March 3, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: The Lord’s Supper

See Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:19-20

Both Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels refer to the institution of the Eucharist as the Lord’s Supper. They both report this important event in only four verses. Luke’s Gospel is even more succinct—three verses.

After Judas left the room, the Passover Seder meal continued. A first cup of wine had been drunk before Judas left. Then Jesus blessed the second cup, and it was passed around for all to drink. On the table lay unleavened bread, probably handbaked matzah. Jewish ritual prohibited any leaven in the bread. To avoid any leavening, the matzah could not be baked longer than 18 minutes.

Jesus took the unleavened bread and said the prayer prescribed in the Seder ceremony: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from heaven.” But then he added, “This is my body, which will be given up for you.”

A year before, in Capernaum, Jesus had told his followers a half dozen times that they must eat his body and drink his blood in order to have eternal life. At the time, he lost many of his followers, sickened by the idea of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, but the Apostles stayed with him. Probably since that time, they had wondered how he could give them his body to eat. Now they learned how.

“This is my body,” he said. It still looked, tasted and felt like unleavened bread, but its substance was changed. It had become Jesus’ body. They all ate what had previously been unleavened bread. They ate his body.

The Passover Seder continued. There’s no indication in the Gospels that Jesus and his Apostles ate the paschal lamb that was part of the Jewish Passover. They were observing the feast according to the Essene’s calendar, and the Essenes did not eat the paschal lamb.

They would have shared a third cup of wine with the meal, and then a fourth after the meal. Before sharing the fourth cup, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of all for the forgiveness of sins.” Just as he had changed the substance of the bread into his body, he changed the substance of the wine into his blood.

Then he said the words that indicated that he wasn’t doing this just for the Apostles. “Do this in memory of me,” he told them. The Church has taken these words to mean that Jesus wanted his Apostles to make the changing of bread and wine into his body and blood the central mystery rite for Christians.

This celebration of the Lord’s Supper was to be a commemoration just as the Passover Seder was a commemoration of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. It was to commemorate more than the changing of bread and wine, though. Jesus said that his blood would be shed for all for the forgiveness of sin. The commemoration, therefore, is of Jesus’ redemptive death and resurrection. †


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