The meaning of footwashing

Jesus reclined at the table after he had finished washing their feet and had put his robe back on. He said, “Do you know what I was doing for you? You say that I am your Lord and your teacher. It is right that you say this, because I am. So if I, your Lord and teacher wash your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example of how you should treat each other.”

JN 13:12-15

What does “new wine” mean?

What is Jesus talking about when he is talking about drinking wine in a new way in his Father’s kingdom with his disciples? This is at the first Lord’s Supper and is right after he has offered them the cup of wine, transforming the idea of the wine into something more by saying that it represents his blood. This verse is in three different Gospels, so I’ve put them here for you. This translation is HCSB.

Matthew 26:29
29 But I tell you, from this moment I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it in a new way in My Father’s kingdom with you.”

Mark 14:25
25 I assure you: I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it in a new way in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 22:18
18 For I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

The notes for this line in the HCSB offer this different translation – “drink new wine” and then add that the original literally says “drink it new”.

I thought about this and prayed about it while trying to rewrite it. Asking Jesus into it, I asked for him to tell me a new way to say this so that it means something to today’s readers. This is the result.

“Truly, from now on I will not drink the fruit of the vine until when we will drink it together in the kingdom of my Father.”

One thing I tried was

“I will drink it for the first time with you in the kingdom of God.”

And yet another was

“..until the time when I will drink new wine in the kingdom of God with you.”

I find it significant that in the Gospel of Luke, there is something that Jesus says about eating bread, which came out as –

“I will reveal to you now that I won’t eat it again until what it represents has come to fruition in the kingdom of God.”

LK 22:14-16

I have rendered it as “fruit of the vine” rather than wine, because the Hebrew blessing is made over wine or grape juice. This also is in reference to the vow of the Nazarene. John was one since birth, and Samson was one. They were not allowed to have “the fruit of the vine” – to consume grapes in any form during the time of their vow.

The first Lord’s Supper

When it came time to eat, Jesus reclined at the table with his apostles. He said to them, “I have looked forward to sharing this Passover meal with you before my suffering starts. I will reveal to you now that I won’t eat it again until what it represents has come to fruition in the kingdom of God.”

LK 22:14-16

Jesus then took unleavened bread, and after offering a blessing for it and breaking it into pieces, gave it to his disciples, saying “Take and eat, this is my body, which is offered for you. Do this to remember me.”

Then he took a cup of wine and, after offering a blessing for it, gave it to them and they all shared in drinking from it. He said “This is my blood of the new covenant. It is poured out for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven. Truly, from now on I will not drink the fruit of the vine until when we will drink it together in the kingdom of my Father.”

After singing psalms, they all went to the Mount of Olives.

MT 26:26-30, MK 14:22-26, LK 22:17-20

Communion loaves and fishes

The Last Supper, the model for our Communion service, is linked to when Jesus fed the multitudes. This event happened twice.

Here, he feeds over 5,000 people, using five loaves and two fish. There were twelve baskets of leftovers. The story starts just after Jesus has heard that his cousin John the Baptist has been murdered.

Matthew 14:13-21
13 When Jesus heard about it, He withdrew from there by boat to a remote place to be alone. When the crowds heard this, they followed Him on foot from the towns. 14 As He stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd, felt compassion for them, and healed their sick.
15 When evening came, the disciples approached Him and said, “This place is a wilderness, and it is already late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
16 “They don’t need to go away,” Jesus told them. “You give them something to eat.”
17 “But we only have five loaves and two fish here,” they said to Him.
18 “Bring them here to Me,” He said. 19 Then He commanded the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them. He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 Everyone ate and was filled. Then they picked up 12 baskets full of leftover pieces! 21 Now those who ate were about 5,000 men, besides women and children.

Shortly after that, he feeds over four thousand people, using seven loaves and a few small fish. There were seven baskets left over.

