Summary: We see how Jesus transformed a ritual, meant to commemorate the greatest deliverance of God’s people, into a new ritual to commemorate and give assurance that the sacrifice he was about to make would bring about a far greater deliverance.
Last week we studied the “last supper” that Jesus had with his disciples. We noted how Jesus was in control of the events that were leading to his sacrifice as the Passover Lamb. This morning we will see how he transformed a ritual, meant to commemorate the greatest deliverance of God’s people, into a new ritual to commemorate and give assurance that the sacrifice he was about to make would bring about a far greater deliverance.
As I pointed out last week, Jesus and his disciples are participating in the Passover meal ritual. The meal itself is a ritual to remember the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. They are eating and drinking prescribed food at prescribed times and reciting set liturgies and scripture. I don’t want to speculate at what point Jesus performs the above actions which constitute our Lord’s Supper. I can end up emphasizing ideas that may not even be justified. The one idea for us to take is that Jesus is establishing a new Passover to celebrate, which is now known as the Lord’s Supper. Let’s try to understand what he is signifying with the elements of his new ritual.
22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
The first element is the giving and eating of bread. Note what Jesus does. He gives thanks, or blesses the bread. Then he breaks it; next he gives it to the disciples. Finally, he refers to it as his body. What is the significance of his ritual? Commonly, we are told that the significant act is the breaking of the bread. Jesus is saying, “This is my body broken for you.” The bread then reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice.
But note that Mark does not record Jesus making the statement that his body is broken; nor does Matthew; nor does Luke. John does not record the ritual. The only reference is in 1 Corinthians 11:24. However, unless you are using the King James or New King James, you will not find the term “broken” used, and the New King James will note an optional reading. Indeed, it would be odd for Jesus to emphasize his body being broken when other scripture emphasizes that his body was not broken.
32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced” (John 19:32-37).
John wants to assure us that no bones were broken. This would fit in well with the analogy of Jesus being the Passover lamb. A prescribed rule was that no bones of the lamb may be broken (Exodus 12:46).
The emphasis is not that Jesus’ body is broken for us but that it is given for and to us. Certainly the image of breaking the bread conveys the idea of sacrifice, but it also conveys the idea of being partialed out to his disciples. They all partake from the same loaf, i.e. the same body. And they all eat their share. The bread is not passed around whole for the disciples to touch one at a time. It is broken so that it might be partaken by all his followers. In one sense each disciple is now united to Jesus and to one another through him. It is union, or rather communion, that the bread symbolizes.
The next element is the cup, or wine.
23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.
24 “This is my blood of the a covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.
Jesus again gives thanks, gives the cup of wine (the same word used for giving the bread), and the disciples drink, apparently from the same cup. He then explains the significance of this element. The cup of wine symbolizes the blood to be shed (or poured out) for the covenant that he is making.
Jesus’ body was not broken on the cross, but his blood was truly shed and that was required of the Passover lamb. On the first Passover his blood had to be shed and then spread on the doorposts of the house to save the firstborn son from death. Though in succeeding Passovers, the spreading of blood on the doorposts was not required, the lamb still had to have his blood shed. In Jesus’ day, that blood was poured out on the altar in the temple, surely as an atonement for those sharing in the meal.