The True Last Supper

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Many Friends know George Fox through a few selected quotes that appear in their Faith and Practice or in memes on social media. Some have read Fox’s Journal, which has been through several editions to make it more accessible to modern readers. Fewer Friends have tried to read the tracts in Fox’s original language, and they often find them heavy going and even off-putting. The writing can be cranky, judgmental, wordy, and obscure because he alludes to Scripture passages that we Bible illiterates don’t catch. And yet, for longtime Friends, young Friends, and newcomers, the tracts contain some striking messages still relevant to our time.

In a tract published in 1685, “A Distinction Between the Two Suppers of Christ,” George Fox wrote about the significance of the term last supper. His repetitive and hyperbolic phrases make his message hard to follow, but I start by imagining that the tract is a sermon and Fox is preaching in a seventeenth-century British version of “‘whooping,” when the sermon of an African American preacher takes on a musical quality.

Fox downplays the importance of the traditional Christian last supper—known as the sacramental Eucharist or Communion—for three reasons. First, he reasoned it was not the last supper because there were several later occasions recounted in the gospels where the post-crucifixion Jesus appeared to his followers and ate meals with them. Second, Fox observed that any old reprobate (sinner condemned to damnation in Calvinism) could take part in or even offer Communion in a steeplehouse. In fact, Judas Iscariot attended the Passover supper with Jesus in the upper room, and he ended up as a reprobate by every standard.

Third, Fox pointed out that Communion was to be performed in remembrance of Christ until the Second Coming, but Fox believed that the Light of Christ had already come to teach his people himself. The tract may (or may not) imply that the traditional last supper was instituted by the man Jesus, not the risen Christ, so there may have been a hint of controversy or blasphemy in Fox’s day. Still, what, according to Fox, was the last supper?

The real last supper was Christ’s invitation to a mystical feast of love as revealed to John of Patmos, a Christian prophet who wrote the Book of Revelation about a hundred years after the death of Jesus: “I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you with me. . . . Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev. 3:20–22).

Fox was very fond of reiteration, hyperbole, and redundancy. He called Christ “the heavenly and spiritual man” and “the second Adam.” Christ was also “the Lord from heaven” who ruled in humans, and “the king of glory” whose divine will humans must follow. He makes it abundantly clear that this feast is an inward, mystical experience. If reimagined as a fiery sermon, his phrases pile up to set a cadence best appreciated in stanza form. Fox wrote:

Now they that come to this inward and heavenly supper,
and to sup with Christ, the heavenly and spiritual man,
the second Adam, the Lord from heaven,
since he is risen and ascended,
they must have their spiritual ear to hear the spiritual voice of Christ,
and his spiritual knocking at the door of their immortal souls and hearts,
and with his spirit, the spiritual man, the second Adam,
the Lord from heaven, the king of glory,
that he may come into their hearts and souls,
and then they to sup with him,
and he to sup with them the spiritual and heavenly supper.

Christ, or Spirit, or the Light, was inviting anyone who could hear and open their heart, soul, mind, and body so that the power could offer a mystical feast of love. Fox considered this the true last supper because the invitation to the mystical feast occurred after Jesus died, when Christ had come to teach his people himself. In fact, it was at the mystical supper that the teaching would take place. The last supper was not a physical supper with real bread and wine; it was a mystical feast with divine bread and wine. It was a covenant of love between the Divine and humans as individuals and as congregations (churches).

Friends are meant to be a loving and healing covenant community like Lloyd Lee Wilson described in Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order (1993):

Our primary bond is to God, which makes the community itself resilient and capable of great healing. The crises and interpersonal failures which could destroy a human community become, in the covenant community, opportunities for the love of God to heal and reconcile us to one another, and for the community to witness about God’s healing presence to the world.

Fox used verses from chapter 19 in Revelation to liken the covenant of love to a marriage. In this hymn (Rev. 19: 7–9), the “bride” is the individual or the imagined congregation:

Let us rejoice and exult; and we will pay him honor, for the hour for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. And to her it has been granted to robe herself in fine linen, white and pure, for the linen is the good deed of the people of the Anointed One. Then a voice said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who have been summoned to the marriage feast of the Lamb.’”

In the covenant, the Lamb, a metaphor for the Light of Christ, restores the wholeness of the bride, not by making a barter with death on the cross but by loving unconditionally.

Taking these verses as inspiration, Fox built up a hyperbolic image that fused feasting with commitment to the Lamb’s War: the drive for individual and social transformation. He connects the present to a preferred future where individuals are blessed and the world is just and peaceful. The Light of Christ will usher in a new future if and when a critical mass of humans bend their wills to the Divine.

For they that are come to this marriage supper of the Lamb,
are married to Christ, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven.
And these are they that hear his spiritual voice,
and he is come into them, and suppeth with them, and they with him;
and this is the marriage supper of the Lamb,
that taketh away the sins of the world,
and they that come to it are blessed.

Fox concluded the tract with a signature flourish of abuse for those who dared to ignore the invitation to the mystical feast of love with the Light of Christ and instead prefer the supper with physical elements, the bread and wine:

So here is a great difference betwixt the flesh and the blood of Christ,
or the bread which came down from heaven, which giveth life eternal,
and the elements of bread and wine, which reprobates and Judas’s may take and eat,
that have not life eternal, nor Christ in them, as the apostle saith,
“If Christ be not in you, ye are reprobates.”

Fox’s riff on Revelation 3:20 helped me tease apart my understanding of Jesus the man in contrast to the Light of Christ as the inner power that made early Friends quake (although that was not his intention). Centuries later, the mystic Thomas Kelly would use the same Bible text to describe the same power in A Testament of Devotion:

In this humanistic age we suppose man is the initiator and God is the responder. But the Living Christ within us is the initiator and we are the responders. God the Lover, the accuser, the revealer of light and darkness presses within us. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” And all our apparent initiative is already a response, a testimonial to His secret presence and working within us.

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Barbara Birch

Barbara Birch is a retired professor of applied linguistics, a member of Strawberry Creek Meeting in Berkeley, Calif., and a board member at Ben Lomond Quaker Center. She is the author of Lectio Divina: Revelation and Prophecy, forthcoming in the Quaker Quicks series from Christian Alternative Books. Contact:

3 thoughts on “The True Last Supper

  1. Fox is correct to emphasize a marriage supper with God as the first priority. However, we cannot forget Jesus taught us the best way to love our neighbors, and particularly for building trust with enemies, is to share real and fulfilling meals together conversing about God, morality, ethics, religion, etc. Cheap token symbols lack the bounty of God’s love. At least invite your neighbors to share a monthly potluck communion, which is different from communing with God.

    1. Thanks for pointing out the importance of gathering together around the table with real and fulfilling meals.
      Building trust with enemies, sharing about God, morality, ethics, religion, etc. Touching the bounty of God’s love through the shared meal.

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