1 Corinthians 11:23-26 Maundy Thursday
The Holy Communion service and the are linked Jewish Passover and we cannot fully understand on without the other.Passover took place the evening before the fourteenth of Nisan. On that night every family sacrificed a lamb. It was a reminder of the first such sacrifice, which took place just before God rescued the Israelites from Egypt. On that occasion God `passed over' the Israelite houses where the blood of the lamb had been sprinkled on the door-posts and lintel, and he spared the lives of their firstborn.
The Passover meal began with a blessing - thanking God for the bread. Then pieces of the loaf were passed round to the guests. The meal ended with a shared cup of wine.Bread, made quickly and without yeast (`unleavened bread') was eaten at the Passover meal and all through the following week. This, too, was a reminder of the hurried preparations made when Pharaoh finally allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt. It also recalled the first bread baked from new corn, four days after the Israelites entered Canaan.To symbolise their readiness and haste the meal had to be eaten with shoes on and staff ready.Bitter Herbs (usually horseradish) were also eaten, representing the bitterness of bondage in Egypt.
At first the Passover was held in people's homes, but by New Testament times it was the main `pilgrim' festival celebrated in Jerusalem. It remains one of the most important Jewish festivals today. The pilgrims came joyously in groups, singing psalms and bringing offerings. Josephus, a first century historian, records the number of lambs slain from 256,500 and later (A.D. 65) no fewer than three million. A sign hung on each lamb's neck bearing the name of the family whose lamb it was. The crowd would lead their sacrificial lambs up to the Temple to be slain around 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. The priest blew the trumpet when the lambs were slain. The priests caught the blood of the lamb in a special bowl of silver or gold. While hymns were sung, the bowls were passed on to the priest at the altar. The Hallel was recited (Psalms113 to 119). The lambs were cleaned out and burnt on the altar. The lamb was roasted on a spit made of pomegranate wood. Special care was taken so the lamb did not touch the oven or any type of foreign matter. The bones were not broken. All that was not eaten was burnt with fire until none remained. The service ended with burning of the incense. No work was allowed except the preparing of the Passover meal.
Jesus was described by John the Baptist as the "lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world". In Jesus' day, a lamb was chosen by the high priest outside of on the tenth of Nisan. Then the priest would lead this lamb into the city while crowds of worshippers lined the streets waving palm branches and singing Psalm 118, "Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord." Jesus entered Jerusalem this same day, on a donkey (usually ridden by a king), probably right behind the High Priest's procession. The crowds that had just heralded the entrance of the sacrificial lamb heralded the entrance of the Lamb of God.
The High Priest would then take the lamb to the Temple, where it would be tied in public view so that it could be inspected for blemish. In the same way, Jesus sat and taught in the Temple courtyard for four days. He was inspected and questioned as the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the teachers of the law sought to trip him up in His words and entrap Him. They could not, because He was perfect and without blemish.
Jesus was slain at the time of the Passover. When he was crucified he, like a sacrificial lamb, had a sign of ownership over him and no bone of his body was broken. However, the deliverance that he brought was not a temporary one for a small number of people from the oppression of a foreign power, but a once and for all, permanent freedom for many from the slavery of sin and the fear of death.
The Communion service involves looking back, looking today, and looking forward.
The Passover meal began with a blessing - thanking God for the bread. Then pieces of the loaf were passed round to the guests. The same action in the Christian service was a reminder of the fact that Jesus' body had been `given for you'.
The meal ended with a shared cup of wine. Jesus said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me."
In the ancient world a cup symbolised fellowship, but, in the Passover each participant drinks four cups of wine to recall the four expressions of redemption mentioned in the Bible (Ex. 6:6-7). God tells Moses to tell the people of Israel, "I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you from under their bondage and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm and with great judgements: and I will take you to Me for a people and I will be to you a God?" The four cups represent the four expressions of redemption - bring, deliver, redeem and take. The first cup is called the cup of sanctification; the second, the cup of judgement; the third, the cup of redemption; and the fourth, the cup of the kingdom. Jesus makes us holy, bore the cup of judgement himself, has redeemed or paid the price for us, and brings in a new kingdom.
