The Paschal Feast and The Lord’s Supper
Matthew 26: 26 – 28 – While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Jewish Traditions About The Passover
Judaism has the tradition that the most important events in Israel’s history were connected with the Paschal season. Thus, it is said to have been on the Paschal Night that darkness fell upon Abraham and it was then that God revealed unto him the future of his race in Genesis 15. It is also supposed to have been at Passover time when Abraham entertained his heavenly guests, when Sodom was destroyed and Lot escaped, and also when the walls of Jericho fell down flat. Even more than all that, the ‘cake of barley bread’ seen in a dream led to the destruction of Midian’s host. It had been prepared from the Omer that was presented on the second day of the feast of unleavened bread. The captains of Sennacherib and the King of Assyria were overtaken by the hand of God at the Passover season. It was also at this time that the mysterious handwriting appeared on the wall to declare Babylon’s doom, and again at this time that Esther and the Jews fasted, and also that Haman was hanged.
It was also on the Paschal Night when the final judgments came upon Edom and the glorious deliverance of Israel took place. To this day, in every Jewish home, just after the ‘third cup’, or ‘cup of blessing’ has been drunk, the door is opened to admit Elijah the prophet as forerunner of the Messiah, while appropriate passages are at the same time read which foretell of the destruction of all heathen nations.
It is also remarkable that in instituting His own Supper, Jesus connected the symbol of His dying in love for mankind with the ‘third cup.’ There is no other service among the Jews that contains the same ardent aspirations after a return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple, nor so many allusions to the Messianic Hope, as the liturgy for the night of the Passover that is now in use among them.
The Modern Ceremonies
At the present day and also for many centuries back, the Paschal Supper has been laid out as follows: three large unleavened cakes, wrapped in the folds of a napkin, are placed on a salver, and on them the seven articles necessary for the ‘Passover Supper’ are arranged in the following manner on top of the unleavened cakes:
Present Ritual Not The Same As The New Testament Times
The Passover Liturgy above contains very few of the same sayings that they used in New Testament times. Even the present arrangement of the Paschal table evidently dates from a time when sacrifices had ceased. We can go back through time in our minds, though, to the Upper Chamber where Jesus ate with and blessed His disciples. We do have some very vivid descriptions in the Bible of what happened: the handing of ‘the sop dipped in the dish,’ ‘the breaking of bread,’ ‘the giving thanks,’ ‘the distributing of the cup,’ and ‘the concluding hymn.’ Even the exact posture at the Supper is known to us.
But the words associated with those sacred memories make us very somber when special attention is given to the Passover Lamb as designated as ‘His Body’.
The Roasting Of The Lamb
According to Jewish ordinance, the Paschal lamb was roasted on a spit made of pomegranate wood, with the spit passing right through the whole body from mouth to vent. Special care was to be taken that in roasting it the lamb did not touch the oven. If one part did touch it, that part must be cut off. This was intended to carry out the idea that the lamb was to be undefiled by any contact with foreign matter, which might otherwise adhere to it. Everything about the roasting of the lamb was significant, and the slightest deviation would mar the harmony of the whole.
Exodus 12: 8 – 10 – And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast, with fire, and unleavened bread: and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof. And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire.
This was to express that it was to be a complete and unbroken sacrifice, on the grounds that there was complete and unbroken fellowship with the God who had passed by the blood-sprinkled doors, and with those who together formed one family and one body.
Distinct From All Levitical Sacrifices
No doubt all truly spiritual Israelites shared such views and feelings that gave their meaning to the Paschal Feast at which Jesus sat down with His disciples, and which He transformed into the Lord’s Supper by linking it to His Person and Work. It was a sacrifice, but not anything that been instituted and observed with any other of the Levitical sacrifices. This giving of His Body was neither a sin-offering nor a peace-offering, but a combination of them both, and yet different from anything they had ever experienced before.
Guests Of The Paschal Table
With other celebrations the guests came to the table with their ‘loins girded’, shoes on their feet, and a staff in their hand – that is, they were travelers waiting to make their departure. At this celebration, they were arrayed in their best festive garments, and were joyous and at rest just as if they were children of a king. To express this idea, the Rabbis insisted that the Paschal Supper, or at least part of it, must be eaten in the position that is talked about in the New Testament. “For, say they, they use this leaning posture, as free men do, in memorial of their freedom. Because it is the manner of slaves to eat standing, therefore now they eat sitting and leaning, in order to show that they have been delivered from bondage into freedom. No, not the poorest in Israel may eat till he has sat down, leaning.” Though it was desired that they do this during the whole Paschal Supper, it was absolutely commanded that they at least do it while partaking of the bread and wine. This recumbent posture is still used today, with the body so low that it rests on the feet.
