Our Passover Lamb
Every community or family has traditions. Some are deliberate others develop over time. These are embedded into the community or family. Often those outside looking in get a sense of that tradition, but it seems more to be a reoccurring event rather than something with purpose, nostalgia, or longevity. As Australian many American traditions overlap because of the connection to the Christian Calendar. Yet, some don’t always have the same equivalence. America has thanksgiving and black Friday. Australia has boxing day. I mention this to explain that as Christians we can often read the Bible with a New Testament understanding of the Bible. However, when we read the Old Testament, we might fail to see the redemptive-historical nature of those types, shadows, or references. One of these comes when we read the Gospel accounts and the institution of the Lord’s supper. We read these accounts and see the institution of the Lord’s supper, which it is. However, we do not see the changing of the guard, so to say. Or to put it another way, there was a time in history when the Passover meal changed into the sacrament of the Lord’s supper.
I. A meal of recollection
The Passover meal is a meal looking back on something that has happened. Many of our meals and celebrations are that such as the fourth of July. Moses tells the people of Israel to “remember this day” (Ex 12:14, 13:3, Dt 16:3). This was a monumental day for the people of Israel. The fulfillment of the promises of God to Abraham (Gen 15:13-15). Then to the people of God as well (Ex 6:6-7). Not only the passing over of the angel of death for those who have the blood of the Passover lamb sprinkled upon the door posts but the whole story of Exodus. Not only bringing them out of the land of Egypt but giving them land to dwell in. Making a nation from a ‘wandering Aramean’ (Dt 26:5). The Passover meal is celebrated in various ways, but they all generally have one common theme. The meal is normally marked with four times when you drink your wine from your cup. One major part of this meal is that it was a family meal with children who would recline at the table. The story of Passover was to be told during this meal. Children had a very important part to be able to play, they would ask the question that every child asks, “why?” In a series of five or six questions (the six-question stopped after the destruction of the temple). The first question was “Why is this night different from all other nights?” This would begin to show this as a meal of remembrance of the story of the Passover. They would ask four more questions: Why do we only eat unleavened bread? Why do we only eat bitter herbs? Why do we dip our food twice? Why do eat this meal reclined?
Each of these questions ties back to the night of the Passover. They eat unleavened bread to remember how quickly they had to leave. They eat bitter herbs to remind them of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt. They dip their vegetables into salt water to remember the tears that were changed to gratitude and the second time to remember the sweetness from the suffering and bitterness. And lastly, they eat the meal reclining at the table because a free person reclines at a table, while a servant or slave must stand. The host would then use this time to explain the 10 plagues brought upon Egypt from God’s outstretched arm. He would generally teach from Deuteronomy 26:5-10, giving the story of God’s deliverance of his people to worship him.
Jesus as he is celebrating the Passover with his disciples tells them to, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). As we will see the change comes when the Passover is no longer about the event of history, but the person and work of Jesus Christ. The shadow has met the object which casts the shadow. The key that we see in this passage is that Christ points to himself.
