Holy Thursday

The prophet Jeremiah records the Word of the Lord which declared the coming of a new covenant.  The Lord says it won’t be like the covenant that He made with His people before, the covenant that they broke (Jeremiah 31:31-34).  

In the sacrificial system that was a part of this old covenant, the tribe of Levites was set apart to be priests on behalf of the rest of the people of Israel.  The priests were the ones who received the Word of God and then taught the people.  They were also the ones who performed the sacrifices and who were allowed to eat the sacrifices, the meat and the bread.  

So, there was a separation between the Levites and the other people.  Then, out of the tribe of Levites, the family of Aaron – the brother of Moses – was set apart to serve in the temple as High Priests.  Only the High Priest could enter into the veiled Holy of Holies in the Temple, past the dividing curtain, into the very presence of the Lord, and only once a year, in order to offer the blood sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.

But, in Jeremiah, the Lord says that the new covenant He will make with His people will not be like this old covenant.  In the new covenant He will put the Law in His people’s hearts and all the people will know Him.  All the people will then be, in essence, like the Levites.  There will no longer be a separation.  This was actually the original plan of God for His people Israel.  After He brought them up out of their captivity, in Exodus 19 He said to them: “… you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6).  But, the people rebelled, so the Lord set apart the Levites to be the priests on behalf of the rest of the people.

And yet, the Lord still promised later, in Jeremiah, that one day He would make a new covenant and that His people Israel would know Him directly.

The New Testament book of Hebrews points to the fulfillment of this promise in Jesus Christ.  In fact, Hebrews explicitly quotes from Jeremiah (Hebrews 10:15-25).  The point is that Jesus Christ has brought the forgiveness of sins once and for all, for all people of all places and all times.  So, there is no longer any offering for sin, because the all-sufficient one-time offering has already been made.  Jesus Christ is the true and great High Priest who entered through the curtain which once separated us from God; he went into the presence of the Father to make atonement for our sins.  He offered up his own body and blood as the ultimate, all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins.  

In the Old Testament, Moses had sprinkled the people with the blood of the sacrifice to cover their sins so that they could enter into the presence of the holy Lord.  Jesus Christ has fulfilled what was pointed to through this action.  He has sprinkled us with His blood and washed us with water in order to draw us near to God with a full assurance of faith; Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest who has atoned for our sins and made us all as priests before God.  No longer is it only the Levites and the house of Aaron who can enter into the Lord’s presence.  Since Christ has entered on our behalf and cleansed us with his blood, we too are now as priests, able to come before the Lord, intercede on behalf of others, and proclaim the Word of God.  We are also able to eat the sacrifice ourselves, since we are priests.  

For, Jesus Christ instituted the New Covenant for us.  This is related in Luke 22.  On Holy Thursday, the day before he was crucified, Jesus sat down to eat the Passover meal with his disciples.  If you recall, this meal was instituted by the Lord on the night before He led His people up out of captivity in Egypt.  He had the people take the blood of a lamb and mark it on the side frames and above the door post of their homes – like a giant cross.  This marked the people as His own so that when the angel of death came to kill the first-born sons of the Egyptians, he would “pass over” God’s people.  The people ate the body of the lamb after marking their homes with his blood.

Now, on this Thursday night, Jesus is eating this meal with his disciples.  But, he reinterprets it in light of himself, because he fulfills it.  He is the ultimate fulfillment of Passover.  His people are marked with his blood given up on the cross and passed over for eternal death.  He is the pure, sacrificial lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the only-begotten Son of God who died for us so that we may live eternally.  And we too eat of the body of the sacrifice. 

So, Jesus says to his disciples, “‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you I will not eat it [again] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves.  For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’”

The Passover is fulfilled by Christ and the kingdom comes through him, because it is on the next day that God will deliver His people through him from their captivity to sin and death and the devil.  This is the “Exodus” which St. Luke notes that Jesus spoke about with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36).  For tomorrow is Good Friday, this Exodus foretold, when God takes His people up out of their captivity through the death of Jesus Christ, the Passover lamb.  The Passover has been truly and fully fulfilled.  

And then, to reinforce the point, “[Jesus] 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.’  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’”

Jesus has reinterpreted the Passover in light of himself, because has has fulfilled the Passover and brought the reign, the kingdom, of God into the world.  Your sins have been atoned for through the death of this Passover lamb, Jesus Christ.  You have been redeemed and delivered from sin and death and the devil through the Exodus that comes through the cross.  And you are now, therefore, a holy nation and a kingdom of priests before God.  The Lord – Yahweh – is your God and you are His people, all because of this Passover Lamb who died for you.  And so you likewise eat of his body and blood, this sacrificial Jesus Christ – the great High Priest – who gave up his body and poured out his blood for you.

So, each week when we gather together at table with the Lord, we eat his body and drink his blood, just as he promises and just as the people of Israel ate the very Passover lamb.  For you are God’s people, Israel, the Church, gathered together and redeemed through the sacrifice.  In the Scriptures, to remember something doesn’t just mean to call something to mind.  It means to act on something.  So, at the Lord’s Supper we do this in remembrance of Jesus; we act – we eat his body and blood, because we are priests partaking of the sacrifice that was given for us in order to redeem us and make us God’s people.

And we have unity through this sacrifice.  No longer are we enslaved or cut off from God and each other.  Christ has reconciled us all.  He has made the Lord – Yahweh – our God and we His people.  So, on this night, we remember what the Lord has done for us as we eat his body and drink his blood that was given and poured out for you until that day comes when we celebrate the Marriage Supper of the Lamb directly after all is “fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”  Amen.


(Image: By Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret – http://www.allartpainting.com/the-last-supper-p-3146.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7916367)