The penitent woman was also described in Luke 7:38 as ‘stood at His feet, behind, weeping’. At the same time the left elbow was placed on the table, and the head rested on the hand. This way there was sufficient room for the free movement of the right hand.
The Use Of Wine
This was not mentioned in the Law, but was done out of tradition. According to the Jerusalem Talmud, it was intended to express Israel’s joy on the Paschal night, and even the poorest of people must drink ‘at least four cups, thought he were to receive money for it from the poor’s box’. The Talmud also said that if a person could not otherwise obtain the wine needed, that ‘he must sell or pawn his coat, or hire himself out for these four cups of wine.’
This number four corresponded to the four words used to bring about Israel’s redemption: bringing out, delivering, redeeming, taking. It also pointed to the fourfold mention of the cup in connection with the chief butler’s dream, or to the four cups of vengeance which God would in the future give the nations to drink. There are also many references in Scripture that provided consolation to Israel: ‘The Lord is the portion of my cup’ (Ps. 16:5); ‘My cup runneth over’ (Ps. 23:5); ‘I will take the cup of salvation’ (Ps. 116:13).
Also the following is a story that is written in the Talmud: “The holy and blessed God will make a feast for the righteous in the day that His mercy shall be shown to the seed of Israel. After they have eaten and drunk, they give the cup of blessing to Abraham our Father. But he saith: I cannot bless it, because Ishmael came from me. Then he gives it to Isaac. But he saith: I cannot bless it, because Esau came from me. Then he hands it to Jacob. But he saith: I cannot take it, because I married two sisters, which is forbidden in the Law. He saith to Moses: Take it and bless it. But he replies: I cannot, because I was not counted worthy to come into the land of Israel, either alive or dead. He saith to Joshua: Take it and bless it. But he answers: I cannot, because I have no son. He saith to David: Take it and bless it. And he replies: I will bless it, and it is fit for me to do so, as it is written, I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.’
The Mishnah Account
The Mishnah is the earliest Jewish record of ordinances. The services of the Paschal Supper was very simple as it was written down in detail. The impression that is left on one’s mind is that while all the observances were fixed, it was left up to each person to pray what he felt, with only a few exceptions.
Gamaliel, the teacher of Paul, said: ‘Whoever does not explain three things in the Passover has not fulfilled the duty incumbent on him. These three things are: the Passover lamb, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs.’
The Passover Lamb and Unleavened Bread means that our fathers were delivered out of Egypt in haste; and the bitter herbs mean that the Egyptians made bitter the lives of them. From the time of the evening sacrifice nothing was to be eaten until the Paschal Supper, so that every person would sit down to it very hungry. There were either two or three large cakes or unleavened bread that were used in the service.
The Mishnah mentions the following five kinds as falling within the designation of ‘bitter herbs’ – lettuce, endive, succory (garden endive?), Charchavina (beets?), and horehound (bitter coriander). These seem to have been partaken of twice duringthe service. Once they were dipped in salt water or vinegar, and a second time with Chartoseth, which was a compound of dates, raisins, and vinegar. The Mishnah expressly declares, though, that Charoseth was not something that they had to do.
Red wine along was to be used at the Paschal Supper, and was always to be mixed with water. The Mishnah stated that “If two companies eat the Passover in the same house, the one turns its face to one side, the other to the other, and the warming kettle stands between them.” Each of the four cups of wine had to contain at least a fourth of a quarter of an hin ( equals one gallon two pints). Lastly, it was a principle that after the Paschal meal they had no dessert.
The ‘Giving Thanks’
The Supper itself commenced by the head of the household taking the first cup of wine in his hand and giving thanks over it with the following words: ‘Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, who has created the fruit of the vine! Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, King of the Universe, who hast chosen us from among all people, and exalted us from among all languages, and sanctified us with Thy commandments! And Thou hast given us, O Jehovah our God, in love, the solemn days for joy, and the festivals and appointed seasons for gladness; and this the day of the feast of unleavened bread, the season of our freedom, a holy convocation, the memorial of our departure from Egypt. For us hast Thou chosen; and us hast Thou sanctified from among all nations, and Thy Holy festivals with joy and with gladness hast Thou caused us to inherit. Bless art Thou, O Jehovah, who sanctifiest Israel and the appointed seasons! Blessed art Thou, Jehovah, King of the Universe, who has preserved us alive and sustained us and brought us to this season!’