Summary: Every ritual of the Old Testament was completely fulfilled by Christ's finished work on the cross. There was significant meaning in the bread and the wine in the Passover meal, which Jesus reinterpreted with his new covenant.
One of the great and exciting challenges we have as Christian readers of the Old Testament, is to find Jesus in every book of the Bible. All of the festivals and rituals prescribed in the Old Testament point directly to, and are completely fulfilled by the finished work of Christ on the cross.
One example we can take is the Passover, which commemorates the big salvation event of the Old Testament. The nation of Israel had been under Egyptian oppression and slavery for 400 years, God delivered ten plagues or judgements on Pharaoh and his people. The last of which was to be the death of the first-born sons. In preparation of this, God told the people to take a lamb for each household, slaughter it at twilight, take some of the blood, and put it on the tops and sides of their doorposts. In this way, when the Lord came to strike the firstborn of Egypt, he would see the blood, and pass over the house and spare the firstborn son of that household.
We know that the result was the exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt, and therefore they were saved from oppression and slavery. And following this, the Lord commanded them to commemorate this event once a year with the Passover meal. In the Passover meal, the bread had a particular significance. When the Hebrew women made their household bread, they took a piece of fermented dough they saved from a previous day and mixed it into their fresh flour. With time, the yeast would overtake the dough and she could then make her family’s daily bread. (After saving a piece for future baking, of course.) When God delivered the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage, there wasn’t time to bake bread or hassle with yeast. They ate their bread unleavened.
Eating unleavened bread became a reminder of the time when God delivered the children of Israel out of bondage.
The salvation event that we look back to is the crucifixion of Jesus, and this holds significant meaning for all who have let him into their lives, and take up their cross and follow him. We continue to participate in his death and in the new covenant because we participate in his life.
Paul wrote, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”. In Communion, we show that we share in Jesus Christ. We commune with him. We are united in him.
The New Testament speaks of our sharing with Jesus in several ways. We share in his crucifixion, death, resurrection and life. Our lives are in him, and he is in us. Communion pictures this spiritual reality.
Jesus’ last supper with his disciples was at Passover. When Jesus handed the cup to the disciples, at the first Communion, they naturally would have thought of the blood of the lamb smeared on the doorpost of their ancestors’ homes in Egypt. As the disciples drank the wine, they remembered the blood covenant.
And as they ate the bread, they would have been reminded of their ancestor’s delivery from the bondage of Egypt.