In the Old Testament, after God made His covenant with the people of Israel, it was sealed with the blood of a sacrifice. After reading God’s Word to the people, Moses threw the sacrificial blood on them, declaring, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:3-11). The blood was the guarantee that God would uphold His promises.
God’s promises were ultimately pointing to the Christ, the promised Messiah who would redeem sinful humanity from captivity to sin and death. So, after a great many generations this Christ, Jesus, came into the world. He is God incarnate, come in the flesh as both true God and true man, to fulfill God’s promise of salvation.
Thus, in the New Testament, Jesus Christ fulfilled this covenant and then instituted a new one, sealing it with his own blood. On Thursday evening, the night he was betrayed, he ate his last supper with his disciples in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem. That night he would be arrested, on Friday morning he would be tried, and on Friday afternoon he would be crucified and die in order to seal the covenant with his blood. Before all these things, though, Christ instituted his covenant with his disciples.
Matthew’s Gospel records:
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’ When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:17-30).
The book of Hebrews connects these events in Exodus and Matthew by noting that a covenant is sealed with the blood of a sacrifice. Hebrews says, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:11-22). Christ came in fulfillment of all of God’s promises of salvation. He was the one whom Moses, all the prophets, and all the faithful of the Old Testament looked forward to. He was the one who that blood covenant in Exodus and, indeed, the whole Old Testament sacrificial system anticipated. After many, many generations of faithful looking forward to his arrival, he finally came. The Lord had come in the flesh to redeem His people from captivity to sin and death, as he had promised.
And this week, Holy Week, he accomplished the purpose for which he came. This week is the culmination of his earthly ministry, because Christ came to die and spill his blood for the forgiveness of sins. His blood seals the covenant of salvation which the Lord has made with you. It is due to Christ’s death that you have forgiveness of sins. It is due to Christ being forsaken by his Father on the cross that you are not forsaken by God. It is due to Christ’s sacrifice that you are made whole.
And so on this night, Thursday night, Christ begins this sacrifice with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. He connects his own body with the bread and his own blood with the wine. Thus, this Lord’s Supper is connected with his sacrifice on the altar of the cross. It is his blood which seals God’s promise to you and cleanses you of your sins. It is his blood which makes you God’s own children. It is due to his blood that you can be sure what God’s promise of salvation is for you.
So, each week when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we receive the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice as our own. He is still dining with his disciples at the altar as we partake of his body and his blood. He allows us to commune with him and each other as one body, the Church for whom he gave up his body and poured out his blood on that Good Friday, which he now gives to us. And, as he promised when he instituted this Supper, he will one day drink again of the fruit of the vine with us in person.
For that is, ultimately, what the Lord’s Supper is pointing to: the return of Christ and the great marriage feast between him and his bride, the Church. When Christ returns he will finish his restoration of all creation and bring you, his Church, into it – after he resurrects your bodies, reunites them with your souls, and makes you whole again. And then you will behold Christ no longer veiled through bread and wine, but in person as you and all creation celebrate your healing.
So, this day – Holy Thursday – is intimately connected with the days which follow. Tomorrow, Christ will die for your sins. Saturday, he will rest in the tomb to fulfill the Sabbath rest for you. Then, Sunday, he will rise from the dead to defeat sin, death, and the devil and remove their hold over you. It begins on this night, though, as Christ instituted his Supper so that you may continually receive his body and blood as your own until that day comes when he “drinks it new” with you.
(Image: The Last Supper, by Leonardo Da Vinci – online, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50393592)