Luke 22:19-20 (NIV) And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
During the meal, Jesus gave His followers new meanings for some of the elements of the Passover meal. Originally the bread eaten in the Passover event, and in the days that followed, was not leavened (raised with yeast) because the Israelites had to pack up and eat quickly, because they would soon be driven out of Egypt, and thus had no time to let their bread rise (Exodus 12:33-34, 39). No yeast was allowed to be used in bread that was offered to the Lord (Leviticus 2:11), because yeast was used as a strong symbol for sin, based on its ability to spread quickly, and to profoundly change the character of the bread it was added to. (See Matthew 16:6 for an example of Jesus’ use of yeast in this way.)
Jesus, in holding up the loaf of unleavened bread and declaring that it was His body, was not making a metaphysical statement, but an illustrative one. Jesus had never sinned a single time in His whole life (2 Corinthians 5:21), and so bread without yeast was the perfect symbol for His owns sinlessness. Since Jesus had no sin of His own to pay the penalty for, His bodily suffering and death would be accepted by God as payment in full for the sins of all who would come to God through faith in Him.
The participants in the Passover feast traditionally drank from four cups of wine throughout the meal, one after the other. Each cup represented one aspect of God’s saving grace that was extended to the Israelites when he redeemed them from Egypt. The fourth cup symbolized God covenant, made on Mount Sinai, claiming this people as His own. That covenant was sealed with the blood of animals. But now Jesus reinterpreted that cup. For His followers, it was now to represent the New Covenant, made on the cross, redeeming them from sin, and sealed with His own blood.
For the disciples, to eat the bread and to drink the wine that night was to accept the fresh significance that Jesus had poured into those elements. And they were to remember that new significance every time they ate this memorial meal together, and thus to reinforce in their own minds and hearts the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf.
Father, these were and are very simple symbols. But Jesus filled them with such deep significance that it should cause us all to pause in holy reverence before we dare to lift the bread and wine to our lips. Thank You for these amazing symbols, and thank You for the profound reality that lies behind them. Amen.