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Friday, Feb. 24, 2017

A final feast

Posted Friday, April 6, 2012, at 9:13 AM

Today is the day traditionally known by the Christian world as Maundy Thursday, the day we remember the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples.

I am absolutely not an expert on Jewish history or the Jewish faith, I believe the Passover meal contains six specific elements and each element symbolizes either some aspect of Israel's slavery in Egypt or the God's deliverance from that slavery. They are:

--The roasted lamb symbolized the lamb that was sacrificed and whose blood was smeared on the Israelite's door posts to turn away the angel of death

--The Roasted egg symbolized the suffering and oppression in Egypt. Anything cooked in boiling water becomes soft or eventually disintegrates. But as this egg is roasted it becomes hard, like the Israelites in slavery and then in the wilderness. The more it is roasted, the harder it becomes.

--The unleavened bread symbolized the swiftness of Israel's departure. They left in such a hurry there was no time to let the bread rise.
--A vegetable, typically celery or something along those lines, dipped in salt water to symbolize the tears of slavery.

--A bitter herb like horseradish to symbolize the bitterness of slavery.

--A fruit-nut paste or salad symbolized the mortar the Israelite slaves used to make bricks.

In addition -- during the meal the people drink four cups of wine that symbolized the four promises the Lord made to Israel back in Exodus.

1. "I will bring you out of slavery."
2. "I will free you."

3. "I will redeem you."

4. "And I will take you as my people."

Everything in the meal is highly symbolic and points to what the Lord did for them.

What makes the Lord's Supper, or what some call Communion, different than a traditional Passover meal is that it is now reinterpreted around Christ himself? For instance, Jesus tells the disciples that the unleavened bread represents his body which was to be given so they could enter into this New Covenant.

Christ had become the sacrificial lamb so to speak. When he broke the bread it symbolized Jesus laying down His life for His people. Picture what we've heard about a soldier sacrificing himself in battle for the Band of Brothers standing around him, and for his family back home. For all of mankind -- Christ was throwing his body on top of a spiritual grenade, so to speak.

In the celebration of Passover people share four cups of wine. In Luke's account of the Last Supper we read, ''After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you." With this first cup Jesus was making a reference to unity among believers.

There is much to be said about this unity prescribed by Christ, but suffice it to say that down through the ages the Lord's Supper has been a source of endless controversy in the Christian church. And that is a very sad statement about a practice that was meant to bring us together and to symbolize our unity.

We go on to read that with the last of the four cups Jesus said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood."

This reminds us that in His death the Lord was establishing a new contract with us. Covenant is a very relational term. It goes way back to prophetic texts written by like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others, where God promised to make a new covenant with His people and give them a new spirit and heart that would urge them and enable them to walk with Him, and walk in His ways.

Jesus said, "do this in remembrance of me." But what should we remember? What does He want us to remember? What are we supposed to not forget? Maybe the benefits Christ brings to our needs, our coming future with Him, and the rewards participation in the meal bring to us: assurance and the sense of oneness with one another.

I think most of all Jesus wants us to remember Him and to be aware of His caring presence and love for us. But He also wants us to be looking ahead to things that will be.

As we go through life in the here and now, the New Covenant has been established. The Spirit has arrived. But the world, and we ourselves, have not yet been made perfect. That awaits the day our Lord's returns.

I read recently that in Jewish tradition, when it came time for a couple to marry, their fathers would negotiate a price for the bride. This price was a gift from the groom's family to the bride's family acknowledging that there would be a loss in their home when their daughter went to her new home.

And their agreement was sealed with a cup of wine. The prospective groom would take a cup of wine that his father brought, drink from it, and hand it to the young woman, symbolically saying that he was making a covenant with her. If she accepted the proposal she would seal their engagement by drinking from the same glass.

The groom would go off to prepare a home for their new life together. And the bride and her bridesmaids would begin to prepare for the groom's return. During this time she was expected to be faithful to her groom, and live a life that would honor her betrothed.

And in the days between the proposal and their marriage ceremony, the young woman lived in anticipation of the day he returned.

As the bride of Christ, we await the day of His return. We have been bought with a price. Let's make it our ambition in life to be faithful to Him as we await His imminent return.

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Bob Stewart is pastor of Union Baptist Church. His long-running column ranges in topic from matters of faith to observations about life in Saline County, politics and the sights to see in travels throughout America.
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