II. A meal of redemption
The Passover is a joyous meal of celebration. Although they do remember their affliction in the land of Egypt with the unleavened bread and the bitter herbs, it is to be celebrated and marked with wine, like I said before, most people who celebrate a Jewish Seder will drink four glasses of wine. One of the great marks of this feast is not the food or the wine but how everyone is to recline at the table. This is a difficult aspect for us to think but those who stand at a meal normally are the ones serving others at the meal. However, this meal was one of freedom and redemption. The beautiful symbol in the bread for the Israelites is that they prepared the bread as slaves but baked and ate it as free men and women. As part of the celebration of Passover the host, in this case, Jesus would pick up the middle piece of unleavened bread, however on this night with his disciples and others he not only broke the bread but also a tradition. Jesus said, “this is my body.” Luke adds, “given to you” (Luke 22:19). The Mishnah records the words of Rabbi Gamaliel who explains Unleavened bread as the redemption from Egypt. But now Jesus explains that he is the bread. His body has been given to his disciples. Now Jesus is not saying this is his body. He is showing that the shadow has met the object casting the shadow. The author of Hebrews helps us understand how redemption came through Jesus’ body,
“And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:10–14)
Not only this was a meal of redemption because of the bread but also because of the blood. The Passover was a simple idea, someone’s blood was going to be shed. Either you had the blood of a lamb upon your door posts, or it would be the blood of your firstborn son. And just as Jesus did with the bread, he now picks up the cup. The third time the cup was to be lifted in the Passover feast. But as the disciples reclined Jesus uttered new words once more. They would have sat through many of these feasts every year, reciting the same lines. Some of the disciples would have had families and might have even been the host of their families’ Passover feast. But as he raises the cup for the third time Jesus says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14: 24). Matthew and Luke add, “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28; Luke 22:20). Just as his body was offered for redemption His blood was shed for forgiveness. We could spend some time looking at Exodus 24 and then Hebrews 9, but I think we can just see this truth in Hebrews 9:24-26:
“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
Again, the Passover meal was a celebration of the redemption of God’s people, taking them from bitterness and slavery to freedom and joy. Christ explains that it is his body and blood that are not shadows but reality. Redemption comes through Jesus Christ’s body and blood. That we as Paul explains ‘participate in the blood and body of Christ’ (1 Cor 10:16-17). Thus the Passover ceases to be the meal of redemption shared by God’s people but it becomes the sacrament of the Lord’s supper.
The Heidelberg Catechism (Question 76) beautifully explains this reality found in the Lord’s supper,
“It is not only to embrace with a believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ, and thereby to obtain the forgiveness of sins and life eternal; but moreover also, to be so united more and more to His sacred body by the Holy Ghost, who dwells both in Christ and in us, that although He is in heaven, and we on the earth, we are nevertheless flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones, and live and are governed forever by one Spirit, as members of the same body are by one soul.”
Just as Passover was originally celebrated the night before God’s people were redeemed, now Christ celebrates the sacrament of the Lord’s supper as the new Exodus is about to happen. As we come to the table that the Lord instituted on this night, we come not only to remember Christ’s sacrifice but we are united to him through Faith. As Paul says, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17).
Now, a brief comment on the institution of the Lord’s supper. In this passage, we have the direct commandment from Christ to his disciples to “do this.” Paul puts it this way, “For I received from the Lord, what I delivered to you” (1 Cor 11:23). We have two sacraments Christ has instructed his church to perform, baptism and the Lord’s supper. These are not traditions made up by man but commanded by Christ the head of the Church.
III. A meal of anticipation
Now, there is one final cup to be drunk at the Passover, but again Jesus breaks from tradition. Following finishing the third cup, they refill their cup for the final time. Someone would go and open the door and the guests would invite Elijah to come. Elijah was to return, so the tradition said before the Messiah would come. But Jesus does not speak of the anticipation of Elijah. Remember the disciples’ question following the transfiguration, why must Elijah come first? Jesus responded and said, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.” (Mark 9:12–13). There is no need to wait for someone who has already come. Yet Jesus explains to his disciples and others, “Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25).
Like before Jesus points to himself. He does not say he will never drink of the fruit of the vine. He explains that he will drink of it new in the kingdom of God. The shift is that we see the fulfillment of the Passover, but then the waiting for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. We no longer need to wait for Elijah, for he already had come. John the Baptist was the messenger in the wilderness who proclaimed, “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the World (John 1:29). The one whose body was broken and blood was shed. At the close of the Passover meal, they would sing a Psalm (Psalm 113-118). Although we do not know what Psalm they sang, many people believe they sang Psalm 118. A glorious Psalm to look at in light of the coming of Christ to save his people. The fulfillment of these promises, and as the Psalm ends:
“Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:25–29).
Christ at the last supper was the last Passover supper and the first celebration of the Lord’s supper. Therefore Paul explains that Jesus is our Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7). We see the fulfillment of promises but also another one made. That we wait once more, for Christ to return and for the great wedding feast to occur. Isaiah explains that this feast will have “rich food full of marrow, and of aged wine well refined” (Isaiah 25:6). Thus, as we celebrate the Lord’s supper we remember, that we are united to Christ, but we also wait for his return. As Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 11:26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”