And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:17-20 NASB)
Luke preserves what is possibly the most detail of the Passover meal behind what has become “Communion” among Jesus Followers. Of course, that “detail” really amounts to an additional cup at the beginning of his description. I used a book, “Keeping Passover” by Ira Steingroot to examine the elements of the Passover mean and try and get at which cup was which, and where Jesus broke the bread symbolizing His body. It’s a good book, but I’m still not sure (but that’s not Ira’s fault).
In the book, Steingroot reduces the elements of the meal down to a basic outline. From there, any Haggadah can be used or built to form a supper. It was that reduction outline in which I hoped to find the cups and bread referred to by Luke. It was inconclusive. And so, again, I want to emphasize that traditions about the Passover since the destruction of the Temple are very different. The book was really helpful in seeing that Jesus could have used different elements to make different points about Himself (although Steingroot does not correlate the Passover to Jesus at all).
I believe the key in understanding Luke’s presentation is that the “bread” happens very much in the “middle” of the feast, and the cup representing His blood, toward the end. The first cup mentioned in Luke could either be the first cup (benediction?). But Luke refers to it as the “cup of thanksgiving”. It could also be the second cup, which Steingroot doesn’t name in the outline. In either case, these precede the practice of breaking and hiding a piece of the “afikoman” (middle of three matzoh in a 3-chamber pouch). The breaking and hiding has meaning for followers of Jesus in that His body was broken, and His body buried. And then the finding of the afikoman refers to Jesus’ resurrection.
After this celebration of the first cup and the bread, a second cup is shared. This is the one Jesus uses to refer to His blood, inaugurating a new covenant. This cup could the third cup (cup of Elijah), or the fourth cup which completes the feast. Luke refers to the cup, “after they had eaten,” but that still could be the cup of Elijah since nothing is consumed after that one either. It’s really easy to devolve into a discussion about how it could be one or the other, but I don’t think that’s the point.
Mark and Matthew both skip swaths of detail about the Passover meal and which elements Jesus used. I think that was on purpose. In both cases, their audience was Jewish. And I think by skipping those details, they both make it possible to celebrate the memorial apart from Passover. Otherwise the Jewish believers would have to wait until once a year, and travel to Jerusalem for the feast. The point was to remember often the inauguration of this new covenant relationship with God. Luke’s audience may well have been in a different set of circumstances. They were most likely mostly Gentile, so adding some sort of Jewish influence added character necessary to remind them that this was, in fact, a Jewish Festival to begin with. His inclusion of detail added depth unnecessary to Matthew and Mark.
So the point is not which cup or which time they ate the unleavened bread. The point is that, for us Gentiles, this communion is built off of a celebration of God’s redemption of His people from bondage. That, for me, is the point. It’s rooted in a deep tradition illustrating the character of our Redeemer-King. Jesus’ new covenant is in keeping with the character of God who redeems His people. The grace of this new covenant isn’t new. It’s consistent. This is a new covenant, not a new god. This is a new path to the same God. The relationship is somewhat different because of the different path, not because God is somehow different.
But what is different? Jesus shatters the old with His blood. It’s an uncomfortable truth that God has stated that the “life is in the blood” over and over. From Noah’s covenant through the split pieces of sacrifice and Abraham’s covenant, to the altar of the tabernacle and, eventually, the temple; blood has been the price of life. And so Jesus’ blood becomes the final price paid to end all payments. The life is still in the blood, that hasn’t changed since Abel. So, my life is not in my blood, or that of an animal acceptable to God; but through the sacrifice God Himself provides in His Son, Jesus.
I know that’s not exactly earth-shattering or newsworthy perhaps. It is very comforting for me though. I don’t have to be anything to be accepted. I can be anything He wants because I’m already accepted.
What’s your view through your knothole this morning?