Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The New Covenant

Dear Friends,

It was Passover in Jerusalem. That same night that Jesus was to be betrayed. 1 Corinthians 11:23-24 That’s why we call it the “Last Supper” but it’s the first Eucharist – the first Holy Communion. Passover was a religious ceremony given to Moses so that the Israelites could save their families. Every household needed to follow a specific ritual that included slaughtering an unblemished lamb, roasting it and eating it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.  Exodus 12:1-14

Soon after His entry into Jerusalem, Jesus instructed his disciples to find a certain man who had an upper room that was large enough to hold all thirteen of them. Most houses had flat roofs with small rooms built on top but some of the bigger homes had a large upper room that was occasionally used as a gathering place. (Like our banquet halls today) The disciples found the man and they gathered in his upper room as the sun was setting. At the door to the upper room where a meal was about to take place, the disciples could expect a servant with a pitcher of water, a bowl and a towel to wash the guest’s feet as they arrived. You can imagine then their shock and confusion when they found their master and teacher with the water and towel acting like an ordinary servant and ready to wash their feet. But of course we know that this was no ordinary Passover and Jesus was no ordinary teacher. 

Jesus was preparing them for the Passover that was to be the model for every Lord’s Supper after that and Jesus was also preparing their hearts to model His humility and the call to humble service. John 13:12-14 Jesus told his disciples and He tells us to come to the Lord’s Table with a humble attitude. We come to receive Holy Communion in an attitude of quiet reverence with head bowed and humble thoughts that open us to the love of Jesus and prepare us to serve and love others as Jesus has served and loved us.

The picture in our mind of Jesus and the twelve sitting at a formal dining room table in a huge gothic hall is based on the painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. He set the Last Supper in a palace to reflect the Renaissance period at the time it was painted but no upper room ever looked like that! The room may have had plenty of windows to let in light and fresh air or it may have been dark and stuffy. A short-legged table sat about 18 inches off the floor and was surrounded by large cushions that they would sit on and lean against. 

On the table was a bowl of saltwater to remind them of the tears that were shed by their ancestors in Egypt. Another bowl contained bitter greens like parsley that recalled the feelings of resentment against the harsh rule of the Pharaoh. During the meal, you’d dip the bitter greens into the saltwater before you ate them. 

Also on the table were large platters of flat unleavened bread that recalled the haste to leave Egypt since leavened bread would take too much time to rise and prepare. Next to the bread was a paste made of crushed apples, dates and nuts and sprinkled with cinnamon to remind them of the bricks they used to make for the Pharaoh when they were slaves. 

At the center of the table was the roasted lamb. On the day before, Peter and John had gone to the temple to purchase an unblemished lamb that they gave it to the priest to sacrifice. The priest had poured some of the blood into the fire and this ritual made the lamb holy and a sacrifice to God. This was Thursday night. Not in their wildest imaginations did the disciples think that the next day, Jesus would be the One sacrificed. That Jesus would become the Lamb of God who was sacrificed to take away our sins. 

There were three cups of wine in front of each disciple but in front of the host, Jesus, there was large common cup filled with wine and called the Cup of Blessing. One of the disciples would have started the liturgy by asking, “Why is this night more important than any other night.” As the host, Jesus would have answered by singing Psalm 136:1-26. Jesus had started the Passover meal by taking the bread and giving thanks and breaking it.That happened at every Passover meal but He then added strange, new words to the Jewish ritual. He said, “This is my body that was broken for you” that echoed His words recorded in John 6:52-58.

At the end of the ceremony, it was time to share in the Cup of Blessing – the large chalice that all present would drink from. Matthew was sitting right there and tells us what happened next. “Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’” Matthew 26:27-28 Jesus had now given the new meaning to this first meal of the New Covenant. No longer a remembrance of leading God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, Jesus will now lead them from their slavery of sin and into the fullness of eternal life.

Jesus and the disciples then sang a hymn of praise and left to walk to the Garden of Gethsemane. Mark 14:26 Tomorrow He will be tortured for the entire day and in the afternoon He will be killed. And what does Jesus do? He leads His disciples in singing a worship song to God. There are the circumstances in our life that lead us into our own “Garden of Gethsemane.” Those situations when our own cross becomes too heavy to bear. Those times when God brings us alongside someone else whose cross we need to help bear. And when life gets tough, like for Jesus, we also must lift our voices in prayer and praise to our Heavenly Father. For God never left Jesus’ side. He will never leave ours. Amen?

No comments:

Post a Comment