Matthew 15: 29-39
29 Moving on from there, Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee. He went up on a mountain and sat there, 30 and large crowds came to Him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, those unable to speak, and many others. They put them at His feet, and He healed them. 31 So the crowd was amazed when they saw those unable to speak talking, the deformed restored, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they gave glory to the God of Israel.
32 Now Jesus summoned His disciples and said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they’ve already stayed with Me three days and have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry; otherwise they might collapse on the way.”
33 The disciples said to Him, “Where could we get enough bread in this desolate place to fill such a crowd?”
34 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked them.
“Seven,” they said, “and a few small fish.”
35 After commanding the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 He took the seven loaves and the fish, and He gave thanks, broke them, and kept on giving them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 They all ate and were filled. Then they collected the leftover pieces—seven large baskets full. 38 Now those who ate were 4,000 men, besides women and children. 39 After dismissing the crowds, He got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

What are the common elements in this story? Jesus takes what he has, little though it is. He doesn’t pray for more. He gives thanks for what he has and blesses it. Then he breaks it and distributes it.

This is what happens to us when we become part of the Body of Christ, and what we are supposed to do. It is something we receive and something we are to give.

We aren’t enough for the task. We are small and weak. We are broken. Yet God loves us, and is thankful for us. We are blessed by Jesus. And through that thankfulness and that blessing, we are enough. We are exactly what the world needs. We are food for a hungry world.

We are to take that thankfulness and that blessing and multiply it through our actions and our lives.

This is what Communion is. It feeds us, and through that, we are able to feed the world. We are able to be the healing the world needs, because we have been healed.

Communion words in Hebrew and English.

These are traditional Jewish blessings that I’ve incorporated into the Communion service. They seem logical to use, as Jesus would have known and used these prayers every week for Sabbath. I’ve included the Hebrew, the transliteration, and the English for all the blessings. Feel free to use both the Hebrew and/or the English. It is important to make the people you are celebrating Communion with feel special and included. Use what you feel would be most meaningful and inclusive.

Put out a nice cloth that has room for everything you need. You’ll need two candles, a plate, a goblet, an unbroken piece of matzo, and some grape juice (or wine).

Light the candles with these words –
ברוך אתה ה’ א לוהינו, מלך העולם, אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו להדליק נר של שבת

Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel shabbat.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has sanctified us with commandments, and commanded us to light Shabbat candles.
Then, touching the matzo lightly, bless it with these words –
ברוך אתה ה’ א לוהינו, מלך העולם, המוציא לחם מן הארץ

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam hamotzi lehem min ha’aretz.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
Break it into smaller pieces – enough for everybody there, and distribute it.

Then, holding up the goblet with the grape juice (or wine), say these words –
ברוך אתה ה’ א לוהינו, מלך העולם, בורא פרי הגפן

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam borei p’ri hagafen.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Pass around the goblet and let everyone drink from it. They can also choose to dip their matzo piece into the grape juice (or wine) and then eat it.

(If this has been of use to you, you might want to read “The Condensed Gospel” and “Free Range Faith”, both available in print and e-book from Amazon, by Betsy Nelson)

Communion as freedom

The Last Supper was a Passover meal, and like the Passover, is meant to be done as a remembrance. The Passover meal is observed once a year with the goal of reminding the Jewish people that God freed them from slavery from Egypt. Today’s Communion service is also done as a reminder of freedom from slavery, but it is the slavery of sin.

Just because people are freed from slavery doesn’t mean they are free.

Life didn’t easier after the Jews were freed from being slaves. They wandered for forty years in the desert trying to reach the Promised Land. There was hardship and pain. There were tests and perils. Not everybody made it. A lot died. Moses, the great leader, the one who intervened with God on behalf of the Jewish people, was one of them. Even Moses, handpicked by God, one of the few people to get to talk with God face to face, even Moses failed and wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land.

The same is true for following Jesus. It isn’t an express ticket. It isn’t a “get out of jail free” card. It is a transition. It is an end to your old life yet a beginning to a whole new life of work and hardship. It isn’t easy following Jesus.

Jesus instituted this ritual meal the night before he was captured. He knew what was about to happen, but his disciples didn’t. He knew that they would need a reminder of the life of Jesus and the prophecies that he fulfilled. He knew that they would need a reminder of the promises that he embodies.

