We are approaching Easter: that moment of the most ephemeral and beautiful act of loving sacrifice in the history of the universe. And there it is, all laid out, in the last supper. Jesus spoke of his blood and his body broken and for them to eat it. How shocking these words must have been in a culture that saw blood as taboo and made one unclean. Yet here was Christ telling them that to be clean was to drink his blood and eat his body.
In this meal, Jesus took two of the staples of their meals (bread and wine) and gave them a deeper, more transcendent meaning. "Lechem" the Hebrew word for bread was synonymous with food. Making bread during the time of Jesus was time consuming (turning grain into flour, flour into dough, and then cooking the bread on the inside of a tannur (a large clay oven).
Bread was a primary source of nourishment in their culture. "Give us this day our daily bread" is about giving what is necessary for life. Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus said, "I am the bread of life?" Bread was sacred and that is why it was broken and not cut (That's why a meal is referred to as breaking bread together). Jews would even pray, "Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, hamotzi lechem, min ha aretz" (Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has brought forth bread from the earth).
Yet here is Christ, at the beginning of their Passover Seder, giving thanks and saying, "Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me."
Did his disciples hesitate? Did they fully grasp the meaning of Jesus' words or where they baffled by this like they were so much of his teaching?
Traditionally, in Judaism, wine or "oinos" was symbolic of joy. Blessings are said before drinking wine either in the home or in synagogue. But wine, in the Passover Seder, symbolized freedom from bondage under the Egyptians.
During the meal, Jews drink four cups of wine:
1; The first cup is called the cup of sanctification.
2. The second is the cup of plagues.
3. The third is the cup of redemption.
4. The last is the cup of completion.
Here Jesus is saying as he holds the cup, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
After the meal, did the disciples still misunderstand? Probably. Inside, they might still be wondering which of them is the greatest, still trying to get why Jesus was talking about his blood being shed and body being broken if he was the Messiah, and yet, even in thir lack of understanding, the Truth was planted and would dwell within them.
"When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives."
Jesus and his disciples would have sung the Hallel or praise Psalms,
"The snares of death encompassed me, the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: O Lord, I beg you, save my life." A Psalm that would very much be like the agonized prayers Jesus would pray in the garden. "If it be thy will, take this cup from me . . . "
Psalm 118? "The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation."
"Take eat." "Take drink." Simple words but with such profound and eternal meaning. Lost on those who actually celebrated passover with Jesus. Christ did what he always did and took the common and revealed the divine with them.
Bread and Wine. Symbols of a meal.
Blood and Body. Symbols of our salvation. Symbols of sacrificial love. Love by violence. Horrific violence that continues to reverberate in its shockingness today. Yet it was the shedding of his blood and the breaking of his body that would bring about the διαθήκης or new covenant.
When we break bread, time is broken. Commonplace becomes sacred space. The table is an altar. Bread and wine go from merely filling a stomach to filling a soul with the terrifying beauty of Christ's eternal love for us. In that moment time and eternity meet as we do in remembrance of him.