On Holy Thursday or Pesaha Vyazhazhcha we commemorate with Jesus, the old and new Passovers. In the original Passover, Israel recalls her liberation from Egyptian slavery by sacrificing an unblemished lamb. In the new Passover, we commemorate Jesus’ action of saving all humanity from Satan’s clutches by offering himself as the sacrificial lamb. The rite of circumcision that involved the drawing of a little human blood was a sign of the covenant with Abraham. God confirmed that covenant by asking Moses to sprinkle animal blood on the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Jesus sealed a new covenant in his blood and asks us to partake of it by drinking it.
The Lord’s Supper
(Matthew 26:26) While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (27) Then he took a cup and gave thanks, and passed it to them saying, ”Drink from this, all of you, (28) for this is my blood, the blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (29) Yes, I say to you: I will not taste the fruit of the vine from now until the day I drink anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (30) After singing psalms of praise, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
The Lord’s Supper (Mt 26:26-30)
Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist (Qurbana) while he celebrated the Passover with his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem. So, we need to understand the Last Supper in the background of the Jewish Passover. Israelites celebrated Passover, one of the three pilgrim feasts, in Jerusalem (Lev 23:4-14, Deut 16:1-8). They sacrificed a lamb in the Temple and took its meat home to eat as the Passover meal. They followed Seder, which means an “order” for the procedure of Paschal feast. This procedure has 15 steps with prayers given in a book known as Haggadah. The fifteen corresponds to the 15th day of Nissan when Passover starts or the 15 semi-circular steps from the Court of Women to the Court of Israel in the Temple. Levites sang the fifteen “Psalms of the Steps” (Ps 120-134 of Degrees or Ascents) with musical instruments there.
The procedures for Passover meal, along with how Jesus observed it, are:
THE PREPARATIONS FOR PASSOVER
1. Selection of the lamb on the tenth of Nisan. Each family would select a one-year-old unblemished male lamb for the sacrifice. In Jesus’ case, he stood in for the unblemished male lamb, whom the family of Israel had selected and brought to the Temple, and the priests approved him for slaughter. This happened on the Palm Sunday that was the tenth of Nisan. The slaughter would take place on the 15th of Nisan that starts at 6:00 p.m. on the 14th according to the Gregorian calendar and ends at 6:00 p.m. on the 15th. According to the Jewish calendar, Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist, and the soldiers crucified him on the same date, 15th of Nisan.
2. Searching Leaven on 13th of Nisan. The family would check and remove any leaven in the house based on God’s commandment: “For seven days, no leaven shall be seen throughout your territory” (Deut 16:4). Jesus did this on Palm Sunday by expelling the unjust merchants who defiled the House of God and clearing their livestock from the Temple area.
3. Foot washing on 14th of Nisan. When the guests and family members arrive at the house for the Passover meal, a slave or servant would wash their feet. Since his disciples did not perform this, Jesus did this for them during the meal, which was unusual. It was to teach them how they should follow his ‘servant leadership’ in their ministry.
4. Table setting: The family sets the Passover table Charoseth (a sweet dark-coloured paste made of fruits and nuts), unleavened bread, vegetables, vinegar (karpas), four wine glasses, red and warm wine bottles, and several candles. The people would recline with the support of pillows around a low table about 18 inches high. They arrange seating according to the age or social position of the participants.
THE 15 STEPS OF THE PASSOVER MEAL
Step 1. Kadeish (Sanctification): The head of the family who sits at the place of honour would take the first of the four wine cups and fill it with wine mixed with water (grape juice for children) and pronounce a thanksgiving over it. He would taste it first and then pass it to all present. The four cups of wine stand for the four “I will,” in Exodus 6:6-7. “I will free you from the burden of the Egyptians (The Cup of Sanctification) and I will deliver you from their bondage (The Cup of Deliverance); I will redeem you with the blows of my powerful hand and my mighty acts of judgement (The Cup of Redemption). I will take you for my people and I will be your God (The Cup of Restoration); you will realize that I am the LORD your God who delivered you from the burden of the Egyptians” (Ex 6:6-7).
Step 2. Urchatz (Washing of Hands): Participants wash their hands by pouring water on the right hand three times and then the left hand three times to prepare for eating the herbs dipped in saltwater. This was necessary because they were eating without using utensils like the spoon and fork.
Step 3. Karpas or Bitter Herbs (parsley): People eat karpas after dipping it in saltwater. The vegetable is symbolic of Israelites’ poor background, and the saltwater represents their tears shed in Egypt during slavery and throughout their history. The saltwater also reminds them of the crossing of the Red Sea with God’s providence while leaving Egypt. Then they pour wine into the second cup.
Step 4. Yachatz (Breaking of middle matzo bread): The family places three loaves of matzo bread in three pockets of matzo cover. Matzo bread is an unleavened flatbread with stripes and piercings on it, symbolic of the scourging and nailing of the Messiah according to the Christian interpretation. These three loaves of bread, according to the Christian interpretation, stand for the Most Holy Trinity. The head of the family breaks the middle bread standing for Messiah into two pieces reminding the broken body of Christ for our sins. The leader returns the smaller piece symbolic of the “bread of affliction” to the pocket and keeps the larger one representing Pesach Sacrifice in a hidden place in another cover. For Christians, this stands for the burial of Jesus.
