I was raised in church, yet, until I was in my thirties, I struggled to understand Communion. After all, the Bible says that after the disciples finished eating, Jesus used a cup and bread to symbolize the redemption his imminent death and resurrection would supply. I’ve seen my dining room table after dinner: leftover scraps of food and half-empty glasses complete with backwash. How could the pitiful remnants of a meal possibly represent the precious body and blood of Jesus?
Then, when I was 32 a Messianic Rabbi came to our church to explain New Testament Communion within the context of Old Testament history. I had no idea the OT Passover was so connected to the NT Passover. It changed my life.
With Palm Sunday just three days away, Passion Week and Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread are just around the corner. I’d like to share a little history and help connect these holiday—and communion—by putting them into context. For the sake of brevity (my first draft was 1500 words!) I’m going to skip the flowery prose and use bullet points.
Old Testament Passover:
- Moses demanded the Pharaoh to free his people go free.
- Even after a series of plagues, the Pharaoh refused.
- God told Moses to find a lamb that to sacrifice on behalf of his people.
- He instructed Moses to make sure the lamb was perfect in everyway.
- Moses sacrificed the lamb. The people painted the blood on doorways.
- The blood kept the Angel of Death, from taking their first-born males.
- The Pharaoh lost his son; in his grief allowed the slaves to go free.
- They fled Egypt in a great hurry, and walked for several days.
- The Pharaoh’s grief turned to anger, and he sent his army after them.
- At the Red Sea, the water and the armies trapped the multitude.
- Moses lifted his staff and God parted the waters.
- They walked through to freedom.
New Testament Passover:
- Palm Sunday Jesus rides into town on a donkey.
- He is greeted by a crowd of people waving palms.
- He rides directly to the Jerusalem Temple.
- For the next four days, he teaches the people and answers their questions.
- Religious leaders, Jews, and Gentiles observe him.
- They all agree they can find no fault in him.
- Jesus sends the disciples to set up for the Passover.
- They share the Last Supper.
- Jesus is arrested, beaten, “tried,” and crucified.
- Sunday morning, his tomb is empty because he has risen from the dead.
If these stories sound similar to one another, it’s because they are! If you read all the accounts (in Scripture) very carefully, you will find dates attached to all of these events. Because the Jewish calendar is so different than the Roman calendar, often these dates mean nothing to us. But for context, they are incredibly important! See?
Nisan 10 God tells Moses to find a lamb to sacrifice
Jesus rides into Jerusalem and presents himself at the Temple
Nisan 11-13 Moses observes the lamb for any defects. He finds none.
Religious leaders observe Jesus for defects. They find nothing.
Nisan 14 Moses prepares the people for their exodus and the Angel of Death
Jesus prepared his disciples for his departure
Nisan 15 The lamb was sacrificed (in specific ways at specific times.)
Jesus is crucified (with specific times mentioned)
Nisan 17 Moses and the multitude walk through the Red Sea
Jesus rose from the dead.
God instructs Moses to memorialize the event yearly by celebrating a specific meal with foods and songs to educate subsequent generations on the history of God’s faithful deliverance from slavery and bondage. Several thousand years later, God’s people still celebrate the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread all over the world. In fact, the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples looks very much like a seder.
It’s impossible to cover the elaborate symbolism present in a seder service, so I am only covering the two elements that are synonymous with Communion.
1 The Bread:
- Unleavened bread, or matzah is used. It must be free of any leavening.
- Because of its texture, holes must be poked into it for even baking.
- Parts are a little toastier than others.
- One might say it appears to be pierced and striped.
- Before the seder, the leader puts three pieces of matzah into the Unity.
- The Unity is a linen three-sleeved pocket.
- At the beginning of the meal, the leader removes the center matzah.
- The leader breaks it in half, putting one half back into the Unity.
- The other is wrapped in linen and hidden.
- It returns after the actual meal to be reunited with its other half.
2 The Wine:
- A Passover seder includes three cups of wine.
- Each cup represents a promise God made to His people (Exodus 6:6-7):
“I will deliver you.”
“I will redeem you.”
“I will take you"
- First two are The Cup of Sanctification” and “The Cup of Deliverance”
- They are toward the beginning of the Seder.
- Cups three and four are brought out after the actual meal.
To put this all into context, “after supper” Jesus took a piece of bread that symbolized his beatings and crucifixion, and a cup of wine that symbolized redemption to illustrate the power in his body and blood.
God told Moses to keep the Passover feast (through the specific order outlined in Exodus 12:1-14) as “an everlasting ordinance.” Jesus told the disciples to do “This in remembrance of me.” Both Passovers represent redemption from slavery. In the case of the OT Passover, it was literal slavery. In the years since, countless Jewish and Gentile families have celebrated Passover as a yearly look back at the bondage from which God delivered them over the past year.
It's a powerful feast, but I want to make it clear I am not implying Christians must celebrate it or that those who do are better than those who don't. Colossians 2:16-17 is very clear about judging each other for what we do regarding food, feasts, and sabbaths. I simply wanted to give you the beautiful context to which Communion belongs. It helped me make sense of some of the last words of Jesus and understand that instead of random leftovers, Jesus chose the Passover symbols God set in place thousands of years previous to represent redemption.
There is just too much information for one post, so I will continue on this subject on April 2nd (which just so happens to be the last day of Passover.) I will share about the symbolism of the Passover lamb and the Resurrection of Christ.