THE SYMBOL OF SALVATION
As they were eating, Jesus took a loaf and gave thanks for it, and broke it and gave it to them and said, “Take this. This is my body.” And, after he had given thanks, he took a cup and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And he said to them, “This is the blood of the new covenant which is being shed for many. Truly I tell you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.” And, after they had sung the Psalm, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
We must first set out the various steps of the Passover Feast, so that in our mind’s eye we can follow what Jesus and his disciples were doing. The steps came in this order.
(i) The cup of the Kiddush. Kiddush means sanctification or separation. This was the act which, as it were, separated this meal from all other common meals. The head of the family took the cup and prayed over it, and then all drank of it.
(ii) The first hand washing. This was carried out only by the person who was to celebrate the feast. Three times he had to wash his hands in the prescribed way which we have already described when studying Mk. 7.
(iii) A piece of parsley or lettuce was then taken and dipped in the bowl of salt water and eaten. This was an appetizer to the meal, but the parsley stood for the hyssop with which the lintel had been smeared with blood, and the salt stood for the tears of Egypt and for the waters of the Red Sea through which Israel had been brought in safety.
(iv) The breaking of bread. Two blessings were used at the breaking of bread. “Blessed be thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who bringest forth from the earth.” Or, “Blessed art thou, our Father in heaven, who givest us to-day the bread necessary for us.” On the table lay three circles of unleavened bread. The middle one was taken and broken. At this point only a little was eaten. It was to remind the Jews of the bread of affliction that they ate in Egypt and it was broken to remind them that slaves had never a whole loaf, but only broken crusts to eat. As it was broken, the head of the family said, “This is the bread of affliction which our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whosoever is hungry let him come and cat. Whosoever is in need let him come and keep the Passover with us.” (In the modern celebration in strange lands, here is added the famous prayer, “This year we keep it here, next year in the land of Israel. This year as slaves, next year as free.”)
(v) Next came the relating of the story of deliverance. The youngest person present had to ask what made this day different from all other days and why all this was being done. And the head of the house had thereupon to tell the whole story of the history of Israel down to the great deliverance which the Passover commemorated. The Passover could never become a ritual. It was always a commemoration of the power and the mercy of God.
(vi) Ps.113-114 were sung. Ps.113-118 are known as the Hallel (HSN1984), which means the praise of God. All these psalms are praising psalms. They were part of the very earliest material which a Jewish boy had to commit to memory.
(vii) The second cup was drunk. It was called the cup of Haggadah (compare HSN5046), which means the cup of explaining or proclaiming.
(viii) All those present now washed their hands in preparation for the meal.
(ix) A grace was said. “Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, who bringest forth fruit from the earth. Blessed art thou, O God, who has sanctified us with thy commandment and enjoined us to eat unleavened cakes.” Thereafter small pieces of the unleavened bread were distributed.
(x) Some of the bitter herbs were placed between two pieces of unleavened bread, dipped in the Charosheth and eaten. This was called the sop. It was the reminder of slavery and of the bricks that once they had been compelled to make.
(xi) Then followed the meal proper. The whole lamb must be eaten. Anything left over must be destroyed and not used for any common meal.
(xii) The hands were cleansed again.
(xiii) The remainder of the unleavened bread was eaten.
(xiv) There was a prayer of thanksgiving, containing a petition for the coming of Elijah to herald the Messiah. Then the third cup was drunk, called the cup of thanksgiving. The blessing over the cup was, “Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who hast created the fruit of the vine.”
(xv) The second part of The Hallel (HSN1984)–Ps.115-118–was sung.
(xvi) The fourth cup was drunk, and Ps.136, known as the great Hallel (HSN1984), was sung.
(xvii) Two short prayers were said:
“All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord, our God. And thy saints, the righteous, who do thy good pleasure, and all thy people, the house of Israel, with joyous song, let them praise and bless and magnify and glorify and exalt and reverence and sanctify and scribe the Kingdom to thy name, O God, our King. For it is good to praise thee, and pleasure to sing praises to thy name, for from everlasting unto everlasting thou art God.”
“The breath of all that lives shall praise thy name, O Lord, our God. And the spirit of all flesh shall continually glorify and exalt thy memorial, O God, our King. For from everlasting unto everlasting thou art God, and beside thee we have no king, redeemer or saviour.”
Thus ended the Passover Feast. If the feast that Jesus and his disciples sat at was the Passover it must have been items (xiii) and (xiv) that Jesus made his own, and (xvi) must have been the hymn they sang before they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Now let us see what Jesus was doing, and what he was seeking to impress upon his men. More than once we have seen that the prophets of Israel resorted to symbolic, dramatic actions when they felt that words were not enough. That is what Ahijah did when he rent the robe into twelve pieces and gave ten to Jeroboam in token that ten of the tribes would make him king (1Kgs.11:29-32). That is what Jeremiah did when he made bonds and yokes and wore them in token of the coming servitude (Jer.27). That is what the prophet Hananiah did when he broke the yokes that Jeremiah wore (Jer.28:10-11). That is the kind of thing that Ezekiel was continually doing (Eze.4:1-8, Eze.5:1-4). It was as if words were easily forgotten, but a dramatic action would print itself on the memory.
That is what Jesus did, and he allied this dramatic action with the ancient feast of his people so that it would be the more imprinted on the minds of his men. He said, “Look! Just as this bread is broken my body is broken for you! Just as this cup of red wine is poured out my blood is shed for you.”
What did he mean when he said that the cup stood for a new covenant? The word covenant is a common word in the Jewish religion. The basis of that religion was that God had entered into a covenant with Israel. The word means something like an arrangement,,a bargain, a relationship. The acceptance of the old covenant is set out in Exo.24:3-8; and from that passage we see that the covenant was entirely dependent on Israel keeping the law. If the law was broken, the covenant was broken and the relationship between God and the nation shattered. It was a relationship entirely dependent on law and on obedience to law. God was judge. And since no man can keep the law the people were ever in default. But Jesus says, “I am introducing and ratifying a new covenant, a new kind of relationship between God and man. And it is not dependent on law, it is dependent on the blood that I will shed.” That is to say, it is dependent solely on love. The new covenant was a relationship between man and God not dependent on law but on love. In other words Jesus says, “I am doing what I am doing to show you how much God loves you.” Men are no longer simply under the law of God. Because of what Jesus did, they are forever within the love of God. That is the essence of what the sacrament says to us.
We note one thing more. In the last sentence we see again the two things we have so often seen. Jesus was sure of two things. He knew he was to die, and he knew his Kingdom would come. He was certain of the Cross, but just as certain of the glory. And the reason was that he was just as certain of the love of God as he was of the sin of man; and he knew that in the end that love would conquer that sin.
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