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Breaking a piece of bread is a physical act; giving half of it to someone else is a spiritual act. --Brian Roeff
Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb must be killed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat." They said to Him, "Where do You want us to prepare?"
He said, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house which he enters. Then say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says to you, "Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"' He will show you a large, furnished upper room; there make ready."
So they went and found it just as He had said. When the hour had come, Jesus sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. He said to them, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." Then He took the cup, gave thanks, and said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves."
And He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you." Luke 22:7-20 NKJV, condensed
The Passover Fulfilled
Deuteronomy 6:21-22 advised the Israelites that when their children ask what all their rules and regulations and observances mean, they should begin by saying to them, "We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord delivered us with a mighty hand and showed signs and wonders before our eyes." Just as Easter is an unforgettable event for Christians, likewise the highlights of the Passover story are retold annually in Jewish households.
It began when the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were slaves in the fertile crescent of Egypt. God chose Moses to lead the people out of their bondage and return them to the freedom of Canaan. But the Pharaoh refused to let them go, and needed some supernatural convincing. So God brought ten plagues on the people of Egypt. The final and decisive plague was the death of the firstborn son in every Egyptian household.
In order to protect the homes of the children of Israel from the angel of death, God directed each family to sacrifice a spring lamb and place its blood on their doorpost. Ever after, that dark and fearful night has been called Passover, because the blood on the doorposts spared the lives of all firstborn sons within those families. The death of the Passover lamb was their salvation; its blood was their life. It was an experience God wanted his people to remember forever and never let its memory perish from the earth.
Therefore, God commanded a yearly festival of Passover, during which the story would be told and retold to every generation. No one must ever forget how the Lord God delivered their ancestors from servitude to freedom, and from death to life. To celebrate, a lamb was sacrificed, roasted, and eaten that same night. Unique to every Passover meal (today called the seder) is the unleavened bread, symbolizing the haste with which the captives left Egypt; they had no time to wait for the bread to rise. Bitter herbs are part of the meal to represent a slave's bitter hardships.
Like most devout Jews, Jesus celebrated the Passover on the 15th day of the first month on the Hebrew calendar. Peter and John were sent ahead to make the preparations. Jesus and the other 10 disciples arrived at sundown (as in the creation story, a day begins in darkness and ends in the light). John's gospel tells us Jesus assumed the role of a servant and knelt to wash the dusty feet of each of his disciples prior to eating. This was not going to be an ordinary meal.
In a borrowed room, Jesus told his loyal supporters he longed with all his heart to eat the Passover meal one last time with them. Sharing what was on his mind, he noted he would not eat of it again until they celebrated it together in the kingdom of God.
Why was this annual tradition so significant to Jesus? The words of the Passover story were not merely words; they gave his spirit wings. God continues to save and deliver. God does not forget his own. Despite the bitterness of his present circumstances, the message of Passover, combined with the love of his devoted followers, gave him the strength to transcend the painful odds and fulfill the task for which he had been born.
Toward the end of the meal, Jesus took some of that unleavened bread, blest and broke it, and gave it to his disciples. In the process he spoke these words, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." Then Jesus took a wine cup and said, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you."
These are the revolutionary words that transformed the old covenant which God had made with Abraham. This new covenant emerged with the force of a rising sun and opened up an expanse wide enough to include every nation, tribe and language. Jesus takes center stage. He supercedes the Patriarchs, and fulfills the Law and the Prophets. Through faith Jesus becomes our salvation; his blood is our life.
With no fanfare and in the presence of only a handful of faithful followers, Jesus made the announcement that would forever distinguish the old testimony from the new. One of those disciples later paraphrased it this way , "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him, should not perish, but have eternal life!" God loves us dearly. Jesus sacrificed his life, once, and for all. So that we may be free from the bondage of sin and delivered to God's realm of promise.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Different faith traditions ascribe different names to the sacrament instituted by Jesus on the night before he died. -- The Eucharist; The Lord's Supper; Holy Communion; . . . . . . Each name offers a unique perspective on the meal. Which one do you prefer? Is there a specific reason for your choice?
Name a physical object which has special significance for you. Then name a physical object which has religious meaning for you. Share your thoughts about what these two items mean to you, and how ordinary tangible items take on spiritual meaning.
How common was it for Jesus to take a commonly used article and give it a heavenly meaning? Give some of examples of this from his teachings.
Some critics of the early Church misinterpreted "the Lord's Supper" and claimed the Christians were cannibals because they ate flesh and drank blood. How did these critics arrive at that conclusion? Why were they wrong?
Did a child ever ask you why you go to church, or what a particular religious holiday is all about, or why you participate in a faith-based work project? What is your starting point for answering questions like these?
In the Christian church, the two most popular holidays are Christmas and Easter. What is it about those holy days that must never be forgotten?By celebrating them every year, does that ensure "the mighty works of God" will remain in our minds forever?
How important are the Old Testament stories to your understanding of the New Testament? What does knowing about the Passover add to your perception of Jesus' death and resurrection?
We often associate blood with death, but in the Bible, life is in the blood. How comfortable are you with talk about the blood of Jesus? Explain your answer.
"Do this in remembrance of Me." Imagine eating this Passover meal with Jesus. What do you think it was like to be there in that upper room? When you receive the bread and wine, what goes through your mind? Describe a communion service that was particularly meaningful to you. What made it stand out in your mind and soul?What could you do beforehand in preparation for celebrating this holy sacrament?