The Last Supper, or our Lord’s Supper (communion, mass), was originally a passover week meal or Passover itself. I’ll avoid that debate for now. Brant Pitre, in his new book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper, examines the Lord’s Supper in the context of Passover, and this chapter is an exceptional one — worth purchasing just for this chapter. (I so wish pastors could use each eucharist service to build a full theology of eucharist, and Passover is at the heart of it all.)
1. Choose an unblemished, male lamb.
2. Sacrifice the lamb — there is a priestly dimension here, but the original passover had the father as priest.
3. Spread the blood of the lamb on the door with hyssop
4. Eat the flesh of the lamb
5. Keep the Passover as a “day of remembrance”
By the time of Jesus, though, there were changes:
1. The Passover sacrifice occurred in the Temple only.
2. The lamb’s sacrifice in the Temple had the appearance of a crucifixion (Justin Martyr)
3. The celebrants were participating in the original passover.
4. Using later sources, there was some belief that Jews anticipated the return of the Messiah at Passover.
Thus, the last supper was:
1. A Passover meal
2. Jesus sees himself as the Passover sacrifice; they are participating in a new passover.
3. Passover leads to Exodus.
On the “is” is “this is my body” Brant makes this comment, but it leaves me both puzzled and unconvinced:
For the context of his words is quite clear: it is the Jewish Passover. Well, then, let’s look again at the Passover. In the Old Testament, was it ever enough simply to sacrifice the lamb? No. Did the actual flesh of the lamb have to be eaten in order for the sacrifice to be complete? Yes. Could a symbol of the lamb’s flesh suffice? By now, we know that the answer is negative.
Well, brother, Brant, there are some jumps here. Maybe I’m missing something, but Passover … sacrifice and eat … OK, I get that. No one is questioning one had to eat the lamb. I think Brant’s suggesting that they had to eat the real thing (not something symbolic of the lamb) so Jesus had to be real thing. Thus “is” means “real presence.”
But that is precisely the problem: there is absolutely no sign of eating the lamb in the meal. Perhaps it is just not mentioned. But that leads me to what I think may be an insurmountable objection: Jesus identified his body — not with the lamb — but with the bread. I would contend, then, that symbolism is at work: the bread symbolizes the lamb. (His next chapter is on bread, so I’ll have to see if he solves this one for me.) Whether the lamb is at the table and goes unmentioned, the one thing clear is that Jesus doesn’t identify his body with the lamb but — oddly enough in a Passover meal context — with something far less important, the bread.