By Mandy Smith
We know Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper during the Passover feast, which Jews have celebrated for generations. Passover is an annual festival remembering God’s salvation of his people from slavery in Egypt. Like all celebrations of annual holidays, it takes much preparation and is a turning point of the calendar. So, as good Jews, Jesus and his disciples prepared and celebrated this feast together. But Jesus knew this Passover would be different from all he’d celebrated before, because he knew his death was imminent.
The food is a central part of the Passover feast, but so are the words. When Moses established this tradition, it included teaching children the meaning of the meal (Exodus 12:26, 27). It was not only an opportunity to eat symbolic food together, but to tell the story of how God saved his people.
As at all Passover meals, this ancient story undoubtedly was retold at Jesus’ last supper, and perhaps it was so customary to those in attendance that it almost went unheard. But if any in the room were lulled into daydreams by the familiar words, new words from Jesus snapped them out of their stupor.
His version of the tale is different. Jesus tells his friends not only to use this feast as a reminder of an old story, but also of a story that is about to happen. And he tells them to no longer save the story for an annual event but to tell it as often as they meet.
And so, in his usual, transformative way, Jesus takes an old habit and creates something fresh. He reshapes a climactic, annual event into something almost mundane. In doing so, he invites us to make sacred things common in their frequency without making them common in value.
It must have seemed strange to first-century Jewish ears to observe an annual, sacred holiday on a weekly, or even daily basis, like if we suddenly celebrated Christmas every Tuesday. But Jesus was good at making the spiritual things ordinary and the commonplace things spiritual.
He didn’t want his sacrifice to become a distant memory or a vague concept to be dusted off once a year, then tucked away for next time. He wanted future generations to live it. And so, he asked us to tell this story as often as we meet—to have Easter every Sunday—because this is not an annual reminder of God’s faithfulness in the distant past. This is a reminder of his ongoing faithfulness, his ongoing salvation every week, every day.
Mandy Smith, originally from Australia, serves as pastor at University Christian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio (www.universitychristianchurch.net). She is the author of Making a Mess and Meeting God: Unruly Ideas and Everyday Experiments for Worship (Standard Publishing) and of The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry (IVP, slated for release in October).