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'And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake, and gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My Body. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.'-- Matthew 26:26-28
Jewish tradition has this curious conceit: that the most important events in Israel's history were connected with the Passover season. Thus it is said to have been on the present Passover night that, after his sacrifice, the 'horror of great darkness' fell upon Abraham when God revealed to him the future of his race (Gen 15). Similarly, it is supposed to have been at Passover time that the patriarch entertained his heavenly guests, that Sodom was destroyed and Lot escaped, and that the walls of Jericho fell before the Lord. More than that--the 'cake of barley bread' seen in the dream, which led to the destruction of Midian's host, had been prepared from the Omer, presented on the second day of the feast of unleavened bread; just as at a later period alike the captains of Sennacherib and the King of Assyria, who tarried at Nob, were overtaken by the hand of God at the Passover season. It was at the Passover time also that the mysterious handwriting appeared on the wall to declare Babylon's doom, and again at the Passover that Esther and the Jews fasted, and that wicked Haman perished. And so also in the last days it would be the Passover night when the final judgments should come upon 'Edom,' and the glorious deliverance of Israel take place. Hence to this day, in every Jewish home, at a certain part of the Passover service--just after the 'third cup,' or the '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 the destruction of all heathen nations (Psa 79:6; 69:25; Lam 3:66). It is a remarkable coincidence that, in instituting His own Supper, the Lord Jesus connected the symbol, not of judgment, but of His dying love, with this 'third cup.' But, in general, it may be interesting to know that no other service contains within the same space the like 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 now in use among the Jews.
If we could only believe that the prayers and ceremonies which it embodies were the same as those at the time of our Lord, we should have it in our power to picture in minutest detail all that took place when He instituted his own Supper. We should see the Master as He presided among the festive company of His disciples, know what prayers He uttered, and at what special parts of the service, and be able to reproduce the arrangement of the Passover table around which they sat.
The Modern Ceremonies
At present and for many centuries back the Passover Supper has been thus laid out: 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 ranged in this manner:
A roasted Egg
Roasted Shankbone of a Lamb (Instead of the 14th day Chagigah)
Chervil and Parsley
Present Ritual not the Same as the New Testament Times
But, unfortunately, the analogy does not hold good. As the present Passover liturgy contains comparatively very few relics from New Testament times, so also the present arrangement of the Passover table evidently dates from a time when sacrifices had ceased. On the other hand, however, by far the greater number of the usages observed in our own days are precisely the same as eighteen hundred years ago. A feeling, not of gratified curiosity, but of holy awe, comes over us, as thus we are able to pass back through those many centuries into the upper chamber where the Lord Jesus partook of that Passover which, with the loving desire of a Savior's heart, He had desired to eat with His disciples. The leading incidents of the feast are all vividly before us--the handling 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 come with a strange sound when we find in Rabbinical writings the 'Passover lamb' * designated as 'His body,' or when our special attention is called to the cup known as 'the cup of blessing, which we bless'; nay, when the very term for the Passover liturgy itself, the 'Haggadah,' ** which means 'showing forth,' is exactly the same as that used by St. Paul in describing the service of the Lord's Supper! (1 Cor 11:23-29)
** The same root as employed in Exodus 13:8--'And thou shalt show thy son in that day,' and from this the term 'Haggadah' has unquestionably been derived.
The Roasting of the Lamb
Before proceeding further we may state that, according to Jewish ordinance, the Passover lamb was roasted on a spit made of pomegranate wood, the spit passing right through from mouth to vent. Special care was to be taken that in roasting the lamb did not touch the oven, otherwise the part touched had to be cut away. This can scarcely be regarded as an instance of Rabbinical meticulousness. It was intended to carry out the idea that the lamb was to be undefiled by any contact with foreign matter, which might otherwise have adhered to it. For everything here was significant, and the slightest deviation would mar the harmony of the whole. If it had been said, that not a bone of the Passover lamb was to be broken, that it was not to be 'sodden at all with water, but roast with fire--his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof,' and that none of it was to 'remain until the morning,' all that had not been eaten being burnt with fire (Exo 12:8-10)--such ordinances had each a typical object. Of all other sacrifices, even the most holy (Lev 6:21), it alone was not to be 'sodden,' because the flesh must remain pure, without the admixture even of water. Then, no bone of the lamb was to be broken: it was to be served up entire--none of it was to be left over; and those who gathered around it were to form one family. All this was intended to express that it was to be a complete and unbroken sacrifice, on the ground of which there was complete and unbroken fellowship with the God who had passed by the blood-sprinkled doors, and with those who together formed but one family and one body. 'The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one bread and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread' (1 Cor 10:16,17).
