Originally published April 13, 2017
As part of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday is recognized this evening. It was the night in which Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples. The time in which Jesus died corresponded with the Jewish holiday of Passover. And the Last Supper was the first night of Passover. An annual dinner for Passover is held, called a Seder, which is the Hebrew word for “order.” In 3,500 years, rabbinical tradition and teaching helped to form the ceremony of the Seder.
Some of these pieces were traced back to the original Passover. Others came in Jewish history from rabbinical traditions.
Also, once the Israelites were in the land, and after the temple was built, this impacted Passover traditions. When you had the temple, the lambs were sacrificed at the temple. But what didn’t change was that people could only sacrifice lambs that were perfect.
I think it’s worth spending so much time in talking about Passover because I think it can help give us a greater context and understanding for the events surrounding the death of Jesus.
In the gospels, the time of the death of Christ revolves around the Passover. That’s not a coincidence! Jesus would be sacrificed at the time that was associated with sacrifice. Jesus had gone to Jerusalem for Passover. In Jerusalem, the city within the Roman Empire that was the epicenter of Jewish culture, thousands of lambs would have been slaughtered annually. Jewish people would have been coming in from all over the empire.
We see many traditions of the Seder at the last Supper.
Some of them are small things. In the gospel accounts, it talks about Jesus reclining at the table (Luke 22:14).
Jesus wasn’t sitting in a la-z-boy. He was on a couch that he was lying on, that was a Seder tradition. They had been enslaved in Egypt but being able to lie down showed the freedom and security.
Or when Jesus is alluding to his betrayer, he says in John 13:26, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.
Again, I know the mental image that most of you probably have when you read this. It’s hard to know precisely where in the Seder this is, but it seems that it’s probably referring to when you take Haroset which is made from apple, nuts, cinnamon. They weren’t eating the Last Supper at an Italian restaurant. They didn’t have a bowl of olive oil in the middle of the table. But all of the elements we see at the Last Supper are part of what you’d see in a traditional Seder.
As part of the Seder, you’d take the unleavened bread…looks like a cracker. And you’d break the bread.
Luke 22:19, “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
For over a thousand years of Seder dinners, bread had been broken. Unleavened bread, just like the Israelite forefathers had eaten before fleeing from Egypt.
The body of Jesus, given for you, given for your sins. Given for your forgiveness. And he says “do this in remembrance of me.”
What more fitting words could you say at a Seder? A meal revolving around remembrance, about retelling the story of God saving his people by the blood of the lamb.
Remembering what God has done. Remembering what Jesus has done. Remembering the sins that he’s redeemed you from. Remembering his body that he gave for you. Remembering his death that he died for you. Remembering the grace that he offers to you. Remembering his gospel.
Luke 22:20 says, “And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
The Seder dinner involves four glasses of wine. This seems to have been the second or third glass of wine in the meal, although there’s scholarly debate.
But how profound it is. Wine drank in remembrance of the Passover. Jesus takes the wine, he blesses it, he says it is the new covenant in his blood, at the Seder dinner.
It clearly points backwards to the blood of the Passover lamb, the blood that was put on the door posts. And it also points forward to the blood of Christ, shed for the forgiveness of sins. The blood of the true lamb.
At the beginning of the gospel of John, when John the Baptist sees Jesus he says “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus is the true lamb of God. The lamb who took the penalty for sins. The one who was scarified for the salvation of God’s people.
And by trusting in him and having faith in him, that puts the blood on the doorpost of your heart. On the first Passover, there would not have been a pardon for a person who didn’t put blood on the doorpost. It wasn’t that the blood saved them, God saved them. But to not put the blood on the door was to show that a person didn’t have faith in the Lord, didn’t trust in the Lord.
When we take the Lord’s Supper, it’s not arbitrary. It’s not just using the random items that were around. It’s all symbolic. It takes symbols important to the first Passover, the first time God had delivered Israel, and it reminds of the new Passover, from the perfect sacrifice for sins.
The Passover passage in Exodus 12:5 says that the lamb that was used had to be without blemish. Jesus is the ultimate lamb without blemish, a life lived in perfection.
1 Corinthians 5:7 says “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover Lamb.”
Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.