Summary: Jesus’ change of the Passover into the LORD’s Supper is emblematic of the way He changes everything.
Jesus Changes Everything
When Jesus came, everything changed. The lives of the apostles changed. They went from being simple workers and provincial Jewish men to leading the movement that changed the face of the world and introduced the largest religion that has ever existed.
On a more personal level:
• Sick people were healed
• Possessed people were delivered
• Sinful people were forgiven and changed
• Aimless people were given purpose
• Spiritually destitute people were enriched
In our flood plain vision, we speak of an openness to change. That change is typified in Jesus Himself. Even the Covenant of Moses was interpreted through the New Covenant.
This meal was the Passover. There are many, deep traditions surrounding the Seder. It has developed over the centuries as it moved from place to place with the Jews. It’s beginnings go back to the time of Moses and the end of the Plagues of Egypt, when God saved the Israelites from the angel of death who passed through Egypt, killing the first born.
I am no expert. An alert 10 year old Jewish child is more familiar with the Passover meal than I am, so I will not attempt to explain all the details of the meal Jesus ate. Jesus chose this meal to introduce something new to His people, using bread and wine.
Luke, possibly the only Gentile to write a biblical book, gives us a few details and we will follow his lead:
Jesus poured out a cup he refused to drink
This changed everything.
The Passover meal has four traditional cups of wine. The first is blessed with a prayer. Jesus’ blessing would have been similar to the one still used today:
Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, who hast created the fruit of the vine ... Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, who has sustained us and enabled us to reach this season
Then He didn’t drink it Himself.
It was unheard of. You couldn’t do that. According to ancient sources, the Passover wine was required of everyone, no exceptions. If you were too poor to afford it, even if you had to sell your services or borrow money, you had to drink it. But Jesus didn’t.
When Jesus pronounces this blessing, it has a new shade of meaning. What season is He thanking God for? Is he simply thanking God for another year of life and the arrival of the early harvest?
No, He is thanking His father for the arrival of a new era. This is the era of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ arrival spelled the launching of the Kingdom of God, but clearly, He did not consider it to be fully arrived. Since the era of the Kingdom of God is Jesus’ era, He will refrain from the cup until it is fulfilled.
Immediately the Apostles can see they are in for an unusual experience. The Passover was already a night unlike any other. At the feast the youngest at the table asks the father four questions, introduced by:
Why is this night different from all other nights?
We don’t know who the youngest person at the table was. It was, perhaps, James the Younger who asked the question on this evening. As the host, Jesus’ answers may have been the traditional answers, but His actions would have demonstrated that the night was even more different than they expected.
Already, before the meal was properly underway, the host had departed from tradition.
Jesus served bread that should not have been served
This changed everything.
It is not immediately obvious, but comparing Gospels we can gather the order of what is happening here.
Jesus gave thanks
We, as Gentiles, celebrate these elements of the Passover in isolation. So, the blessing of the bread comes across to us as a spiritual activity performed over this very special bread. In fact, the blessing was a normal part of the meal. It was spoken after they were done eating the Passover lamb.
It is an odd difference between Christians and Jews that many Christians thank God for food before they eat, and many Jews give thanks afterward. I’m sure there is some very good theological reason for this. I have not found it. Jesus’ thanks were the regular thanks given for the meal, after they had eaten.
The lamb was the last food to be eaten at the Passover. Today, a small piece of bread is eaten instead, since without a Temple the lamb may not be appropriately sacrificed. Matthew tells us that Jesus took the bread "while they were eating." Luke tells us that he distributed it after they gave thanks.
In other words,
• They ate the lamb
• They pronounced the traditional thanks
• Then Jesus introduced a piece of bread