For more than four centuries the Israelites suffered in slavery to Egyptian Pharaohs. God saw the people’s distress and sent Moses to Pharaoh with a message: “Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the people of Israel go out of his land” (Exodus 6:11). But Pharaoh refused to heed God’s numerous warnings, thus He sent ten devastating plagues, afflicting them and destroying everything from their livestock to their crops.
At the stroke of midnight of Nissan 15 of the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), God visited the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. While doing so, He spared the Children of Israel, “Passing Over” their homes — hence the name of the holiday. This not only broke Pharaoh’s resistance, it broke his will to keep the Israelites in slavery and he actually chased his former slaves out of the land. The Israelites left in such a hurry, in fact, that the bread they baked as provisions for the way did not have time to rise. 600,000 adult males, plus all the woman and children, left Egypt on that day, and began the trek to Mount Sinai and their birth as God’s chosen people.
Since then Israelites have celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover to commemorate God’s gracious acts leading to their exodus and birth as a nation. The ceremonial meals (Seders) focuses on their exodus experience and past the story down to each generation. The eating of flat unleavened bread (matzah) and bitter herbs indicate their haste in leaving Egypt and the bitterness of the slavery they endured for so long under Pharaoh’s tyranny. Four cups of wine symbolize God’s expressions of redemption used in describing their exodus from Egypt and their birth as a nation (Exodus 5:6-7): (1) “I will take you out…” meaning salvation from harsh labor—this began as soon as the plagues were introduced; (2) “I will save you…” indicating their salvation from servitude on the day the Jews left Egypt geographically and arrived at Ramses; (3) “I will redeem you…” pointing to the splitting of the sea, after which the Jews felt completely redeemed, without fear of the Egyptians recapturing them; and (4) “I will take you as a nation…” signifying their becoming a nation at Sinai. There is actually a fifth expression in the above mentioned verses: “And I will bring you to the land which I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you as an inheritance.” Since they had not entered their inheritance this cup was reserved for that time in the future.
On this last Passover, Jesus took their traditional Seder and infused it with new life and expression. As they ate, Jesus began to tell them that one would betray Him. His betrayal would fulfill scripture (cf. Isaiah 53:5; Zechariah 11:12,13). The larger group around the table address Jesus as “Lord” (v. 22), but Judas addressed Him as “Rabbi,” or “Teacher.” There is no record of Judas ever calling Jesus “Lord.” When Judas said: “Is it I, Rabbi?” Jesus used a Greek expression that deflects responsibility back upon the one asking a question, “you have said so” (v. 25). John recorded Jesus saying: “What you do, do quickly” (13:27) and Judas left while none were the wiser (except Jesus of course).
Jesus took the unleavened bread, which would have also reminded them of the manna God provided in the wilderness for Israel’s sustenance, and repurposed its meaning. It now represented Himself, the Bread of Life that brings eternal life with God. He took the cup of wine (likely the third cup of redemptions) indicating His blood that would be poured out “once for all” (cf. Hebrews 10:10) for the redemption of sinful humanity. Not only did His shed blood provide the way of redemption, His death absorbed God’s wrath against all sin. Together they open the way for the new covenant relationship with God that was promised to Israel (cf. Jeremiah 31:31,34).
Just as Israel’s Passover commemorated their liberation from slavery, servitude and their declaration as God’s chosen nation, our Communion commemorates our new covenant relationship with God through the freedom from sin which Christ’s sacrifice brought. His body and shed blood is our declaration of holiness to God. As we partake of the bread and wine we pass the story of our inherited salvation from generation to generation. But there is one cup that remains to be celebrated, it is the cup which celebrates ultimate victory in the presence of God. Jesus said, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).
How does your communion with Christ effected your behavior in a sin cursed world?