When you hear “Communion” or “Lord’s Supper,” I bet the word “audacity” doesn’t come to mind. It is just that nice worship ritual where you eat a bland bite of cracker and swallow a sip of wine (or grape juice if you are a Baptist like I am), maybe praying a prayer of gratitude, or a prayer of confession, or a prayer that the people serving the elements don’t drop them all over the floor. That last one might be just me, I’m not sure. But anyway, the experience doesn’t necessarily have an overly revolutionary flavor.
But the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper was one of the most audacious things Jesus ever did.
Matthew (26:17-30), Mark (14:12-26), and Luke (22:7-23) all tell the story. In order to be properly offended by what Jesus did, we need to realize that he did it at no ordinary meal. He was eating the Passover with his disciples. It is so important for us to get this point that the Gospel writers practically beat us over the head with it. Luke’s account, for example, mentions four times in a span of eight verses that they were eating the Passover meal – in verses 8, 11, 13, and 15. We get it, Luke. It’s Passover.
Passover was a big deal. It was the celebration of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery. It looked back to the time when God worked amazing miracles to rescue them and to make good on his promise to make them into a great nation. It pointed to the highlight of their history, and to the clearest demonstration the world had ever seen of the nature and power of their God. Every year, the Passover celebration grounded them in their relationship with God, reminding them of God’s most dramatic saving act.
Every year, they celebrated Passover the same way. There was a right way to do it, with most of the instructions dating all the way back to Exodus chapter 12. Each element of the meal told part of the story: the lamb reminded them of the lamb slain so that the blood could be put on the door frames so that the death angel would pass over their homes and spare the lives of their firstborn children. The bitter herbs reminded them of the bitterness of their slavery. The unleavened bread reminded them of the haste with which they had to eat before making a quick exit from the land of slavery, with no time for the bread to rise. The wine reminded them of the blessing and joy of the deliverance God was providing for them, and it was red to remind them of the blood of the lamb. Each year at Passover, the head of the family or the host of the meal would have the privilege of reminding everyone at the table of what God had done for them. There was basically a 1500 year old script to guide the proceedings.
That night with his disciples, Jesus went radically off script.
“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you.'” – Luke 22:19
Wait, what!? The bread represents the haste with which their ancestors high-tailed it out of Egypt, right? Your body? What do you mean, Jesus? And what are you talking about your body being “broken” and “given” and “for us?”
“Do this in remembrance of me.” – Luke 22:19
Huh!? I thought this was supposed to be in remembrance of the Passover, of that big saving act for our ancestors! You are making it all about you!
“In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.'”
What!? Your BLOOD!? Gross. YOUR blood!? I thought it was about the lamb’s blood! And a new covenant? I thought we were celebrating the covenant God made with us through Moses? What’s going on here!?
It is impossible to miss the audacity of Jesus’ words and actions.
Imagine if I showed up at the church I serve as pastor one Sunday and announced that we would be changing curriculum for all of the church’s classes. Instead of studying the Bible, we would begin studying my autobiography. Instead of singing songs of praise to God, we would have new songs written – about me! We would devote the month of December to celebrating my birthday. The church would rightly run me out of town for having the nerve to suggest something like that!
Jesus did something just as bold. He made the Passover celebration all about himself. He said, “If you want to see the clearest picture of the saving power of God, don’t look at the Passover and the Exodus. Look at me. God’s mighty deliverance of his people from Egypt is about to get bumped down to number two on the list of amazing acts of divine rescue. Because my body is going to be broken – for you. And my blood is going to be spilled – for you. And through my death God is going to establish a new and better covenant, a new foundation for his relationship with people.”
Jesus hijacked a centuries-old celebration. He said that the biggest thing God had ever done was nothing compared to what he was about to do through him.
What marvelous audacity!
Want to explore further?
- Read all three Gospel writers’ versions of the Lord’s Supper scene. What commonalities do you see? What are some distinct emphases you notice from each writer?
- Read Exodus 12 to get a fuller picture of what the disciples thought they would be celebrating that night.
- How does an understanding of Passover, and that Jesus believed he was doing something even bigger than Passover, inform our understanding of Jesus?
- How will your next experience of the Lord’s Supper be different?