in the old testament,
moses and joshua took off their sandals
because they were standing on holy ground.
in the new testament,
you removed the sandals of your disciples
to clean their feet.
who’s standing in whose shoes now?
He took a loaf of bread; and when he had thanked God for it, he broke
it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body,
given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
—Jesus’s words at the Last Supper (Luke 22:19)
I’ve always liked movies that have a twist at the end: The Sixth Sense, The Others, The Game, The Spanish Prisoner, The Usual Suspects, Vanilla Sky, movies like that. I love it when all of a sudden the tables are turned, everything flips around, and nothing is as it seems. I love it when a movie gives me whiplash.
That must have been a little bit how the disciples felt during that last Passover supper with Jesus.
All twelve disciples were there, and they knew something big was up. They’d arrived in Jerusalem to cheering crowds earlier that week, but instead of taking advantage of his popularity, Jesus burst into tears. Then he sent the crooked money changers skittering from the temple. And he’d spent the last few days talking about death and the end of the world. Morbid.
Now they’re all meeting secretly in the upper room of a friend’s house. As the Passover meal is about to begin, Jesus pulls out a towel and wash basin and cleans off their feet. That was the job of a servant, not a respected teacher. So that was unexpected. After that he gets really upset and tells them they’ll all fall away and one of them will betray him. Of course, they can hardly believe this, but he assures them it’s true. Then Jesus hands out the bread and wine of the Passover meal and starts talking about how these objects are really his own body and blood.
For a while I went to a church where the pastor spent lots of time explaining the meaning and significance of the Lord’s Supper to us. It was very important to him that we got it right—that we agreed with his interpretation of the meal.
You see, some Christians believe the bread and wine turn into Jesus’s body and blood when you celebrate this meal. Others believe that the body and blood of Jesus are mystically present in, with, and under the bread and wine. Still others take this to be a memorial celebration in which the bread and wine symbolize Jesus’s body and blood. This issue has created a lot of division and hard feelings among Christians. It’s one reason there are so many different denominations out there.
After I became a believer, some of my Jewish friends invited me to a Passover meal, and only after that night, when I saw the context of Jesus’s words for myself, did I begin to understand what his bread and wine comments were really about.
As you remember, the Passover was a way of recalling the old covenant, when God’s judgment passed over the people and they were saved because the blood of a lamb was marking their doors (see chapter 6: chains, and Exodus 12). Now, in the upper room, Jesus established a new covenant, a new agreement to save people through the shedding of his own blood: “After supper he took another cup of wine and said, ‘This wine is the token of God’s new covenant to save you—an agreement sealed with the blood I will pour out for you’” (Luke 22:20).
The old covenant (or testament) is completed; the new covenant (or testament) is here. It’s because of this meal that the Bible has two parts, two testaments. The old covenant has run its course, and now God’s new covenant is to save us through the poured-out blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus of Nazareth.
I think the key to fathoming Jesus’s meaning lies in that little word my.
When Jesus says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” he’s recasting the whole story. The disciples would never have associated the bread and wine with Jesus but rather with the sacrificial lamb. So when he says “my body” and “my blood,” it’s as if he’s saying, “You always thought this meal was about remembering the Passover lamb and the deliverance of God. Well, guess what? That was just the first half of the movie. Now the tables are turned. From now on it’s about remembering me and the sacrifice of God.”
Jesus is the Lamb of God, the one they’d been waiting for, the one centuries of sacrifices had been pointing toward. And now he was talking about being killed. Nothing was as it seemed. The deliverer of the ages was feeding these twelve guys God’s new agreement, and they remained clueless. The entire Old Testament had been foreshadowing this night, and none of the disciples even realized it.
Blindness isn’t a result of too little light—that’s darkness. Blindness is when you’re not able to see when light is all around you. These guys were blind.
someone pointed out to me
that a pebble and a diamond
are alike to a blind man.
maybe i’ve been holding
diamonds all this time,
without ever realizing it.
The bread and wine were really diamonds of God’s promise in disguise.
This meal was Jesus’s way of integrating his life with all the Old Testament promises. As Jesus said during his famous Sermon on the Mount, “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama” (Matthew 5:17 Message). The ancient echoes were all about him.
Through his brokenness and death, hope would finally become tangible and real—as real as a warm loaf of bread or a cup of sparkling wine.
Different denominations will probably always wrestle with the exact meaning of the bread and the wine. But all of them agree that this meal is a way of remembering Christ’s sacrifice, of receiving reassurance of his forgiveness, of proclaiming his death, and of expressing unity of faith. Paul explained it like this: “When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the benefits of the blood of Christ? And when we break the loaf of bread, aren’t we sharing in the benefits of the body of Christ? And we all eat from one loaf, showing that we are one body” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).
The blood of the lamb would be shed, the body of the lamb would be offered. And not just any lamb long ago in Egypt but the long-awaited Lamb of God himself now in Jerusalem. God’s love, broken and bleeding.
Their Savior would die so that they might finally live.
The stunned disciples ate and drank and sang a hymn together, then headed out with Jesus into the night.
touching the unseen
the sweet wine of your blood is on my lips,
the tender mystery of your body is on my tongue.
in the background of this meal i can hear
the desperate shrieks of the egyptians
and the gentle whisper of death passing over
the doorframe of my soul.
your heart was broken on that cross,
and your blood has soaked deeply
into the wood of my days.