Both ritual meals celebrate freedom, but Passover is only done once a year. Communion can be done every time that Jesus’ followers get together. In some churches this is once a week (Episcopal). In some it is every day, several times a day (Catholic). In some it is quarterly (Baptist). In some it is yearly (Jehovah’s Witness). In some it is almost never.

Every time I get together with friends to study the Scriptures, I celebrate Communion. It is a reminder of who we are there for. It is a reminder of who is at the center of our circle. It is a reminder that this isn’t just a social gathering.

I love ritual, and I really love the ritual of Communion. While anybody can celebrate Communion, I realize that not everybody is comfortable performing a ritual. So I provide this part of our gathering.

I try to make it interesting every time. I try to share the meaning and history of the ceremony. I don’t go from a script. There is no order of service as such. There isn’t much liturgy yet either. But I’m working on that. I think that it is important to have everybody participate in the ceremony, rather than just being part of the audience. Communion isn’t a passive thing.

It is a remembering in the truest sense. It is where Jesus joins us, not only joins with us, but joins us together. Jesus enters into our selves, our very beings, in a literal and spiritual way. Also, we are knit together with all other members of the Body of Christ, past, present, and future. We become one.

In the same way that separate grains of wheat become one loaf of bread, we become one in the Body of Christ when we celebrate Communion. Somehow, we stop being free, and yet we become free at the same time. We stop being individuals and we become part of something bigger. We give up our petty needs and join together for something greater. Together, we are stronger.

Communion thoughts. How to – part one.


Anybody can celebrate communion. When Jesus celebrated what we now call the Last Supper with his disciples, they were told simply to do this every time they gathered in his name.

He didn’t say they had to be ordained. In fact, Jesus didn’t ordain anybody. He said that to call anybody teacher or Rabbi or Father is to take away from God’s authority.

Jesus came to level the playing field. Jesus makes us all equal.

When I celebrate Communion, I use matzo and kosher grape juice. Both can be purchased at your local grocery store, in the Jewish section.

Communion is a shortened version of the Passover meal, which is a bigger version of the weekly Sabbath meal.

At the Sabbath meal, Jews use challah, a braided egg bread. It is a yeast bread. During the Passover meal, they use matzo, “the bread of affliction”. It is flat and hard. It is a bit like a cracker. It does not have yeast in it, so it doesn’t rise. It is to remind them that their ancestors didn’t have time to let the bread rise when they escaped from Egypt. It is also to remind them of the manna from heaven that God provided for them while they were wandering in the desert for 40 years.

Matzo closely resembles the texture of communion wafers. Or rather, communion wafers are like matzo. It is supposed to be the same thing. Sadly, standard communion wafers don’t look like matzo at all, so Christians don’t see the connection. Nor are we taught it. None of this is a secret, but it isn’t advertised either.

I use kosher grape juice rather than wine because I might have someone there who is in recovery. It is really important for me to include everyone. If I use wine, then those people who cannot have wine are left out. That isn’t right.

I have been to a number of church services that used wine and the priest spelled it out. S/he would say that they used real wine, and that if you couldn’t have wine, to cross your arms over yourself so that the chalice bearer would pass you by. The priest said that you got the full benefit of communion without both elements.

I was a chalice bearer, and that is an awkward moment. Everybody gets wine, except one person. That makes that one person stick out. Their inability to have wine is now essentially public knowledge. It is shameful and embarrassing for them. Something that should be private now isn’t.

There was also a problem at my old church with young children drinking from the chalice. The rule in that denomination was that if you were baptized, you could take communion. They practiced infant baptism. You get the picture. Some children were sucking up the wine like it was Kool-aid.

It all made me think. To use wine is to exclude. To use wine is to cause problems.

I don’t know what makes kosher grape juice kosher, but it sure tastes good, and it comes in a glass bottle. I like that better than plastic. I’m sure I could use standard grape juice but this seems more appropriate.

I put out the matzo, unbroken, on top of a small dish. I pour the grape juice in a cup, half full. I want to make sure everybody has enough, but not make them feel overwhelmed. I pour it at the beginning of the service so that it has a chance to get to room temperature. It is important that people see there is enough for them, but it is also important to finish it off at the end. It can’t be poured back into the container, and it is impolite to pour it down the drain. More on that later.