The final days of our Holy Week all correspond to these three Jewish festivals, this year on the very same days. As the Lamb of God, Jesus was crucified on Passover; as the Bread of Life, He was crucified, died, was buried, and was raised from the dead all during the Feast of Unleavened Bread; and as the Firstfruits of those who sleep, He was raised on the Feast of Firstfruits. Of these three, one, Passover, has continued to stand out for the Jews as the most important of all, the one commemorating the pivotal event in the history of Israel when God dramatically delivered the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt and led them to the land that had been promised to them long before.
We as Christians remember the feast of Passover with special reverence, as well we should, because just as the blood of the unblemished lambs delivered the Israelites from the Angel of Death in Egypt, so the blood of the perfect Lamb of God delivers us from bondage to sin and death. But the spreading of the blood on the lintels and the doorposts in Egypt was only a first step for deliverance from the Angel of Death; eating the lamb in its entirety was necessary to complete the requirement, as we read in Exodus 12.
This is precisely what Jesus meant when He clearly said, “Unless you eat My Flesh and drink My Blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). And this is why, in His institution of the Last Supper, Jesus said unreservedly and unmistakably, “This is My Body” and “This is My blood” (see especially Matthew and Mark, but also Luke; also see I Corinthians 11). As we’re taught in the book of Hebrews, the sacrifice of Jesus was once-for-all and all-sufficient. But our participation in His completed work comes through our eating His Body and drinking His Blood in the Eucharist, as He commanded us to do.
When we realize that Passover was just the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, then we see more fully and vividly the true meaning of the unleavened bread in our Holy Eucharist. While only unleavened bread, matzah, was to be eaten throughout Passover, on the first Seder it was to be eaten with the Passover lamb. It was to be made only from one of 5 specified grains, typically wheat.
Its descriptive appellation in Deuteronomy as the “bread of affliction,” the lechem oni, reminds us of Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb Who endured affliction for us (Deut. 16:3), just as it reminds the Jews of their affliction in Egypt. It also reminds Jewish people of their hasty deliverance from Egypt, and it reminds us of our deliverance through the Body of our Savior on the Cross. Jesus told His disciples that this holy supper was to be continued in remembrance of Him, and so it has been from the earliest days of the Church. This is our Passover Seder, our spiritual meal, not something to be done once a year or even once a month, but, as Jesus Himself said, as often as we are gathered together to worship and remember Him.
Here the symbol and the reality mystically become one and the same. This is what Paul meant when He wrote in I Corinthians 10:16, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ?” Just as Jewish people see Passover as their true participation in the deliverance from Egypt, so Paul sees the Eucharist as our true participation in the deliverance Jesus offers in His broken Body and His shed Blood.
This extraordinary Passover Seder that Jesus shared with His disciples was truly a one-off, a one-of-a-kind. That’s another important part of why we perpetuate its observance and celebrate its significance in every Eucharist. But there are still two more things we need to notice about it, both found only in Luke’s Gospel.
First there are these words of Jesus to His disciples: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15, 16). Sharing this Seder was not just something Jesus did with His disciples as a pro forma thing that they were required to do as Jews. It was of special importance to Jesus because of its symbolic and spiritual connection with His immediately forthcoming suffering and death, His affliction and His sacrifice for us and for our salvation.
But, importantly, it also served as a foreshadowing of things to come when the Lord’s Supper will become the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in His Kingdom, the Seder of the Lamb that was slain, of the Lamb Whose worthiness will be our eternal anthem of praise: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing" (Revelation 5:12). That may be all the eschatology we really need to know: Jesus Himself is eagerly awaiting the moment when we will share with Him in the greatest Seder of all time and eternity. That is now His “earnest desire,” the time when He eats the Passover with us in “the Kingdom of God.”
The second thing we find only in Luke is that there’s more than one cup that Jesus shares with His disciples at the Last Supper. This would come as no surprise at all to a Jewish person, as there are actually four cups of wine at every Seder, two before the meal and two after. In what I saw as truly a God-thing, a God-moment, a Jewish friend began sending me emails last evening about the Orthodox Jewish observance of Pesach. She forwarded a copy of a 100+ page “Passover Guide,” detailing everything from “Koshering the Kitchen” to “Pesach food for your pets.”
The cover page shows a wine glass next to some matzah, unleavened bread. Another page, an ad for a Jewish senior living facility, shows a similar image. This is our Eucharist! A later ad for “Shalom Memorial Funeral Home” shows the 4 wine glasses necessary to complete a Seder meal. But for the Christian, the most compelling image of all comes on a page titled, “Passover: what it’s all about.” There we see a large wafer of unleavened bread, something looking very like the “Host” wafer at a Eucharist, with three wine cups on one side of it and the fourth cup on the opposite side (see photo above). We will see that this corresponds precisely both to what happened at the Seder in the Upper Room and, even more significantly, what did not happen at that holy meal.
Each cup at the Seder has a name, and with each cup a blessing is said, drawn from the 4 promises of God in Exodus 6:6 & 7:
1)The first cup is the “Cup of Sanctification” (the Kiddush cup), and this promise is read: “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”
2)The second cup is the “Cup of Proclamation” (the Haggadah cup), and this promise is read: “I will deliver you from their bondage.”
