Jesus gathered with the Twelve in a home in Jerusalem to share the Passover meal. Even the preparation for the meal was introduced with a reminder that Jesus’ time was at hand, and that mood will pervade the meal.
The thirteen mean reclined for the meal in the Greek fashion. There is no mention of a table in the Greek, nor is there any indication that all thirteen men reclined on one side of a table.
One must presume that the meal progressed as a normal Passover seder, although we must humbly say that we don’t know what all the customs were at the time Jesus and his disciples shared this meal.
An unusual item of business was introduced when Jesus announced that one of the Twelve would betray him. This announcement caused great consternation and self-examination. Perhaps eleven of the disciples were concerned that they might give Jesus away inadvertently. But one knew it was him. Jesus associated the dipping of bitter herbs in sauce with this betrayal.
When Jesus broke the bread, the disciples would have expected a reminder of how the children of Israel had to leave Egypt in a hurry and only had time to make flat bread. Instead, Jesus tells them they are eating of his body. This should not be taken literally, since Jesus was sitting with them, very much alive at the time. But in time, the church would understand this better. I imagine the disciples were confused.
When it was time for wine, the disciples would have expected to drink from their own cups, accompanied by another remembrance of the Exodus. Instead, Jesus tells them they are drinking his blood. He mentions the covenant. And he mentions forgiveness of sins.
The children of Israel had never really lived up to their requirement to keep the covenant. Eventually it led t the Exile. In a very tangible way, the Exile was still in place at the time these men were sharing the Passover meal. Jesus is instituting a new covent. One might call it the kingdom of God.
Jesus shed his blood—which is a euphemism for dying; there is nothing magical about the substance itself—for the forgiveness of sins. I have no idea how that transaction works, but I’m thankful for it.
I’ve heard preachers like the death of Jesus to the Temple sacrifices for sin. I get that, but the Passover lambs were not sacrificed for sins. They were sacrificed so their blood could be painted on the doorways and so they could be eaten before an arduous journey. Let’s not twist the Bible to say things it doesn’t say just because it makes a good story.
Jesus died for our sins. Forgiveness of sins is also the beginning of an arduous journey. Matthew makes no bones about it. To walk with Jesus is hard. It is an uphill climb and it is dangerous. If we soft sell that, we are not being true to the gospel.
One sidetone: those of us who are teetotalers will need to put aside our scruples when Jesus passes the cup around when he comes in glory.
The first Passover looked forward to God’s redemption of his people. Subsequent Passover celebrations remembered what God did.
The first Lord’s Supper looked forward to the death of Jesus at the hands of the Romans. He was establishing the kingdom. He was enabling the forgiveness of sins. Subsequent Lord’s Suppers look back at what God did in Jesus. Our hearts are filled with thanksgiving. Until he comes.