Passover is near

The Festival of Passover was approaching, so many people traveled from the countryside up to Jerusalem beforehand to purify themselves. They were hoping to see Jesus. While they were standing in the Temple complex they asked each other “Do you think he’ll come to the Festival or not?” The Pharisees and the chief priests had ordered anyone who knew where Jesus was to tell them, because they wanted to have him arrested.

JN 11:55-57

The burial

Joseph, a wealthy man from Arimathea in Judea, came to Golgotha in the evening. He was an important member of the Sanhedrin who had not agreed with what they had decided to do about Jesus. He was also a righteous man and secretly one of Jesus’ followers. He looked forward to the coming of the kingdom of God.

He boldly approached Pilate to claim Jesus’ body. Pilate agreed to his request once he learned from the centurion that Jesus had already died. He was surprised that he had died so quickly.

Joseph removed Jesus’ body from the cross and wrapped it with fine linen he had bought. Nicodemus (the Pharisee who had earlier come at night to secretly talk with Jesus) was also there and he brought a large mixture of myrrh and aloe. They used it along with the linen to prepare Jesus’ body in accordance with Jewish burial customs.

Joseph placed the body in an unused tomb that was cut into the rock in a nearby garden. They did this because they did not have time to take care of the body because the Sabbath was quickly approaching. Joseph rolled a large stone over the entrance and then left.

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph were seated nearby, watching where the body was placed. They returned to where they were staying and prepared spices and perfumes for the body. Then they rested, because it was the Sabbath.

MT 27:57-61, MK 15:42-47, LK 23:50-56, JN 19:38-42

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

Betrayal at the Passover

Jesus arrived in the evening with his 12 disciples at the place where they were going to celebrate the Passover. While they were reclining at the table to eat, Jesus’ spirit was troubled and he said, “Mark my words, one of you who is eating with me right now will betray me!”

MT 26:20-21, MK 14:17-18, LK 22:21, JN 13:21

“This doesn’t apply to all of you, I know well everyone I have chosen. But the Scripture must be fulfilled which says ‘The one who eats bread with me has raised his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now in advance so that when it does happen you will believe in me.”

JN 13:18-19

“The Son of Man will be betrayed as it has been foretold, but woe to the one who betrays him! It would have been easier for him if he had not been born!”

LK 22:22, MK 14:21, MT 26:24

The disciples were distressed and began to argue among themselves as to who it would be and saying to Jesus “Surely it isn’t me Lord?

MT 26:22, LK 22:23, JN 13:22

The disciple that Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus. Simon Peter gestured to him to ask Jesus who he meant. He leaned in close and asked him “Lord, who is it?”

JN 13:23-25

Judas, the one who was to betray him, asked “Surely it isn’t me, Teacher?” Jesus answered him “You have said it.”

MT 26:25

“The one who will betray me is the one who dipped his bread in the bowl with me.”

MT 26:23, MK 14:20

“He is the one that I give the bread to after I have dipped it.” After he had dipped the bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Satan entered Judas after he ate the piece of bread. Then Jesus told him “What you are about to do, do quickly.” Judas went out immediately after receiving the piece of bread from Jesus. It was nighttime by this point.

No one at the table knew why Jesus had said this to Judas. They thought that since Judas kept up with all of their money that Jesus was telling him to go buy what they required for the festival or to give money to the poor.

JN 13:26-30

Preparing for Passover

The first day of the festival of Unleavened Bread is when the Passover lamb is sacrificed. Jesus called Peter and John to him, saying “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us.” They asked “Where shall we do this?”

He said “A man carrying a water jug will meet you when you go into the city. Follow him into the house he enters. Tell the owner of that house ‘The Teacher says “My time is at hand, so I ask where your guestroom is so that I may celebrate the Passover meal with my disciples.” He will then show you a large furnished room upstairs ready to use. That is where you should prepare for our dinner.”

Peter and John left and found everything exactly as Jesus had told them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

MT 26:17-19, MK 14:12-16, LK 22:7-13

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.