Last week we went over the similarities between Passover and Easter and how understanding Passover helps us better understand the events of Holy Week. Taking that lesson one step forward we are faced with the Passover Seder, which is the dinner Jews use to celebrate the meaning of Passover. Did you know that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder?
Preparations for the Meal
The Passover Seder begins with a series of preparations including place-settings and several cups of wine representing things such as bondage and deliverance. In Mark, we have a decent account of the last Supper and how it relates to what we know of as Easter.
On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you?”
So Jesus sent two of them into Jerusalem with these instructions: “As you go into the city, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you. Follow him. At the house he enters, say to the owner, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ He will take you upstairs to a large room that is already set up. That is where you should prepare our meal.” So the two disciples went into the city and found everything just as Jesus had said, and they prepared the Passover meal there. (Mark 14:12-16)
Physical preparation isn’t just something we do out of tradition; it helps us physically prepare for what we are supposed to be remembering. I can recall being in high school before a track competition and putting on my running shoes and any necessary wraps. That time was about physically getting ready, but it also helped me mentally prepare for the race. Preparation for spiritual events and observances in our lives serves the same purpose. While we could just throw ourselves in our parents’ cars and head to church without a second thought, how much more could remembering Easter mean if we just took a moment to “prepare our mind’s table” for Easter? How much more would church mean every week if we just spent a moment mentally preparing?
Bitter Herbs of Judgment
During one part of the feast, we see Jesus take bread from a bowl and use it to identify Judas who would betray Him.
In the evening Jesus arrived with the Twelve. As they were at the table eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me here will betray me.”
Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one?”
He replied, “It is one of you twelve who is eating from this bowl with me. For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!” (Mark 14:17-21)
During the Seder, there is a point where the head of the household takes a piece of matzah bread from a bowl containing a bitter herb, typically horseradish, known as ‘maror’. This represents God’s judgment over the Egyptians, God’s people, and anyone who questions God’s authority.
When we reflect on the Last Supper, it’s easy to make Judas into a villain. After all, he betrayed Jesus! Then again, I think we could all take a hard look at ourselves and ask how many times we’ve let Jesus down. Is his sin more great than ours? What we gain from this part of the mean is to understand that we are all sinful people deserving of death. It is only through the loving grace of God that we are made clean and whole and that our judgment of others should be tempered by our realization that we are also sinners.
Redemption and That Which Comes After
Later in the meal we hit the point that is likely the most memorable for all Christians.
As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it, for this is my body.”
And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And he said to them, “This is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. I tell you the truth, I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:22-25)
It is vital to understand that Jesus’ actions aren’t just some random symbolism. Both the bread and the wine have a different meaning within the Seder which help us understand the message Jesus is trying to convey.
The bread consumed at this part of the meal is called the ‘Afikoman’ which is a Greek verb essentially meaning ‘that which comes after’. After what? After everything. When Christ broke the break and said it was his body, he was using a very obvious metaphor to say that his body is that which comes after everything. It would come after arrest, after crucifixion, after burial, and after resurrection. His body would come after all that we could not conquer ourselves.
The wine consumed comes from the third in a series of 4 cups of wine. It is known as the redemption cup. Again, in an obvious metaphor, Jesus was saying that His blood would be the redemption from all judgment, all bondage, and all sin. His blood would redeem us from that which the Jews had been waiting centuries to be redeemed.
Think about that symbolism and that meaning. Do we treat communion with that same levity or do we cheapen it by saying its “just another Christian ritual”? When we take the wafer, we should take care to acknowledge that Christ’s body comes after all else has faded away and His blood is the only redeeming power sufficient to atone for our sins.