The Lord's Last Supper - Communion
The Background of Communion
The Lord's last supper occurred the evening before His crucifixion. It was after twilight and –according to the Hebrew time table– was the beginning of the "day of preparation" for the Passover Feast. The Passover is celebrated with the community as a whole at the synagogue. It's also a Hebrew tradition to celebrate it with family, friends, and neighbors, the evening before that.
Sometime after that original Passover Feast, the actual slaughter of the lamb stopped for many Hebrews, but the tradition is carried on through the annual Seder meal. Here is a brief overview of the events of that Seder service –the same Seder in which Jesus participated with His closest of friends.
- First, the woman of the house lights the candles, bringing the light into the house.
- There are four cups of wine that will be drank. The first is called the Kadesh –the Cup of Sanctification. The cup is a symbol of joy. As we drink this cup we are reminded of the joy which is ours as a result of our being brought out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.
- Next we wash our hands to symbolize purification. At the table, we pass around a bowl and a towel.
- We eat Karpas –a sprig of parsley. It is dipped into salt water and eaten as a reminder that our ancestors were farmers. With the salt water we also recall the tears shed from suffering under bitter slavery, and give thanks that God heard the cries of the Hebrew slaves.
- Three matzos –loaves of unleavened bread– are wrapped together in a napkin and introduced as a unity. Some refer to this unity as a picture of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob –others refer to it as the priests, Levites and the people. The middle matzo is broken in two. One half is wrapped in a napkin and hidden away for later. This matzo is called the "Afikomen".
- The Maggid –or telling– of the story of the Exodus from Egypt follows. "...when your children ask you, 'what does this ceremony mean to you?' then tell them..."
The Hebrews had been living in Egypt for 400 years –the last many of those years as slaves because the Pharaohs had forgotten how well Joseph had treated the nation. God was preparing their release from their harsh masters by sending ten plagues upon them. The tenth one was the death of the first born male –man and beast– of every family that did not have the blood of the lamb on the sides and tops of their doors. Later, God told Moses how the people were to be reminded of their Exodus.
The Passover was to be celebrated on the 14th of Nisan –it was to become the first month of their year. And there was much preparation for that great event. Beginning a week before, the people were to search for leaven in their houses and get rid of all that they found. Then on the 10th, each man was to select a perfect lamb for his family and possibly his neighbor. It was to be one that was a year old and without defect. To ensure it met this criteria, the lamb was put on display in front of their houses for all to see. Then at twilight on the 14th, the community was to slaughter their lambs without breaking a bone, and put some of the blood on their door frames. The lamb was to be roasted over fire and eaten along with bitter herbs and bread without leaven. Any part of the lamb that was not eaten was to be consumed in the fire.
- Next the second cup –the Cup of Judgment– is drank. But first, for each of the ten plagues that God brought on Egypt, a drop of the wine is dripped on the napkin or plate as a reminder of the sorrow for all that died.
- We wash our hands once again; it's just before the meal.
- The Maror –Bitter Herbs, usually horseradish– is eaten to bring tears to our eyes as a reminder of those who suffered under the bondage of slavery –as if they were our family members.
- Then the traditional meal is eaten. There is a ceremonial plate on the table with a shank bone of a lamb, the karpas and the maror. Although we eat karpas and maror, the shank (forearm) bone is a reminder of the lamb that was slaughtered and whose blood was put on the door frame.
- After the meal, the children search for the half of the matzo that was wrapped in the napkin and hidden. Who ever finds it takes it to the father to receive a bit of money –a ransom. The father then brakes it into pieces and given to us to eat.
- The third cup –the Cup of Redemption– is drank and we are reminded that God said "I Will redeem you with an outstretched arm".
- Attention is brought to the "Place of Elijah". There is a place-setting for a guest who will be coming later.
- The last cup –the Cup of Acceptance or Praise– is drank as a reminder that God said "I Will take you as My own people and I will be your God". The service concludes with many songs of praise along with traditional Hebrew dance.
