Barry Newman's Blog

September 17, 2009

Christ Centred Communion (part II)

The Last Passover Meal

The Lord’s Supper has its origins in the “Last Passover Meal” – the one celebrated by the disciples of Jesus just before he died.  We cannot be certain, but in the time of Jesus, the Passover meal seems to have had certain formalities such as drinking wine from a cup at four different times, partaking of a special entree and a main course and the giving of  an explanation of the significance of the meal.  A Psalm was also sung.  The main meal consisted essentially of a lamb sacrificed earlier. Some of what was done was reflective of what the Scriptures required (Exodus 12).  During the Last Passover Meal Jesus said a number of unusual things.  Perhaps the most unusual were the two statements he made about his death.  According to Luke, Jesus broke some bread, gave thanks to God (this would have been at the beginning of the main meal) and then said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22: 19).  At the end of the main meal, taking a cup he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22: 20). Additionally Paul records that after referring to his blood Jesus said, “Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11: 25).  Matthew records that Jesus explained that the pouring out of his blood was for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26: 28).  What might strike us as a little odd is that John in his Gospel does not mention any of these things and that of all the Gospel writers only Luke refers to Jesus saying, “Do this in remembrance of me” and then only with reference to the bread.  Luke also records that at the beginning of the meal Jesus indicated that he had been eagerly anticipating the meal, but perhaps not in any joyful sense since the meal immediately preceded his suffering which he knew he had to endure (Luke 22: 15).  There is some suggestion in the text that Jesus himself did not participate in the meal (Luke 22: 16 – 18). Whereas Luke associates Jesus saying, “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” with wine drunk before the main meal (Luke 22: 17, 18), Matthew and Mark associate a similar saying with wine taken after the main meal (Matt. 26: 27 – 29, Mark 14: 23 – 25).

Passover meals were annual events instituted by God so that the Israelites would not forget that in the past God had delivered them in a most extraordinary manner from slavery and from the judgement meted out to the Egyptians who had enslaved them (Exodus 12).  Passover meals were essentially remembrance events.  During the Last Passover Meal Jesus clearly taught his disciples that this meal should be understood in a new way.  They were to look on the meal as a new remembrance event – God about to deliver his people from his judgment upon them, by the death of Jesus himself.  Passover meals in the time of Jesus were occasions for rejoicing as people remembered God’s deliverance of their forebears in ancient times.  However the Last Passover Meal was undoubtedly cloaked with sadness. In this atmosphere it is difficult to imagine that the words of Jesus were to be understood as a severe command.  They were more like an earnest heart-felt request.  He was about to die – to die for his disciples and for others yet to become his disciples.  He wanted them to understand this.

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