By Dick Wamsley
It is significant that Jesus instituted what we today call Communion or the Lord’s Supper at Passover, a traditional Jewish family feast. Every element of the Passover meal was designed to remind the Jews of the bitterness of slavery their ancestors suffered in Egypt and their deliverance from the tenth plague, the angel of death that passed over the land killing every firstborn male.
Jesus used this sacred supper of remembrance as a teaching moment for his disciples and to institute a memorial service that the church has observed for more than 20 centuries. He turned just about every element of the supper—from the Paschal Lamb to the three cakes of unleavened bread and four cups of wine shared during the meal—into symbols of his own pending suffering, the sacrificing of his body and blood for the sins of the world.
The Passover meal came to a point of climax when the head of the house took the afikomen, a portion of unleavened bread that was hidden beneath a pillow early in the service, broke it, and distributed it among the family. Also, the third cup of wine, called the Cup of Redemption, was filled and distributed. This cup was to remind the family of the blood of the lamb that saved them in Egypt and to remember the promise of a Messiah, the son of David.
Jesus gave a whole new meaning to these elements of the meal when he broke the bread and said, “‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:19, 20).
So when you gather with others next week for a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service, and you share Communion together, remember it was instituted at a family feast. When you take the bread, pause to remember Christ’s body that was given for you, suffering the cruelest of executions, dying on a cross. And when you hold the cup, remember it was Christ’s blood poured out for you that sealed a new covenant with God, including the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of eternal life.
As B.J. Mpofu [pronounced Im-pofu], a board member of Zimbabwe Christian College, said when commenting on the relationship of Zimbabwe churches and American churches: “We are a family forever because Christ died for us on the cross.”
Dick Wamsley served as senior minister at Taylorville (Illinois) Christian Church for more than 27 years and with Nebraska Christian College for 14 years. He is retired from full-time ministry but continues to serve in interim ministries for churches in central Illinois.