through water on a mission — a life spent in the desert, but in the desert with God.
In the desert, he fed them and gave them drink. He led them and protected them. He entered into covenant with them.
And he told them to regularly pause in their journey, to gather together, to hear his words once again, and to re-commit to his commands.
He also promised to be with them every step of the way, to tell them when to go forward and when to wait. And he promised to live among them.
(Lev 26:12 ESV) 12 “And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”
And now, for this moment, we are in camp with God. He is walking among us. He is our God, and we are his people. And we are together because we are most truly God’s ekklēsia when we are together, in community, at the foot of God’s mountain, in awe of his presence, as one — pausing in our mission to be reminded of his words and so to be renewed to continue our journey.
Soon, his word will be spoken to you, and I pray that we will respond, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”
This bread we eat and cup we drink are covenant promises. That’s what they mean. They seal our promises to God, just as the sacrifice of Jesus sealed his promises to us.
Eat well. Drink deeply.