THE MESSIAH AND THE PASSOVER
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
It is quite a normal thing in Christian churches to celebrate the Lord’s Supper / Communion / the Eucharist. It is often done, however, without the participants having much if any understanding of the ceremony’s biblical background or purpose. So, let’s look into the Scripture and see what we can learn . . .
Read through the text above. Did you notice what it was that Jesus “eagerly desired” to share with His disciples? Most Christians look at the passage above and say, “It was Communion,” or “They were celebrating the Lord’s Supper.” Those are not wrong answers, and they fit into our own experience as Christians. It is not a complete answer, however. In the text Jesus said: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you.” Jesus and His disciples were actually sharing the Seder meal, the traditional way for Hebrew families to celebrate the Passover.
The word “Seder” means “a telling.” It is during this special meal that fathers have the opportunity to tell their children about God’s miraculous and powerful rescue of His people from bondage and death during the Exodus. And on the night before his crucifixion Jesus used the meal as a means of “telling” His disciples the redemptive significance of the events that were about to take place. When we celebrate it as a church it serves the same purpose – to recount the miraculous and powerful way that the Lord Jesus rescued us from our bondage to sin and death.
You will notice that there are three specific events that Luke records in some detail; the first cup, the breaking of bread, and the final cup.
THE FIRST CUP - After the lighting of candles, the Seder begins by drinking the first cup, known as “the cup of blessing”. If He followed the Passover traditions Jesus would have said: “With this cup we set this night apart, as different from all other nights.” He then would have prayed, “Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe who creates the fruit of the vine. Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.” In our celebration of the Lord’s Supper we do not include the first cup. We do, however, set the elements apart – as Jesus would have set the night apart - through prayer.
THE BREAKING OF BREAD – Included in the Passover is an odd little tradition featuring a cloth bag with three compartments. A piece of matzo (unleavened bread) is placed into each of them. At one point in the Seder, the middle piece is taken out, broken, wrapped in a linen cloth, and hidden away. Later, the children are allowed to search for it and the one who finds it and returns it receives a gift. The Seder could not end until this special piece of bread was recovered and shared. Remember that this odd tradition has been followed by the Jewish people every year for thousands of years. Why? What were God’s people supposed to learn from it? In Christ we see the clear explanation. The three pieces of unleavened bread represent God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Son – represented by the middle matzo - came to earth, gave Himself to be broken for us, was hidden away in the tomb for a time, and was raised from the dead. In Him is the gift of eternal life. We don’t have to wonder about it. Jesus Himself: “. . . took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."
THE FINAL CUP – Notice that the text specifically says that it was “after the meal” that this cup was shared. In the Passover tradition, the cup shared immediately after the meal is called “the cup of redemption.” Again Jesus used this tradition to “tell” his disciples what was going to happen and why. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood,” he said. The shedding of blood – the death of the sacrificial lamb – was necessary to bring about forgiveness and atonement. And Jesus was telling them that it was His blood that would be shed; He was the sacrificial lamb. I am sure he looked each one in the eye as He said, “my blood, which is poured out for you.”
So church, as we gather as a family of Christ-followers to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we need to set apart the morning, even as Jesus set apart that sacred evening. And as we receive the bread let us remember that Jesus gave Himself to suffer for our sake. He died a very real death and was put into a tomb, hidden away from light and life. But He was victorious over death and the grave, and through Him so shall it be with us! The cup of redemption was emptied for our sake; the precious blood of the Lamb of God was spilled so that our sin might be forgiven and our relationship with God might be restored. That is the story we tell when we celebrate the communion.
Praise the Lord, because of His grace,“It is finished!”
Pastor Keith Andrews