Communion – a celebration of Jesus’ Last Supper
Jesus’ Last Supper was associated with the Jewish celebration of Passover.
Matt. 26.17-19 - On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.
What was this Passover meal and what did it mean to the Jewish people?
The people of Israel went to Egypt to escape famine. They flourished there for a few generations. But a whole new regime came in that did not remember how valuable some of their ancestors were to the country. They grew suspicious of the Israelites and oppressed them and enslaved them. They cried out to their God and he heard them.
Exodus 6.5-7 - I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant. “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.
Chapters 7-11 of Exodus reveal the signs of God’s power over and against Pharaoh and Egypt’s gods (in the form of plagues). God is ready to display his might one last time by destroying the first born of all of Egypt and preparing the way for the Israelites to leave Egypt and go to their own land. They were to have one last meal in Egypt that would serve as a constant reminder of what God had done for them.
The meal is described in Exodus 12
Verses 7-14 - Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs…This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover. “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. 14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance.
This lasting ordinance was reenacted every year that they were in the land.
Verses 26-27 - And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 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.’”
The importance of this deliverance in the life and history of Israel.
Ps. 78.12, 42-3 – He did miracles in the sight of their ancestors in the land of Egypt…They did not remember his power – the day he redeemed them from the oppressor, the day he displayed his signs in Egypt…
Ps. 81.4-7, 10 –Ps. 106.8, 10 –
Ps. 105.23-5, 37, 42, 44-5 – Then Israel entered Egypt…The LORD made his people very fruitful; he made them too numerous for their foes…He brought out Israel, laden with silver and gold, and from among their tribes no one faltered…For he remembered his holy promise to his servant Abraham…he gave them the lands of the nations and they fell heir to what others had toiled for – that they might keep his precepts and observe his laws.
We see that there were expectations on the people that God delivered. He made an agreement with them, a covenant, the Law. And they were to obey that covenant. God speaks to the prophet Micah of this agreement.
Micah 6 – I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you…then God discussed how he should be worshiped and obeyed. It wasn’t just the mere form of obeying the Law and the sacrificial system, he wanted their hearts as well – He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
When the people of Israel were reminded of the rescue from Egypt, when they pictured God as their redeemer, they were also to remember that they were to be obedient to God. They were to live like the redeemed. They were to model redemption.
Each celebration of Passover told the story of Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt and the meaning of the various elements of the meal.
In times of exile or oppression (occupation) the Passover meal would have also celebrated the greatest act of deliverance but also looked forward to a great day when God again would deliver his people.
It is with this in mind that we discuss Communion.
We will look at Matthew’s account in chapter 26.26-29.
First, verse 26 - While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Jesus has come to give himself (his body) on behalf of his people. Jesus is the Word (the visible representation of God) who became flesh. And it is in this body that he paid the penalty for our sins to gain our deliverance:
1 Peter 2.24 - “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
It was through his physical body that he paid the penalty. We have deliverance from sin and death because of God doing this on our behalf through Jesus. Thus we begin to see a connection to the Passover.
That connection continues with the cup.
Verses 27-28 - Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
This recalls Moses in the desert, after the Passover in Egypt and their deliverance from Pharaoh’s army at the Sea of Reeds. Moses receives the Law, the covenant, from God on Mount Sinai. It is a promise from God that he will be their God and they shall obey his commands. Moses ratifies this covenant in
Exodus 24.6-8, where he offers a bull in sacrifice and takes the blood to impose upon the people how serious this commitment is –
Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Sometimes we are turned off by the mention of animal sacrifice and the use of its blood. But it had significance. The blood was seen as the life force of the animal and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. It shows that the covenant (and sin) is costly and cost something its life.
This idea of a covenant that Jesus is issuing is also found in the words of the prophet Jeremiah 31.31-34 - “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant… “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people… “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Listen to what he mentions, “a new covenant” and “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.” One can definitely see the connection between Jesus’ words at his Last Supper and Jeremiah’s mention of a “new covenant”.
Verse 29 – I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.
Just as the celebration of the Passover meal in Jesus day was looking forward to a banquet at the end of times, when God overthrew all of Israel’s enemies and set up his complete Kingdom on earth, Jesus’ celebration of Passover looked forward. Jesus has offered us deliverance, but we long for a completion of his victory on earth.
Jesus here has in mind a final banquet at the end of times, when God completes his kingdom on earth that began with the resurrection and pouring out of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.
In the OT, there was an expectation of an end times banquet.
Isa. 25.6-8 - On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.
And we see Jesus pointing forward to some kind of final banquet when God inaugurates the completion of the Kingdom.
Matt. 8.11 - I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
(And there are other comparisons to the inauguration of the completed kingdom in some of Jesus’ parables that we will look at next semester).
Luke adds another element (that Paul picks up on). Luke records Jesus saying “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22.19).
Just as the Jewish celebration of Passover looked back to God’s deliverance from Egypt, our celebration of communion looks back to Jesus’ death on the cross. And just as, during times of occupation, Passover looked forward to a new day of deliverance, we are told to do this until Jesus returns.
1 Cor. 11.26 - For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
As we do this, we are expecting Jesus to return. Jesus tells us that he will eat and drink with us at that banquet when he completes and restores all things for all time.
We see that the early church took these words of Jesus seriously and celebrated this Supper of Jesus apart from the celebration of Passover. This was Luke showing how the early church carried out Jesus’ teachings (see Acts 2.42, 46; 20.7, 11; 24.30).