Eucharist Reflections 4

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.)

What occurred at Passover?

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.

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  • Travis Greene

    That strikes me as a weird argument also. Nobody is arguing that there’s not really bread at the Eucharist.

    Interesting to think about the public nature (“proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes”) of the Eucharist in connection with Passover as an act of marking one’s household with the blood. Of course that public marking was originally for the angel of death, so I’m not sure how far to take that.

  • EricW

    “Well, brother, Brant, there are some jumps here.”

    Ya think?

    When you start with the conclusion that the Catholic teaching about the Eucharist is the true and correct explanation of the Last Supper and Jesus’ words there (even though none of the various accounts fully agree with each other), you make the evidence fit your assumptions.

  • Scot McKnight

    EricW, I know Brant too well to let that one slide by. I don’t think it’s an assumption — let’s admit that real presence has been with us for a long, long time.

    Brant and I communicated about this but I think there are some jumps and the dots he connects are not ones I’d connect.

  • EricW

    Ok, I’ll defer to your acquaintance with him. My apologies if I’ve wrongly characterized his take on the Eucharist.

  • . . . with something far less important, the bread.

    Unless that bread is the afikomen? Mentioned this in the thread “Eucharist Reflections 1” . . .

  • The ongoing argument? discussion? about whether The Lord’s Supper is a symbol or the real flesh and blood of the Lord is certainly distracting from much of what is going on. Certainly the Lord wants us to remember the reality of His sacrifice, the reality of our sinfulness, the reality of consequences and rewards. We become aware of all that, and then the Lord, putting all that aside, lets us experience His love in a soul warming fashion.

    Lou Baba

  • Lyn

    For me, the question in Luke 22:19 is not the “is” (I’ve always presumed it was the bread) but the “this” – what are we to do in remembrance of Jesus? Give bread? Take bread? Break bread? Give thanks? All of the above? Something more than the above?

    Luke 22:19 (NIV) – And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

  • DRT

    I think part of what Jesus was after was stopping the senseless slaying of all those animals. It would make no sense at all for him to uphold animal sacrifice in his remembrance.

  • Good comment, Lyn #7. “All the above” as remembrance and sacrament and I wonder if the “something more” of “do this” is to live like this. The Jesus way of “chosen, blessed, broken and given” that Nouwen speaks to so well.

  • DuWayne Lee

    As I recall part of the liturgy at the Passover meal has the leader say of the bread “This is the bread that your fathers ate on the night they left Egypt” or someting very siimilar to that. But of course it really was not the same bread. It seems that those words answer the question as to what Jesus meant when he said “This is my body”

  • Found this today in the Orthodox daily readings:
    Starting at Proverbs 8:32:

    “And now, my sons, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Happy is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD; but he who misses me injures himself; all who hate me love death.” Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. She has sent out her maids to call from the highest places in the town, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who is without sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave simpleness, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”

    Interesting, huh? I’ve never read that before…or, at least, never noticed it. Of course, I’m reading that the OC equates Jesus with the Wisdom character here. Anyway, thought I would share this.


  • EricW

    @10. DuWayne Lee:

    That’s been one of the reasons I, too, consider the “This is My Body… This is My Blood” to be something less than a change into The Real Thing. While the participants at the Seder may ritualistically and perhaps even mystically enter into the Exodus event and so “join” their forefathers when they share the rite, the matzah does not become the unleavened bread of the Exodus, nor is there an implication that it does.

    The bread of the Last Supper and hence of the Eucharist/Lord’s Table seems to combine elements and aspects of the Passover matzah, the paschal lamb, and the manna in the wilderness. The wine seems to combine elements of the Passover cups, representing the blood of the paschal lamb, and the sprinkled blood at the giving of the Covenant (Hebrews 9).

  • Michael Williams

    Though it is not an arguement for why Jesus used the bread instead of the lamb, using the bread would seem to make a very strong connection between the last supper and the feeding of the 5,000 and the Bread of Life discourse. When the apostles saw Jesus break the bread and say “this is my body” it would certainly have reminded them of the multiplication of the loaves for the 5,000 and His instructions that we must eat His body and drink His blood to have eternal life. It is for this reason I believe that it is only proper to consider John 6 when looking at the last supper and vice versa.