Step 5. Magid (Storytelling) of Exodus from Egypt as a question-answer session. The youngest son or the least significant person would ask four questions on why that night differs from the banquet of other nights. The head of the family would give the answers and clarify the significance of the special food items. Participants then drink the second cup of wine. They then recite first half of the Hallel, Ps 113-114.
Step 6. Rachtzah (Second hand-washing): The participants wash their hands a second time with a blessing to prepare for eating the matzah, the unleavened bread. The family then serve Paschal Lamb, charoseth (a paste of nuts and fruits) with vegetables, and two of the unleavened bread wafers.
Step 7. Motzi. The blessing for bread holding the remaining matzah bread.
Step 8. Matzah (Unleavened Bread): Everyone eats a part of the top and the middle matzah. They lean to the left when they eat.
Step 9. Maror (Bitter Herbs): The participants eat bitter vegetable- like raw horseradish or romaine lettuce after reciting a blessing over it. Bitter Herbs remind the bitterness of slavery. They dip the bitter herb in charoset, a sweet dark-coloured paste made from mixing apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine. They signify the mortar Israelites used for the construction work in Egypt during their slavery.
Step 10. Koresh (Matzah Sandwich): The participants fill two pieces of Matzah with Maror and Romaine lettuce. They recite a special prayer and eat the Koresh while leaning to the left.
Step 11. Shulchan Orech (Dinner): The head of the family cuts the Pascal lamb into pieces and gives a part to each family member with unleavened bread and bitter herbs dipped in sauce.
Step 12. Tzafun / Afikoman (Half-piece Matzo bread): The head of the family asks children to find the piece of matzah bread that he hid earlier. Its finding represents Jesus’ resurrection according to the Christian view. Once recovered, they break that into pieces and eat saying, “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in Egypt” (Ex 13:3). At this point, Jesus established the Holy Eucharist using the Afikoman bread. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body’” (Mt 26:26).
Step 13. Barech (The Cup of Redemption): The head of the family then serves the third cup of wine, saying a blessing over the cup. All the participants share it. Jesus instituted the second part of the Holy Eucharist at this part of the Passover observance. “Then he took a cup and gave thanks, and passed it to them saying, ‘Drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Mt 26:27-28). Jesus and his apostles left the room to the Garden of Gethsemane at this moment. The rest of the Passover continued through his sacrifice as the Lamb of God on the Cross.
Then the participants pour wine on the fourth cup. They set aside an additional cup for the prophet Elijah, who would announce Messiah on a Pesach day. Then one of them opens a door to invite the prophet into the house.
Step 14. Hallel (Praises): The participants recite the rest of the Psalms (Hallel) (Ps 115-118) followed by a blessing over the fourth cup of wine and drink it. Jesus considered the fourth cup as his suffering, and prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is your will, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). However, Jesus accepted and tasted this fourth cup when he was on the cross.
Step 15. Nirtzah (Closing): The Passover concludes saying “It is finished” and with the prayer, “Next Year in Jerusalem” hoping that they might celebrate Pesach the following year in Jerusalem with the Messiah. Jesus also said, “It is finished” after tasting the fourth cup on the cross just before his death.
(Mt 26:26) While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is my body”
While they were eating, Jesus took bread
While Jesus and his apostles were eating the Paschal meal, and before drinking the third cup of wine, Jesus took the bread. This specially cooked unleavened bread symbolizes sinlessness.
Melchizedek offered bread and wine to God. He was the priest of Salem which is Jerusalem (Gen 14:18). Jesus became the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Ps 110:4). He revived Melchizedek’s offering and replaced the animal sacrifice in the Temple with the Holy Eucharist.
Said the blessing and broke it and gave it to his disciples
Jesus said a blessing over the unleavened bread to transubstantiate it to his body. Breaking the bread was symbolic of the sufferings the Israelites underwent in the past. When Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist, it became representative of his passion and death. Jesus broke the bread and passed the pieces to his apostles.
“Take and eat; this is my body”
Jesus calls the bread his body and not a symbol of his body. Jesus fulfilled his promise, “I am the bread of life. Though your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, they died. But here you have the bread which comes down from heaven so that you may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which has come down from heaven; whoever eats of this bread will live forever. The bread I shall give is my own flesh and I will give it for the life of the world” (Jn 6:48-51).
(27) Then he took a cup and gave thanks, and passed it to them saying, “Drink from this, all of you”
He took a cup
Jesus took the third cup known as “The cup of Redemption.” This cup had wine mixed with a little water called “the cup of blessing” (1 Cor 10:16) because of a special blessing said over it thanking God for the wine and food the Israelites could produce by God’s grace. It was the principal cup which they did after the Pascal meal. The red represented the Passover lamb’s blood marked on the doorposts of the Israelites in Egypt when the angel of death passed over their houses. Similarly, Christ’s blood marked on the cross saved the people.