Jesus brought in a new covenant. Perfect young lambs were slaughtered every year to remember God 'passing over' the Jews in Egypt so their first-born could escape death. Just as the blood of thousand of lambs was poured out on the altar at Jerusalem in a way that we would find abhorrent today. So Jesus blood was shockingly poured out on the cross for us.
The Old Covenant that God made with his chosen people involved the repetition of animal sacrifices as offerings for the people's sins. Yet this did not give them the motivation that they needed to follow God's ways and to sin less.
The perfect Son of God was sacrificed on the cross once and for all so that everyone trusts in him can escape the death of their relationship with God the Father. Through his indwelling Spirit, who he gives to all who truly trust in him, Jesus gives the power and the fruit to live a new life, the assurance of salvation, and the gifts to serve God within the church.
On occasions I have had the privilege of helping people to celebrate a significant wedding anniversary, such as a fortieth, by conducting a service of thanksgiving and rededication. This has involved looking back to their wedding day many years ago, reflecting upon how that has impacted on their lives since, and looking to the future with continuing commitment.
When Jesus said "do this... in remembrance of me." he was not referring to just remembering his death on the cross, although this element is certainly present. When the Jews celebrated Passover they re-enacted what had happened as if they were being set free by God's grace all over again. Every Jew would have been aware of the times God had rescued his people from the first Passover. The word remembrance means much more than just remembering something that has happened in the past. It includes a recognition that this past event affects our lives today.
So, in this way the Holy Communion service involves us in looking back and looking today. The church at Corinth had rich and poor believers. The Communion service was part of a 'faith supper', but the richer Christians were getting their first, eating the best food and getting drunk before their poorer brothers and sisters had arrived. This went against their unity in Christ and led to them being judged and suffering illness and death. Paul dealt with this in verses 20-22 and 27-34.
We may not have the same problem, but the looking today should also involve us examining ourselves to ensure that we are in a right relationship with others and with God before we receive the bread and the wine. The Holy Communion service involves us sharing these common elements, the root of the word Communion. But if we have a bad relationship with another believer, or are involved in a sin that we have not repented of, we should deal with these things before sharing in the bread and wine. If we are unable to do this it might be right to abstain until we can sort things out.
The Holy Communion enables us to examine ourselves anew and to rededicate ourselves to following Jesus.
Verse 26 says that in the Communion service we proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. It is a witness. The Roman governor, Pliny, sent a report to the Emperor Trajan, in about AD 113 on the Christian religion. This is what he said: `They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang an anthem to Christ as God, and bound themselves by a solemn oath not to commit any wicked deed, but to abstain from all fraud, theft and adultery, never to break their word, or deny a trust when called upon to honour it; after which it was their custom to separate and then meet again to partake of food, but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.'
So, today, as we celebrate in this service we are proclaiming to ourselves, to the world, to spiritual forces what Jesus has done, that this affects our lives today, and what he will do...
( looking back, looking today, and ) looking forward.
The Passover involved the deliverance from slavery to a new land. Jesus' delivers us from sin and death to a new life and a new kingdom. A right relationship with God in this life and in the life to come. There is something new and better waiting for us the other side of death.
W. B. Hinson, a great preacher of a past generation, spoke from his own experience just before he died. He said, "I remember a year ago when a doctor told me, 'You have an illness from which you won't recover.' I walked out to where I live 5 miles from Portland, Oregon, and I looked across at that mountain that I love. I looked at the river in which I rejoice, and I looked at the stately trees that are always God's own poetry to my soul. Then in the evening I looked up into the great sky where God was lighting His lamps, and I said, ' I may not see you many more times, but Mountain, I shall be alive when you are gone; and River, I shall be alive when you cease running toward the sea; and Stars, I shall be alive when you have fallen from your sockets in the great down pulling of the material universe!' "
Jesus said, verse 26, "For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."
On Monday night Britney Spears upset her fans by turning up an hour late for her film premiere, not stopping to speak to them and ignoring their requests for autographs.
One day Jesus will return in great power and glory to gather up all those who are his, living and dead, to be with God forever. From that day forward Christians will not need bread and wine to remind them of Jesus' sacrifice for he will be with them forever. One of the Biblical pictures of heaven is of a sumptuous banquet. Jesus won't leave his followers who have waited for so long out in the cold. He will welcome them into his heavenly party to enjoy his presence for eternity.