Passion Week XIXb

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?


Passion Week XIXa

When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him.  And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:14-16 NASB)

We’ve reached the beginning of the end in our study of Luke.  It’s been well over a year, but we’re headed for the triumphant crescendo of Jesus’ earthly life.  He and the disciples are now cloistered away in an upper room, like so many across the city of Jerusalem, celebrating the most holy of Jewish Feasts.  This is Jesus’ Last Supper…sort of.

The meal is a Passover meal, shared around the city by every good Jew able to make it to the city from anywhere around the known world.  The meal had ritual, elements had meaning and deep significance to the Jews.  The Passover commemorates their history, beginning and focusing on the Exodus from Egypt.  But Jesus makes a very interesting statement right at the beginning in Luke.  He says, “I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”  And while the timing is His main point (when He’ll eat it next), the marker of the timing should get us thinking.

When is the Passover fulfilled in the kingdom of God?  For most Christians, a lack of understanding of the Passover and significance it has for Jesus’ suffering, death, burial, and resurrection makes this a difficult question to answer.  I’ve studied it, and have come to the conclusion that even experts aren’t completely sure about the Messianic elements fulfilled in Jesus’ Passion.  And that’s partly because we don’t know with certainty what elements from the First Century practice survived past the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Without complete certainty, I still believe that the Passover was only partially fulfilled in Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.  I believe the final element to be fulfilled happens when He returns to finish off this world’s history.  Only then, I believe it will be called the “Wedding Feast of the Lamb”.  The same basic concept, but the Exodus will be His Bride from the world, completely renewed and perfected in white.

That’s my belief anyway.  But as I said we don’t really know with certainty, so it could also be that Jesus’ Passion completely fulfilled the Passover in His resurrection.  That would mean that we, as His disciples, can celebrate it with entirely new significance.  If the Passover is fulfilled, then we, as His disciples remember our redemption from sin rather than Egypt.  The “death” we deserved passed over us and fell on Him because of His blood covering our lives.  I can see that too, and I’m not at all opposed to it.

In the economy of our Creator, I can also believe that He intends both rather than one or the other.  He recycles like that.  And since this passage certainly looks ahead to Jesus’ return (appearing), and yet just as certainly looks at the Passion He is to suffer right then, there is a lot of merit to such a view.

But there is also the fulfillment of the Passover in my daily life with my Master.  He has certainly brought me out of a separation from Him into a relationship with Him.  “Salvation” can be understood as an Exodus as well.  The bitter herbs and joyful wine can all be understood in the paths of life with Him.  The story is one of His faithfulness to me, and my willfulness against Him, a struggle of love and repentance.  It’s  not difficult at all to see a kind of fulfillment of the Passover there.  The mingling of sorrow and joy is a very apt description of our walk with Jesus, worthy of a celebratory meal.

This is just the first entry (a) of the Last Passover Meal of Jesus which means there’s more to come.  This is my view through this knothole.  What do you see of Jesus from yours?

Passion Week XVIII

Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.  And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.”  They said to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare it?”  And He said to them, “When you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters.  And you shall say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”‘  And he will show you a large, furnished upper room; prepare it there.”  And they left and found everything just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover.  (Luke 22:7-13 NASB)

While tempting, I’m not going to delve into the timing of the Last Supper of Jesus.  There’s lots of debates, and I tend to favor John’s timing which appears to differ with the other three writers, and there I stop…this morning.  Instead I want to again visit the use of knowing everyone and everything that Jesus has.  Back in Luke 19:28-35, Jesus just knows where a certain colt would be tied, to whom it belonged, and that it would be agreeable to them for Him to use it.  He already knew that.  Lots of possible explanations exist, but none are given.  We’re left with no natural explanation leaving the spiritual explanations (i.e. Jesus’ deity) open for application.

We are confronted with the humanity of Jesus throughout the four Gospels, and yet, in each, we also glimpse the divinity.  I think this is too important to miss, that Jesus exemplifies both qualities simultaneously.  Because Jesus knows what’s coming in an intimate and very personal way we can’t imagine or experience ourselves.  He is at once aware of the present, but also of the past and future (too an extent – He says He doesn’t know when He will return).  He knows the house, and the people in it where they will celebrate His last Passover.

The point I’m trying to bring out here is the tendency that perhaps I’m alone in, where I only think of Jesus in one way.  Either I don’t allow for His humanity (physical weaknesses) or I don’t allow for His deity (co-existence with God in human form).  And yet these simultaneous realities are absolutely necessary for what’s about to happen.  The practical application for me is that Jesus already knows what I’m going to face today, so I don’t have to worry.  On the other hand, the duality of Jesus where we have the Trinity located together in a physical body, at least in a sense, will define the crucifixion and resurrection.  It’s that power of the resurrection that enables me to face this day and glorify Him.  It’s all connected, the strange theological construct to help understand Jesus and what I do today.  I can’t divorce them from each other thinking one is “spiritual” and one is “physical”.  That’s the ridiculous thinking Paul addresses in several letters to churches.

So, that Jesus knows about a guy with a pitcher, a house, and that the household manager has an available room is important.  However He knew that, spiritual or natural, He knew.  Just as He knew Judas would betray Him, just as He knew Peter would deny Him, just as He knew the disciples would scatter, just as He knew He would rise up afterwards.  He knew, going in, He knew.  That the extreme physical torture wasn’t a surprise should really give us pause.  How many of us would voluntarily go there?  That the excruciating death of crucifixion was coming after the other torture should shock us.  And in John we’re told Jesus goes willingly, almost dragging the guards along behind Him so driven to this experience is our Savior.  In John, no one wants this more than Jesus.  And just as He knew about a guy with a jar of water entering Jerusalem, so He knew about the scourge and the nails and the suffocation to come.  Are you weeing yet?  This stuff destroys me.

What’s your view through the fence this morning?  It’s just a guy with a water jar, but what does it mean to you?