Drink from this, all of you
Jesus asked his apostles to drink his “blood” of the new covenant. The Jews could not drink any blood because it represented the life of the person or animal. Unlike Moses sprinkling the people with the animal blood (Ex 24:6), Jesus was giving his own sacramental blood for his believers to drink because his covenant was not external but internal. When a believer drinks the sacramental blood of Jesus, he receives the life of Jesus and becomes in communion with his life.
(28) … for this is my blood, the blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins
The blood of the Covenant
Jesus here used the same phrase used for the Old Covenant that God made with Israelites through Moses at Mount Sinai as given in Exodus 24:3-8. People agreed to all the ordinances of the Lord when Moses came down from the mountain and reported to them. Moses then built an altar at the foot of the mountain. The Israelites offered burnt offerings of young bulls. Moses took half of the blood in large bowls and the other half he splashed on the altar. He read aloud from the book of the covenant to the people who responded, “All that the LORD has said we shall do and obey.” Moses splashed the blood on the people, saying, “Here is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Just as Moses was the mediator of the old covenant, Jesus became the mediator of the New Covenant established at the Last Supper and fulfilled on Calvary. After using wine for his blood, Jesus shed his blood for humanity through the torture and crucifixion he underwent. This was the fulfilment of the new covenant Jeremiah prophesied (31:31-33).
Which is poured out
After Jesus blessed the cup, he shed his blood within hours, on the same date according to the Hebrew Calendar. Israelites killed lambs in Egypt to save their first-born children. Jesus let the Jews crucify him in Jerusalem to save all humanity from spiritual death.
Jesus’ life sacrifice was to save all people. So, all are eligible for redemption. However, each one has the freedom to accept or reject it. “Many” will accept and benefit from it.
For the forgiveness of sins
The animal sacrifices of the past were for ritual and ceremonial purification. They could not take away the sins of humanity, especially the original sin inherited from the first parents. The bloody self-sacrifice of Jesus replaced all of them because it was the perfect sacrifice that could take away the sins of humanity.
(29) “Yes, I say to you: I will not taste the fruit of the vine from now until the day I drink anew with you in my Father’s kingdom”
In my Father’s kingdom
The Father’s kingdom is distinct from the kingdom of the Messiah. The Kingdom of Messiah had started with Jesus’ incarnation, continued through his resurrection, ascension, the descent of the Holy Spirit, the growth of the church, the second coming of Christ, and culminating in Jesus presenting all the saved to his Father. After that only, the Kingdom of the Father will take place.
The day I drink anew
Christ will drink the new spiritual wine, the best wine reserved for the last in the Father’s kingdom. This resembles the wedding at Cana, where Jesus gave the best wine at the end of the banquet (Jn 2:10). Then, “many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8:11). Wine and banquet are representations of spiritual joy in heaven.
(30) After singing Psalms of praise, they went out to the Mount of Olives
After singing Psalm of praise
Jesus skipped the fourth cup of the Passover so he could complete it at the crucifixion. After the second part of the songs of praise called “Hallel,” he left to offer his life as the sacrificial lamb. When Jesus was near death on the cross, “Jesus knew that all was now finished and he said, ‘I am thirsty,’ in fulfilment of Scripture. A jar full of bitter wine stood there; so, putting a sponge soaked in the wine on a hyssop stalk, they raised it to his lips. Jesus took the wine and said, ‘It is now fulfilled.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up the spirit” (Jn 19:28-30). When Jesus spoke “It is finished,” he was not referring to his life’s end but the 15th step of the Passover celebration. Thus, on the cross, Jesus finished his Passover meal by drinking the fourth cup and declaring the end of his Passover observance.
They went out to the Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives was on the east side of Jerusalem, where Jesus used to go for prayer. Jesus knew that Judas would lead the Jewish soldiers there to arrest him because the disciples knew his place of night prayer whenever he was in Jerusalem.
1. Judas, along with the other apostles, had received the baptism, washing of feet, the Holy Eucharist, and even ordination from Jesus. Still, he failed, not because of any deficiency on Jesus’ part, but because he was gripped by the love of money that Jesus had warned against. Judas even ignored the warnings Jesus gave at the Last Supper. Satan is after the holy people with offers of wealth and temporal glory. They will resist the Word of God if worldly desires become their priority.
2. Passover was a feast of the unleavened bread. Leaven was symbolic of sin, and the family removed it thoroughly before the Passover. Our mothers use new utensils and vessels to prepare the Passover food remembering this. This also reminds us of our need for spiritual cleanliness, especially during the Holy Week.
3. During the Passover in Egypt, the angel of death spared the first-born sons of only those who obeyed the commandment of God through Moses to sacrifice the lamb and mark the doorposts of their houses with its blood. That is to say, in addition to being an Israelite, you also needed to do the actions. Likewise, in addition to being baptized, you also need to practice the teachings of Jesus.