Jesus celebrates His last Passover meal with His disciples, on the day before His death on the cross. Only, from this time on, it will be celebrated as the “Lord’s Supper” or the “Lord’s Table” or “Communion”. Jesus will not only change the Passover to represent His atoning sacrifice on the cross, He will also give all His disciples a New Commandment. “Maundy” comes from the Latin “man datum” which means “mandate” or “commandment”. During the Passover meal, Jesus says to His disciples, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
First, Jesus sends His disciples to find a man who has an upper room for them to use for the Passover meal (The Passover celebrates the time God frees the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage [Exodus 12]). On the first day of Unleavened Bread, Jesus has His last meal with His disciples. The Synoptic Gospels record the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus also tells His disciples that someone would betray Him. (See Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-30) The Gospel of John does not record the Last Supper, but John records Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and He telling Judas, “What you are about to do, do quickly”, and He predicts Peter’s denial of Him (John 13:1-38).
In the following paragraphs, I am going to share what I learned from a booklet given to me by a friend who invited me to a Passover Supper at her home. It was there I learned the significance of the Last Supper coming from the Jewish Passover celebration. I kept the booklet because it changed my life and gave Communion an even richer and deeper meaning for me. I do not know who wrote the booklet, so please know I am using it in addition to my own words.
During the Passover (or Seder) meal, four cups of wine are used. Each cup is poured from a common bowl to all present as a symbol of unity. The first cup of wine poured is “the cup of blessing”. At the Last Supper, Jesus passed the common bowl to His disciples, saying, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the wine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:17b). After everyone drinks “the cup of blessing”, the server presents a basin of water, pitcher and napkin to the leader for the washing of the hands. This symbolizes the interior cleansing necessary for those partaking in this ritual. It is possibly at this time that Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, giving a tangible example of His new commandment He gave to His disciples.
The unleavened bread used during the eight days of the Passover, including the Seder supper, commemorates the first Passover, when during the flight from Egypt, God’s people had no time to make leavened bread. Jesus used unleavened bread at His Last Supper. The matzo that is hidden in a cloth envelope or napkin is called the Afikomen, which has two meanings: 1. “hidden” and 2. “coming one”. The Afikomen is broken, which symbolizes, for Christians, as pointing to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the way in which God has saved us from the bondage of sin. Also, it gives me “goose bumps” when I see the matzo having stripes and tiny holes through it. This reminds me of Isaiah 53:5: “But He was pierced [holes] for our transgressions, He was crushed [broken] for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds [stripes] we are healed.” It causes my eyes to tear and my skin to form “goose bumps” every time I take the time to examine a piece of matzo and remember that portion of Isaiah.
As in the case of the wine shared from a common bowl, the breaking and distributing of a single piece of matzo to all present signifies unity. The Apostle Paul writes, “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (I Corinthians 10:17). This reminds me of Jesus’ prayer for all His disciples: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that You sent Me…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me” (John 17:20b-21, 23b-). How it must grieve Jesus to see His followers at odds with each other!
During the Seder, the host dips a piece of matzo into a mixture of apples, cinnamon, honey and sweet wine, called haroseth, and gives it to one of the guests as a customary sign of affection. This gives deep meaning to the time when Jesus dips a piece of bread and gives it to Judas: “As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And in was night” (John 13:30). I believe Jesus reached out to Judas one more time, but Judas did not want anything to do with Jesus anymore. Jesus wants to give us the Bread of Life: “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to Me will never be hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty” (John 635). What is our response to Jesus?
(To be continued)
Through Him, with Him, in Him,
In the unity of the Holy Spirit,
All glory and honor is Yours,
For ever and ever! Amen.