Imagine that you’re walking the roads of Jerusalem in First Century Palestine. It hasn’t rained in weeks, and the roads are so dusty that when the wind picks up, you can barely breathe. It’s the spring, so the days are getting longer and the sun is getting hotter. And you’re a disciple of a rabbi whom the Romans and Jewish leaders believe ought to be kiiled.
It’s dinner time and the Passover, and you’re hungry, thirsty, and scared.
Amazingly, the rabbi had earlier pointed his followers to a room where Passover could be served — a place where’d you’d be safe for at least this night.
As you and your fellow disciples enter, you can smell the bread being baked in a brick oven. It’s unleavened bread, but the owner’s wife is piling up stacks of the soft, flat bread to serve her visitors.
As you sit at the meal, the rabbi takes a loaf of bread — round, flat, soft, nearly too hot to touch, and smelling to a hungry man like heaven on earth. The rabbi says a blessing, breaks off a piece, and passes you the bread to be shared with the other disciples in the Jewish manner. He says,
Take and eat; this is my body.
Most Jews would rebel at such a statement, but you had learned many months ago that to eat your rabbi’s body means to have faith in him. And as you eat, you delight in the flavor and texture and warmth of the bread. Faith tastes good and relieves hunger. Faith sustains. Faith strengthens.
Then, the rabbi pours wine into a cup, says another blessing and then says,
Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
You didn’t struggle to understand the bread, but the cup is something else altogether. As you drink thirstily from it, you taste the sweetness and smell the aroma of the wine. You know that drinking Jesus’ blood also means to have faith in him, and you savor the refreshing, flavorful drink. Faith refreshes. Faith is a delight.
But this idea of “blood of the covenant” is a tougher saying. But three years with the rabbi and being good a Jew you know that God had had Moses seal God’s covenant made in the Torah with blood, called the “blood of the covenant.” And you know that Jeremiah had promised a new covenant when the Messiah comes. And the rabbi is the Messiah. Praise the Lord of Hosts! The prophecies are being fulfilled, and God is keeping his promises!
But what is this about the rabbi’s blood being poured out for forgiveness of sins? Is he saying he’s about to die? How can the Messiah — God’s anointed king of the Jews — die before he even begins to reign? Surely he means something else!
And slowly it dawns on you. You’d been so intently listening to the rabbi’s words that only now had you realized — he hadn’t said the traditional works for a Passover. He had dared to invent a new kind of Passover, a Passover about faith in the rabbi and a new (and surely better!) covenant.
Something as big as Mt. Sinai itself is happening here. And you sit in stunned silence, savoring these minutes alone with Jesus, enjoying the pleasures of faith and his presence, and yet dreading whatever might happen next.
There are many lessons in the Lord’s Supper. But one we rarely get is the flavor of the bread and wine. You see, the bread we serve is dry and flavorless, and we expect our members to take tiny bites. It’s so symbolic, it’s hardly bread at all.
And the fruit of the vine is served in tiny plastic cups that has so little drink that it’s not even a real drink at all. It’s just a symbolic drink.
And by turning the bread and the cup into mere symbols of the bread and cup, we fail to experience real bread and a real drink. But on a hot, dry, dusty spring day in Jerusalem, a day spent on your feet, climbing up and down the steps to the temple and walking the steep, narrow streets of the city, the bread would taste like life itself. And the cup — to a man who’d just eaten a large piece of bread and who would have been already very thirsty before — well, the cup would taste like a resurrection.
(John 6:47-50, 55) I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48 I am the bread of life. … 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. … For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
Imagine, as you take these tokens of faith, that they are real bread and real drink. Imagine that you return home filled and quenched. Imagine that there’s enough here to sustain you. Because these emblems symbolize our faith, and real faith is real food that fills, and quenches, and sustains for eternity.