The Lord’s Supper: The Passover

The Synoptics teach that the Lord’s Supper was instituted as part of a Passover meal. Jesus ate hundreds of meals with his apostles. Why was the Passover the meal he used?

Well, there are several reasons, all steeped in the purposes of the Passover meal. In particular, though, the Biblical commandments concerning the Passover stress the importance of remembering.

(Exo 12:24-27a)  “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. 25 When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27 then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.'”

(Exo 13:3)  Then Moses said to the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the LORD brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast.”

Of course, what was remembered is two things — the fact the Israelites were spared the wrath of God by the sacrifice of a lamb — and the fact that they were freed from slavery. You see, the Passover is the source of much of the imagery about our salvation in the New Testament.

(1 Cor 5:6-8)  Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

Jesus is the Passover lamb — sacrificed to protect us from death and to free us from slavery.

The “Festival” is the Feast of Unleavened Bread, being the week immediately following Passover during which the Israelites were not allowed to work and must eat only unleavened bread — even cleaning their home to rid it of all leaven.

(Exo 12:15-17)  For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat–that is all you may do. 17 “Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.”

Passover was a time of cleansing, and Paul uses the image to warn us to deal with unrepentant sinners in our midst — those who willfully disobey God knowing they are in disobedience.

The Passover was also a family meal and a meal designed for the instruction of children. The children were expected to ask why the family is celebrating this feast and so be taught the history of their community and their rescue by God’s hand.

This is not a cracker and sip thing. It’s a chance to form our community in celebration of the Resurrection and to commit to being unleavened ourselves.

Now, there’s another critical point here found in Luke —

(Luke 22:15-16)  And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

The Passover of Moses was celebrated once a year. Period. But Jesus ate a meal with some of the apostles in Emmaus the day of his resurrection — and this is clearly intended honor Jesus’ prophecy.

(Luke 24:13-31)  Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. … 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.

Luke only records the breaking of bread, but this is surely the “this Passover” Jesus said he would eat with them when the Passovver found fulfillment in the Kingdom. You see, the Resurrection fulfilled the Passover by cleansing the house of yeast, by causing the death angel to pass over, and by freeing God’s people from slavery and putting them on the road to the Promised Land. This is the true Passover.

But it’s no longer the ceremonial meal of Exodus. It is, rather, breaking bread with Jesus. Just as God came to live among the Israelites, Jesus dwells among us, by his Spirit, and is among us whenever we gather in his name, whether in the church building or over dinner with Christian friends. And every time that happens, we break bread in the name of Jesus — and our children ask, why do we honor Jesus this way? We shape our faith and our families by how we break bread, every time we break bread.

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  1. Also, "Commemorate" doesn't just mean a simple act of mental recall. When the Hebrews ate the Passover meal, they became the Passover people. They remembered that the whole nation of Israel was delivered, and that they were part of that nation.

    Likewise, when Christians eat the Lord's Supper, we renew ourselves as the Lord's people.

    That's why I try to prayerfully invite the Lord to make every meal (as often as I eat and drink – 1 Cor 11:24-25) His meal. I don't want to take away from the community of God gathered around the table on the Lord's day – I want that sacramental spirituality to soak into all of my life.

  2. Nick,

    I agree. The Jews of Jesus' day considered Passover as a mystical joining with the Israelites of Moses' day in the actual events of the first Passover.

    We, of course, are mystically joined with Jesus in his death, burial, and resurrection in baptism somehow. And while I'd deny that the Lord's Supper re-effects that "once for all" event, it should remind us of both what Jesus did for us and how we began our journey with him.

  3. LI believe one of Ray Vanderlaan' s lessons portrays communion with Jesus handing us the cup and asking us to be His bride. If you will be my bride I will be faithful to you and care for you as long as you live. You respond by taking the cup promising to be his bride and will honor him until death.

    This was taken from the betrothal ceremony of a Jewish family. The fathers agreed on the terms of the marriage, then the father of the groom handed his son a cup of wine to give to his future bride. She could refuse but if she agreed she took the cup. they both promised to be faithful to each other.

    I hope we see Jesus handing us the cup during communion.

    You are right about it is more than sip and a cracker while we stare at the floor.

    Bob

  4. I recently taught with the Ray Vander Laan communion video. I thought the Jewish engagement cup was interesing but not a strong link to the last supper. I looked every use of cup, and found that 1/2 are the cup of God's wrath especially in the minor OT prophets, 1/4 are the physical item like Joseph put in Behjarimin's sack, or the NT communion. The remaining quarter are cup of commitment.
    Ps 116: 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD. 14 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.
    Mt 20: 22 "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?" "We can," they answered. 23Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink from my cup,
    [Both TNIV, International Bible Society]
    There is a minor Bibllical cup of commitment theme.
    Second, Jesus makes His cup, and His baptism as marks of spritual strength. Note that both of His sacriments are comitments relating to His passion.
    Wow!