Putting the Passover into the Christian Perspective
When God told Moses the date for the Passover to be celebrated –the 14th of Nisan, He was announcing the date on which His Son Jesus –the Lamb of God– was going to die. He also announced the day that He –Jesus– was going to be put on public display for all to see the perfection of His Son. It was the "Triumphal Entry" and it was going to happen on the 10th.
We Christians know that the Lamb of God –introduced by John– was Jesus. He was tried like no other; as through fire. When His trial was over, like the Passover lamb, He was seen no more. And at His crucifixion, His legs were not broken like the men next to Him –for He was already dead. His blood marks the door to our hearts to eternally protect us from death.
Jesus' last supper was celebrated in the traditional manner –with His family and friends on the Day of Preparation. We don't know who the woman was that lit the candles, but it was probably His mother –after all, Mary was the one who brought the Light of Men, the Light of Life, into this world. They had drank the first cup of wine –the Cup of Joy, washed, eaten the karpas, displayed the three matzos (the Trinity), broken the middle one (wrapped half in a linen napkin and hid it away –buried it), repeated the story of the Exodus, drank the Cup of Judgment after dripping the ten drops, washed again, eaten the bitter herbs, and eaten the traditional meal.
It was at this time that He stood up and raised up the half of a matzo that had been wrapped in linen from its burial place –foreshadowing the resurrection. And He said "This is my body, it is broken for you." The middle matzo is called the Afikomen. Ironically, it's the only Greek word in the entire Seder meal as if to call special attention to it. The word "Afikomen" means "I have come". That's what His disciples heard when He spoke those words to them that night. He then broke that half and they ate it –all of it. They ate the Bread of Life –foreshadowed by the manna given to their fathers in the wilderness. His body is gone –it can no longer be seen. (It exists only in those who belong to Him –His bride.) Then He lifted the third cup of wine –the Cup of Redemption– and explained that it represented His blood that was going to be shed for them. That was the price that was going to be paid for restoring men to a righteous relationship with God. When God said "I have redeemed you by My outstretched arm", He was referring to Jesus' arms that were stretched out on the cross for our redemption.
The service concludes with a reminder of the one who was to come as Elijah (in hind-sight, we know that it was His cousin John the Baptist) –followed with praise to God for His great provision and salvation. Although they might not have comprehended all that they heard and saw that night, they were partakers of the first Lord's Supper celebrated by the church.
What's Missing in Communion Today?
So many churches teach that we are to search out our hearts for sin that has not been confessed so that we might be right with God before taking part in this glorious celebration. They miss the whole point: This is a Celebration of what God has done for us –His mercy and grace expressed through His only Son!
Most churches do not realize –what's more teach– that the "Lord's Supper" or Communion describes His redemption of us from sin and death. He provided the Light of our salvation. He sanctified us from the world. He washed us from its effects on us. He judged sin and gives us a sadness for those still dead in their trespasses. He even washed our hearts from sin.
When Jesus said "Do this in remembrance of Me", He was asking us to participate in the entire Seder meal. Eating the little wafer and drinking the little cup of grape juice, tells about His death and resurrection. That's great news. But unless it's understood in its fullness, that little bit of the Passover leaves so much unsaid. The meal –and the story repeated during it– describes His redemptive plan and purpose for us. The service is meant to conclude with overwhelming praise and celebration from a grateful heart –not one filled with guilt.
If you have the opportunity to help others in your church understand this fullness as explained in the Passover Feast and its Seder meal, then please do so. There are a number of resources. youtube.com has several recordings of the music as well as the speaking portions (search for "Messianic Pesach Seder"). Better yet, attend a Seder at a local Messianic Synagogue or a church where a Messianic rabbi demonstrates its symbolic meanings. (One such place is Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue in Dallas, Texas.) There are printed guide books that describe each part of the Seder. A very nice one is the "Messianic Passover Haggadah, Your Complete Passover Guide" from the Jewish Voice Ministries International. (Their stated purpose is "Proclaiming Messiah to the World".) But of course, the best source is the Bible –the book of Exodus.
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:9-14)
Your Identity In Christ
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27 - NIV)