Distinct From All Levitical Sacrifices
Such views and feelings, which, no doubt, all truly spiritual Israelites shared, gave its meaning to the Passover 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. Every sacrifice, indeed, had prefigured His Work; but none other could so suitably commemorate His death, nor yet the great deliverance connected with it, and the great union and fellowship flowing from it. For other reasons also it was specially suited to be typical of Christ. It was a sacrifice, and yet quite out of the order of all Levitical sacrifices. For it had been instituted and observed before Levitical sacrifices existed; before the Law was given; nay, before the Covenant was ratified by blood (Exo 24). In a sense, it may be said to have been the cause of all the later sacrifices of the Law, and of the Covenant itself. Lastly, it belonged neither to one nor to another class of sacrifices; it was neither exactly a sin-offering nor a peace-offering, but combined them both. And yet in many respects it quite differed from them. In short, just as the priesthood of Christ was a real Old Testament priesthood, yet not after the order of Aaron, but after the earlier, prophetic, and royal order of Melchisedek, so the sacrifice also of Christ was a real Old Testament sacrifice, yet not after the order of Levitical sacrifices, but after that of the earlier prophetic Passover sacrifice, by which Israel had become a royal nation.
As the guests * gathered around the Passover table, they came no longer, as at the first celebration, with their 'loins girded,' with shoes on their feet, and a staff in their hand--that is, as travellers waiting to take their departure.
On the contrary, they were arrayed in their best festive garments, joyous and at rest, as became the children of a king. To express this idea the Rabbis also insisted that the Passover Supper--or at least part of it--must be eaten in that recumbent position with which we are familiar from the New Testament. 'For,' say they, 'they use this leaning posture, as free men do, in memorial of their freedom.' And, again, '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.' And, finally: 'No, not the poorest in Israel may eat till he has sat down, leaning.' But, though it was deemed desirable to 'sit leaning' during the whole Passover Supper, it was only absolutely enjoined while partaking of the bread and the wine. This recumbent posture so far resembled that still common in the East, that the body rested on the feet. Hence, also, the repentant woman at the feast given by Simon is said to have 'stood at His feet, behind,' 'weeping' (Luke 7:38). At the same time, the left elbow was placed on the table, and the head rested on the hand, sufficient room being of course left between each guest for the free movements of the right hand. This explains in what sense John 'was leaning on Jesus' bosom,' and afterwards 'lying on Jesus' breast,' when he bent back to speak to Him (John 13:23,25).
The Use of Wine
* Every reader of the Bible knows how symbolically significant alike the vine and its fruit are throughout Scripture. Over the entrance to the Sanctuary a golden vine of immense proportions was suspended.
According to the Jerusalem Talmud, it was intended to express Israel's joy on the Passover night, and even the poorest must have 'at least four cups, though he were to receive the money for it from the poor's box' (Pes. x. 1). If he cannot otherwise obtain it, the Talmud adds, 'he must sell or pawn his coat, or hire himself out for these four cups of wine.' The same authority variously accounts for the number four as either corresponding to the four words used about Israel's redemption (bringing out, delivering, redeeming, taking), or to the fourfold mention of the cup in connection with the chief butler's dream (Gen 40:9-15), or to the four cups of vengeance which God would in the future give the nations to drink (Jer 25:15; 51:7; Psa 75:8; 11:6), while four cups of comfort would be handed to Israel, as it is written: 'The Lord is the portion of my cup' (Psa 16:5); 'My cup runneth over' (Psa 23:5); 'I will take the cup of salvation' (Psa 116:13), 'which,' it is added, 'was two'--perhaps from a second allusion to it in verse 17. In connection with this the following parabolic story from the Talmud may possess some interest: '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 so to do, as it is written, "I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord."'