By Neal Windham
Jesus’ last supper was almost surely some sort of Passover meal. It was eaten at night while in Jerusalem, as custom would have it. Our Lord likely explained the meal’s key features, much as Jewish fathers would have done for their own children, though in Jesus’ case the symbolism was developed in new and astonishing ways. “This is my body,” he said, “my blood.” More than this, Jesus ended the meal with a hymn, as was also customary at Passover, and celebrated it with his new “family,” the disciples, a Passover tradition dating to the time of the exodus. In view of so many and such clear parallels, surely Jesus’ use of Passover to introduce the Lord’s Supper is more than a coincidence.
In truth, God has always been in the business of delivering his people. Whether we speak of Israel’s first exodus from Egypt or her new exodus through King Jesus, the message is always the same: God comes to his people when they need him most.
During this Passover, our Lord’s disciples heard him retelling the old reassuring story of certain freedom from forces hostile to God and his children. But they also heard something new, something more, for Jesus now claimed that he was entering into the story, taking on the role of deliverer, ushering in the climax of the long-awaited kingdom promised so long ago through the prophets.
And this is precisely why we have gathered to remember him today: the deliverer, Jesus, first remembered us in an upper room, furnished and ready. We’ve been freed from sin’s impressive, but limited, grip, rescued from death’s ugly reign of terror over us, delivered from Satan, as our Lord once taught us to pray, and ultimately banished from Hell’s enduring flames. What more could we possibly ask of God? What more could we somehow expect of him?
On the night he was betrayed, Jesus took the bread and cup, proclaiming them his own body and blood. In this way, he fulfilled the promise of the ages, heralded the end of evil’s powerful grip over human hearts, and ushered in a bold new era of forgiveness. Israel’s long, hard exile was over; her much anticipated return home had finally begun. Soon there would be a fledgling church, comprised not only of Israel’s remnant, but of all God’s children living among the nations.
So great a body in such little bread! So large a story in so small a cup! Just what deliverance are we proclaiming as we ingest this little meal? What freedom are we sharing with the world?
Neal Windham is professor of spiritual formation with Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University.