3)The third cup is the “Cup of Blessing” (the Berakah cup), and this promise is read: “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.”
It’s very important to note that Paul specifically names this third cup in the verse we previously read from I Corinthians 10: “The ‘Cup of Blessing’ that we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ?” No first-century Jewish Christian, much less Paul himself, could have missed this important and obvious connection to the third wine cup of the Passover Seder, the one that’s called the “Cup of Blessing!”
Most Jewish Christian scholars are in agreement that the two cups mentioned in Luke correspond to the first and third of the four. God’s promise that’s read with the third cup, to redeem His people with an outstretched arm, foreshadows Jesus’ outstretched arms on the Cross and His statement, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My Blood.” That’s truly a “Cup of Blessing.” But there’s one more cup at a Seder:
- The fourth and last cup is the “Cup of Praise” (the Hallel cup), and this promise is read: “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God.”
The phrase "drinking of the cup" metaphorically symbolizes sharing the consequences of whatever is in that cup. You will recall the incident when the mother of James and John asked Jesus to seat her sons on His right and left when He came into His Kingdom. His response was a question addressed directly to James and John: “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" When they naïvely answered, “We are,” Jesus assured them that they would, though each in a quite different way.
None of the Gospels suggests that Jesus and His disciples actually drank the fourth cup. Quite the contrary, both Matthew and Mark record that after they sang a hymn, doubtless the chanting of the Hallel, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Jesus as saying after the third cup, “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the Kingdom of God comes.”
This is an incredibly important statement for us. It means that Jesus chose to defer the 4th cup, the “Cup of Praise,” until He can drink it with all of us at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. That will be the most amazing cup of wine any of us will ever taste. And that great feast will be our celebrating with Him that all things have been completed and His “earnest desire” is fulfilled for all eternity.
There’s one other connection between Passover and our Eucharistic feast that I want you to notice. On the same page of the Orthodox “Passover Guide” as the image of the four wine cups is this important statement, one that in its way addresses the famous question asked at every Seder, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Mah nishtanah ha'lilah ha'zeh mikol ha'leilot?
מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילוֹת Why is this night different from all other nights? And this is the answer:
Unlike other Jewish holidays, where we commemorate a particular miracle or event, on Passover it’s our duty to transport ourselves to over 3,300 years ago, as slaves to the mighty Pharaoh in the land of Egypt. In the words of the great Rambam of Egypt, “one must show himself as though he actually has left Egypt.” In fact, in many communities, the exodus of Egypt is re-enacted at the Passover Seder. Yes, make a spectacle about your great escape from the powerful Egypt superpower! From slavery to freedom!
That’s what we do at this table, at every Eucharist: we transport ourselves to 2,000 years ago when Jesus was crucified, when His body was given for us and His blood was shed for us. We, too, make a spectacle of ourselves about our great escape from slavery to freedom, from slavery to sin to the freedom that is ours in Christ Jesus, Mashiach Yeshua. We’re here together in this building, but we’re standing at the foot of the Cross, saying our prayers, offering our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.
That covers our connection to Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. But there’s one thing more! There’s our generally forgotten yet vitally important connection to the “Feast of the Firstfruits.” Few Christians are aware that Firstfruits, a feast that falls on the two days immediately after the day of the Passover, corresponds directly to our Easter celebration, both chronologically and spiritually.
This explains why Paul writes in I Corinthians 15:20-23, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.” Paul, as a “Hebrew of the Hebrews, from the tribe of Benjamin” (Philippians 3:5), saw that his “Feast of the Firstfruits” had become his Easter!
It also may surprise you to know that just as the Jewish Festival of Firstfruits is a two-day event, so in over 100 countries of the world, Easter is also observed as a two-day event, with Easter Monday as a national holiday. In some places, as in Austria, Easter Monday also commemorates the experience of the two unnamed disciples who met Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. He made Himself known to them in the breaking of the bread, just as He continues to make Himself known to us in the Eucharist. Even further, the Church from its early days has celebrated Easter not as one or two days but as 50 days, “Eastertide,” taking us all the way from the Resurrection to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, another Jewish festival that we share.
Easter is all about firstfruits, the earliest appearing of crops that give a promise of all that’s yet to come. It’s the very moment when the first planting emerges from the ground. It’s a time of renewal, a time of hope, a time of resurrection. It’s Easter! And while we still have two more weeks of Lent before we can fully celebrate Easter, our first Evensong collect reminds us all year that every Sunday, every Lord’s Day, even in Lent, is an occasion to give thanks for the Resurrection.
And so, this Lord’s Day, as we come to meet Him at this His table, may we do three important things:
1)May we remember with Paul that “the cup of blessing that we bless, is [indeed] a participation in the Blood of Christ, [and] the bread that we break, is [indeed] a participation in the Body of Christ.”
2)May we come with our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, rejoicing that He Who died is risen and is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us.
3)May we leave in the assurance that all these symbols of things to come will be realized when we’re seated with Him in His Kingdom at His heavenly table. There we’ll know an abundance that, for now, exceeds our imagination. Then the promise that comes with the fourth cup of the Seder will be fulfilled for us, Jews and Gentiles alike:
“I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.