On Maundy (i.e. Holy) Thursday, the day before Jesus was crucified, he sat down to eat the Passover meal with his disciples. This is popularly known as “The Last Supper” and is depicted in art and popular culture. There is a great significance in this meal.
The Passover had been instituted by the Lord and is described in the book of Exodus. On the night before the Lord led His people Israel up out of captivity in Egypt, He had His people take the blood of a lamb and sprinkle 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 firstborn 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; the blood of the lamb saved them from the death of the firstborn. Ever since their deliverance from Egypt, the people of Israel celebrated this meal each year in remembrance of the Lord’s actions for them.
Now, on this Thursday night, Jesus eats this meal with his disciples. Traditionally, when celebrating this meal, the people of Israel would call to mind the Lord’s deliverance of them from Egypt through the Passover lamb. However, on this night, Jesus reinterprets the Passover in light of himself, because he fulfills it. He is the true Passover Lamb who saves Israel, the Lord’s people. His people, the Church Israel, are marked with his blood and passed over for death. He is the 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.
Thus, Matthew says in his Gospel, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for 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 again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:26-29).
Rather than recounting the Lord’s deliverance of His people from captivity in Egypt through the Passover lamb, Jesus is recounting his deliverance of his people from captivity to sin, death, and the devil through himself. Jesus is the true Passover Lamb and therefore reinterprets the Passover in light of himself, because he has brought the ultimate deliverance. Our sins have been atoned for through the death of this Passover lamb, Jesus Christ. We have been redeemed and delivered from sin and death and the devil through the Exodus that comes through the cross. And we are now, therefore, a holy nation and a kingdom of priests before God. The Lord – Yahweh – is our God and we are His people, all because of this Passover Lamb who died for us.
In the Old Testament, the priests ate the sacrifices, and now we likewise – as New Testament priests through Christ – eat of his body and blood. Each week when we gather together at the Lord’s Supper, we eat Christ’s body and drink his blood, just as he promises and just as the people of Israel ate the very Passover lamb and the Old Testament priests ate the sacrifices. For we are God’s people, Israel, the Church, gathered together and redeemed through the sacrifice of Christ.
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. We are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. So, on this night, we remember what the Lord has done for us through the great, ultimate Passover Lamb.
(Image of The Lord’s Supper. Christ standing at an Orthodox altar, giving the Eucharist to the Twelve Apostles. Frescoes in the upper church of Spaso-Preobrazhenski cathedral. Valaam Monastery. By Иерей Максим Массалитин from Москва, Россия (Тайная вечеря) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, href=”http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A%D0%A2%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%8F_%D0%92%D0%B5%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%80%D1%8F._%D0%A0%D0%BE%D1%81%D0%BF%D0%B8%D1%81%D1%8C_%D1%85%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BC%D0%B0_%D0%BD%D0%B0_%D0%92%D0%B0%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%B0%D0%BC%D0%B5.jpg”)