My first church experiences were in a Methodist church in a rural area of Kentucky. It was called Hebron Methodist Church; it was my father’s home church. However my mother was raised in a Disciples of Christ church and she preferred for the family to attend her church [which was in the town of Marion, Ky.]. Mom prevailed.
Most of my basic Christian belief was molded by Disciples doctrine so I had many experiences with Holy Communion. Disciples celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. When you do something every Sunday, you get very, very good at it so my Disciples church celebrated communion very efficiently.
The down side of this is when you do something so often it can lose its significance. People can take things for granted [I really don’t know if people did actually take communion for granted]. In the context of John Stott’s discussion of “The Self-Substitution of God” [Chapter 6 of The Cross of Christ], the roots of the practice of communion come center stage. Why do Christians practice communion? What is the meaning for Christians? Why is this act so significant? I have commented on Stott’s ideas that blood sacrifices in the Old Testament foreshadow the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross [see “Old Testament Sacrifice: The ‘Type’ and ‘Shadow’ of Jesus’ Death on the Cross…” St. John Studies, August 19, 2021], but what about a particular blood sacrifice like the Jewish celebration of Passover? Does Passover foreshadow the death of Christ? Some would say of course Passover and Jesus’ death are connected, but Stott does not just say “of course;” he parses out that connection because he wants the reader to know how Passover really relates to the self-substitution of God.
Without a doubt, the Passover celebration is important for the Jewish faith. It marks the beginning of Israel’s national life. When God redeemed His people from Egyptian bondage, He renewed the covenant He made with them on Mount Sinai. Even though this renewal of the covenant is significant for Israelites, it was “before the exodus and the covenant came the Passover” [Stott, 139].
As Christians, we are a bit less focused on Passover as the beginning of Israel’s national life and more focused on Passover as it relates to the death of Christ. That makes it more important for us. In the Book of John, John the Baptist declares that Jesus was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world [John 1: 29, 36]. It is also important that when Jesus was on the cross that was the very time when Jews were slaughtering their own Passover lambs. Stott points out that in the Book of Revelation Jesus is worshipped as the slain lamb that by His death has “purchased” men for God. The Apostle Paul declares in First Corinthians 5: 7-8 “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival.”
Stott explains that the Passover story reveals a God who fulfills three roles in the life of His people. First of all, God is Judge. Moses warned Pharaoh that God would pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn male. This judgement was not discriminatory; every household was judged. There was only one way to avoid this tragedy and God designed the way of escape. Secondly, God is Redeemer. If a household would choose a lamb on the tenth day of the month [a male lamb with no blemish], they could slay it on the fourteenth day, dip hyssop in its blood and spread its blood on the lintel and side posts of their entrance doorway. They were not to go out that evening because they needed to shelter under this protection; Yahweh promised He would pass over every blood-marked house. Thirdly, God revealed Himself to the Israelites as their Covenant God. He made them once again His people. He saved them from judgement and they should celebrate His goodness. They were to feast on the roasted lamb, eat bitter herbs, unleavened bread and do so with their cloak tucked into their belt. These symbolic acts were meant to remind them of their oppression [bitter herbs] and their future liberation [ready to be rescued, with the cloak tucked, sandals on their feet and staff in hand].
Let’s stop and ask who has benefited most from that first Passover? The answer should be obvious. The firstborn male children are the greatest beneficiaries for they have been rescued from certain death. These firstborn male children belong to the Lord, for He has “purchased” them by the means of blood.
For Christians, Passover is the ages old celebration that means so much because Jesus celebrated it with His Disciples in the Upper Room on the eve of His crucifixion. As we celebrate communion, the Christian story of Jesus’ sacrifice is told over and over. Christ broke the bread and passed it to His Disciples saying “this is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me”. He passed the cup to His Disciples saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you”. In the original Passover, a suitable sacrifice was a “lamb without blemish.” In the “Christian Passover” Jesus became the lamb without blemish.
For Christians, the New Covenant replacing the Old Covenant means something very different. The temple veil was torn at Jesus’ death, diminishing the distance between God and man. Access to God was available as Jesus took away the sin of the world. Believers did not have to have a priest as an intermediary; they could pray directly to God. “Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (First Corinthians 5:7). “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to My covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put My laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. By calling this covenant ‘new,’ He has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear” (Hebrews 8:8-13).
With this in place, the sacrificial system was no longer needed and communion is what the Christian community does to remind us of what Christ did for us. Communion is also a celebration of what we receive as a result of His sacrifice.
My home church is a Methodist church now.* Methodist churches have communion once a month, the first Sunday of each month. Our communion is open communion; that is, it should be available to anyone who wishes to receive it. My hope and prayer is that a communion service is a meaningful service for everyone involved.
Does the Passover celebration of the Jewish people foreshadow the sacrifice of Jesus Christ?
Does the service symbolize the special sacrifice that Jesus made for all of us?
Thank you God, that you love us………….
*St. John United Methodist Church Hopkinsville, Ky. [This blog is named after my home church].