October 16, 2009
October 14, 2009
There was a request by Jesus for his disciples to view the Last Passover Meal in a new way. Whenever such a Passover meal was to be held in the future, by any of his followers, they were to interpret the meal differently to the way that any had done in the past. They were to remember that he, by his death, was the ultimate saviour who delivers his people from the consequences of their sins. It would be a once a year remembrance. However, because his followers, Jews and Gentiles, had this one common allegiance to the Lord who had died for them they often came together to share a meal but more frequently than once a year. Yet at these meals there was no requirement for them to conduct a Christian ceremony nor does it appear that they did so. If the request of Jesus was meant to be an instruction applicable beyond Passover meals and to be understood as a commandment for his people, both Jews and Gentiles, for all time, it is odd that of all the Gospels, only Luke records the words, “Do this in remembrance of me”. One would expect to find such a global and important commandment to be found in all Gospels. Furthermore, unless one considers the sentiments of 1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26 to constitute the single exception, no such instruction is given by Paul, James, Peter or John in any of their letters.
Many of the Corinthian Christians came from and still lived in a pagan world and had to be careful about what they ate at their meals, community or otherwise. They were to refrain from eating meat that they knew had been offered to idols. Neither the wine they drank, nor the bread they ate, indeed, nothing about their meals, was to be associated with the gods of the pagan world. When, as Christians, they shared meals with each other they were to recognise the bond that they had with each other because they had the one Lord who had died for them. They were to treat one another as all one in Christ and this was to be evident in the conduct of their meals. They came together to eat. They did not come to participate in a Christian ceremony. When Paul refers to, as the translators have it, “The Lord’s Supper” it is not his title for a Christian ceremony. He is making a reference to a meal which does not have the Lord’s stamp upon it. It does not seem that there ever was a ceremony or rite observed by Christians of the New Testament reflective of the Last Passover Meal. Given the nature of the gospel and the freedom from Law that it entails – for freedom Christ has set us free (Gal. 5: 1) it would at least be very odd if not contradictory for there to be any ceremony the observance of which was mandatory.
If we were to have a community meal like the Corinthian Christians we would need to get it right where they got it wrong. It would need to be a meal in which Christ, the one who died for us and by that death brought us together, was honoured. We would love one another no matter what our differences in education, social standing, gender, or culture because we would see ourselves as all one under Christ, the Christ who died for us Others would know that we were disciples of Jesus because of the love that we would display towards one another (John 13: 35). It would be “Christ Centred Fellowship” – “Christ Centred Communion.” And Christ’s death and its significance for us would be obvious. The Lord’s death would be proclaimed.
September 18, 2009
The Last Passover Meal (cont.)
If it were not for Paul recording that Jesus said, “Whenever you drink it” we might have thought that Jesus was only telling his disciples that it was simply the Last Passover Meal that was to be seen in a new way. However Paul’s information seems to indicate that the disciples were also to celebrate future Passover meals from this new point of view. (This is not to deny that the Last Passover Meal had implications for all Christian meals.) If the reference was also to future Passover meals, how often was “whenever”? The answer is, once a year. The Passover was celebrated once a year. Indeed we suspect that in the early days some Jewish Christians continued to celebrate Passover and that would have been once a year, but they would have celebrated it, of course, with a new perspective. They would have especially remembered that Jesus had died for them at this time. How could they do otherwise? How often did Christians who were not Jews celebrate a Passover meal? It is not clear that they ever celebrated such a meal. Celebrating the Passover was a requirement of the Mosaic Law given to Jews, but Paul had made it clear that the Jews as Christians were no longer under the Law (Galatians 5). Would it matter if they never celebrated the Passover again? In line with Paul’s comments on circumcision (1 Cor. 7: 19; Gal. 6: 15) one could imagine him saying, “Have some Jewish Christians decided to continue to celebrate Passover? That is all right. Have some Jewish Christians decided not to celebrate Passover in the future? That is all right as well. Have Gentile Christians decided not to celebrate any of the Jewish festivals, including Passover? That is all right.” It is important to realise that nowhere in the New Testament letters are there any instructions to Christians, Jews or Gentiles, requiring them to celebrate the Passover. Furthermore, the fact that the words of Jesus, “Do this in remembrance of me” are only found in the Gospel of Luke, is noteworthy, particularly if Jesus is instituting a ceremony (or what some may consider a rite) for all Christians to observe. Why would a command concerning such a ceremony not be mentioned in all the Gospels? It is contended here that Jesus did not command that a Christian ceremony reflective of the Last Passover Meal be observed by those who believed in him. However, are there indications anywhere in the New Testament that such a ceremony was being observed?
September 17, 2009
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.