Matthew 26:26-30 (NIV) While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered 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. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
This reinterpretation of two of the elements of the Passover meal have been immortalized in the modern sacrament of Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, celebrated by Christians all over the world. In their original context, though, these were not stand-alone elements, but part of the whole Passover meal and ritual.
The unleavened bread that Jesus broke was a staple of the feast, since all yeast had to be removed from Jewish homes before sunset of the first day of the festival, and not be used for its entire 7-day run. The rabbis sometimes used yeast as a picture of sin, because of sin’s tendency to spread its effects through a whole person, a whole family, a whole society, much like yeast spreads its effects through a whole batch of dough. As such, its intentional removal from the homes of Israel during the Passover was a good picture of God’s desire that His people be holy and pure, intentionally removing sin from their lives, and keeping it out. And, as such, it was a good picture of the sinlessness of Jesus as well. It really could represent His sinless body that was “tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV) Every time God’s people eat the bread, we are to be reminded that, even though Jesus gave His life on the cross, He did not die for His own sins, since He was genuinely sinless, but for the sins of the world, including yours and mine.
The cup at the feast was filled and drunk four times. The third time it was filled, it was called the cup of redemption, and reminded the Israelites of when God brought them out of Egypt, redeeming them with a strong arm, to make them His covenant people. That covenant was sealed with the blood of bulls, and sheep, and goats, and doves. But Jesus reinterpreted it as the cup of a new covenant, signaling a new redemption, a new deliverance, this time from the power of sin and death. This covenant would be sealed with His own blood that would be poured out for all people.
Jesus’ promise to not drink wine again until the celebration of redemption in the kingdom reveals His clear understanding that He would be dead within 24 hours. The celebration was over, the struggle was soon to start, darkness would follow. But on the third day, joy would sweep every shred of darkness away.
Father, I wonder how many of us mindlessly eat these elements of “communion,” forgetting entirely the deep significance packed into each one. I know that I have in the past. Help me, every time I participate in this sacrament, to do so with sharpened senses, with a real sense of awe and wonder at what Jesus has done for me, at the price that was paid for my sins. Amen.