HIS BODY AND HIS BLOOD
While they were eating, Jesus took bread and blessed it and broke it, and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them. “Drink all of you from it,” he said, “for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many, that their sins may be forgiven. I tell you that from now on I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in the Kingdom of my Father.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
We have already seen how the prophets, when they wished to say something in a way that people could not fail to understand, made use of symbolic actions. We have already seen Jesus using that method both in his Triumphal Entry and in the incident of the fig tree. That is what Jesus is doing here. All the symbolism and all the ritual action of the Passover Feast was a picture of what he wished to say to men, for it was a picture of what he was to do for men. What then was the picture which Jesus was using, and what is the truth which lies behind it?
(i) The Passover Feast was a commemoration of deliverance; its whole intention was to remind the people of Israel of how God had liberated them from slavery in Egypt. First and foremost then, Jesus claimed to be the great liberator. He came to liberate men from fear and from sin. He liberates men from the fears which haunt them and from the sins which will not let them go.
(ii) In particular the Passover Lamb was the symbol of safety. On that night of destruction it was the blood of the Passover Lamb which kept Israel safe. So, then, Jesus was claiming to be Saviour. He had come to save men from their sins and from their consequences. He had come to give men safety on earth and safety in heaven, safety in time and safety in eternity.
There is a word here which is a key word and enshrines the whole of Jesus’ work and intention. It is the word covenant. Jesus spoke of his blood being the blood of the covenant. What did he mean by that? A covenant is a relationship between two people; but the covenant of which Jesus spoke was not between man and man; it was between God and man. That is to say, it was a new relationship between God and man. What Jesus was saying at the Last Supper was this: “Because of my life, and above all because of my death, a new relationship has become possible between you and God.” It is as if he said, “You have seen me; and in me you have seen God; I have told you, I have shown you, how much God loves you; he loves you even enough to suffer this that I am going through; that is what God is like.” Because of what Jesus did, the way for men is open to all the loveliness of this new relationship with God.
This passage concludes by saying that, when the company of Jesus and the disciples had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. An essential part of the Passover ritual was the singing of the Hallel. Hallel means Praise God! And the Hallel consisted of Ps.113-118, which are all praising psalms. At different points of the Passover Feast these psalms were sung in sections; and at the very end there was sung The Great Hallel, which is Ps.136. That was the hymn they sang before they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Here is another thing to note. There was one basic difference between the Last Supper and the Sacrament which we observe. The Last Supper was a real meal; it was, in fact, the law that the whole lamb and everything else must be eaten and nothing left. This was no eating of a cube of bread and drinking of a sip of wine. It was a meal for hungry men. We might well say that what Jesus is teaching men is not only to assemble in church and eat a ritual and symbolic Feast; he is telling them that every time they sit down to eat a meal, that meal is in memory of him. Jesus is not only Lord of the Communion Table; he must be Lord of the dinner table, too.
There remains one final thing. Jesus says that he will not feast with his disciples again until he does so in his Father’s Kingdom. Here, indeed, is divine faith and divine optimism. Jesus was going out to Gethsemane, out to trial before the Sanhedrin, out to the Cross–and yet he is still thinking in terms of a Kingdom. To Jesus the Cross was never defeat; it was the way to glory. He was on his way to Calvary, but he was also on his way to a throne.
Back to: Barclay’s Commentary