Scriptural study is a fascinating past-time because, after a while, certain things become evident that were once hidden in the stories of the Bible and, recently, I have found my focus on the Eucharist, the Holy Communion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is, undoubtedly, a certain mystery in the Eucharist that is beyond the understanding of science or else it is a silly ritual, in the scope of Christianity, that has no significant relevance to redemption, salvation, or eternal life because these things are already achieved through Christ’s death. It got me wondering how important the Eucharist is, what it is, and where it came from so I began to investigate, and this is what I found:
The Feast Of The Passover
Chapter 12 in the book of Exodus describes the Passover of the Lord and its celebration as a perpetual institution. The Hebrews were given specific instructions to make a new calendar, procure an unblemished lamb by the tenth day of the first month. On the fourteenth day of that month, in front of the whole assembly of Israel, they were to slaughter the lamb during the twilight evening and use hyssop to sprinkle some of its blood on the door posts and lintel. That same evening, they were to roast the lamb whole and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, leaving the uneaten portions to burn up in the fire. They were to eat the paschal feast like a people in flight because this would mark the last night the Hebrews spent in Egypt as God’s final plague upon the first-born of Egypt would assure their release. When observing the Passover, the Hebrews were not allowed to eat leavened bread for seven weeks and were to hold sacred assemblies on the first and seventh days of the week, doing no work except preparing the food.
God told Moses that no foreigner, transient servant, resident alien, or native alien may partake of the Passover. If they want to take part in the celebration, they must circumcise themselves and be made to observe Hebrew custom like the native Israelites. But there is one more thing God tells Moses that is extremely relevant:
”The time the Israelites had stayed in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. At the end of four hundred and thirty years, all the hosts of the LORD left the land of Egypt on this very date. This was a night of vigil for the LORD, as He led them out of the land of Egypt; so on this same night all the Israelites must keep vigil for the LORD throughout their generations.” – Exodus 12:40-42
In other words, the Passover was not only a celebration, but a time for the Israelites to keep watch and pray because in one day, after four hundred and thirty years of slavery in Egypt, God set the Israelites free from their bondage.
The Passover Continued
All four Gospels of the New Testament (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12) record Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to, specifically, celebrate the Passover. Upon His entry into Jerusalem, Jesus confronts the Sanhedrin (the chief priest and elders) who, for three days, question Him attempting to find fault with His words and actions but, like an unblemished lamb, He is found flawless.
Similarly, three of the four Gospels describe the preparations for the Passover meal (Matthew 25:17-19, Mark 14:12-16, and Luke 22:7-13) and the Eucharist (Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, and Luke 22:14-20). Note how Jesus remarks, in Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25, and Luke 22:18, that He will not drink the fruit of the wine until He can drink it with them in the kingdom of God. Ironically, the only Gospel that does not record the Eucharist during the Passover feast does record the end of the Passover. John 19:28-30 says:
“After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scriptures might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to His mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.”
Just before Jesus died, He drank wine from a sponge on a sprig of hyssop and said, “It is finished.” To the casual observer, it looks as if Jesus knew He was going to die soon and His last request was a drink. The problem with this theory is that His physical thirst did nothing to fulfill the Scriptures. He fulfilled the Scriptures by observing the end of Passover. He finally partook in the wine He denied Himself during the paschal feast and announced the Passover of the Lord “finished” as he died.
From Passover To Eucharist
The similarities between the Passover feast and the Eucharist are not accidental, Jesus is the fulfillment or the final part of the Passover feast. The Passover celebrates physical life and the Eucharist completes it by celebrating our conjoined spiritual life. Jesus takes the place of the unblemished Paschal lamb, whose flesh we eat and whose blood we now drink so that spiritual death from sin passes over us. God told Moses to only allow native Israelites to take part in the Passover. Similarly, Saint Paul gives a detailed explanation about why the Eucharist is dangerous for unbelievers in 1 Corinthians 11:23-34. In a nutshell “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.” Even Christ’s death coincided with the end of the Jewish Passover festival.
So, What Is The Eucharist?
There is no place in the Bible that better describes what the Eucharist is than John chapter 6. Jesus had performed many public miracles in healing the sick and multitudes of people began following Him. He and His disciples withdrew to a mountain, across the Sea of Galilee. The Jewish feast of the Passover was near and as the people gathered around, Jesus performed another miracle by multiplying loaves of bread and fish to feed them all. From five loaves of bread and two fish, the disciples gathered twelve wicker baskets filled with leftovers. Upon seeing this miracle, the people wanted to carry Jesus off and make Him king, so He withdrew to the mountain once again and disappeared. That evening, His disciples took a boat to Capernaum and witnessed Him walking on water. The next day, the crowd that had gathered in wait of Jesus’ return from the mountain, gave up on waiting and went to Capernaum looking for Him. When they found Him, an interesting conversation takes place between Jesus and these would-be followers where He reveals the true meaning behind the Eucharist before it was ever instituted.
John 6:25-27 – The people asked Jesus when He got to Capernaum, but instead of answering their question, He told them that they are following Him for the wrong reason. He was not sent to fill their bellies or be their king, but to institute a new covenant, which He will give them.
John 6:28-29 – The people asked what they could do to accomplish the works of God, and Jesus told them to believe in the one God sent to them.
John 6:30-33 – The people asked what signs He could do, bragging that their ancestors ate manna in the desert. Jesus told them that the bread their ancestors received was from God, not Moses or any other prophet. However, the true bread of God that comes down from heaven gives life to the world.
John 6:34-40 – The people asked if He would always give them the bread from heaven, to which Jesus replied He is the bread they seek, but they will not believe Him. But, anyone the Father sends to Jesus, He will not refuse because He came to do the Father’s will, and the Father’s will is that everyone who sees and believes in the Son will have eternal life and shall be raised on the last day.
John 6:41-51 – The people began murmuring in doubt, wondering how Jesus could be bread that came from heaven when they knew His worldly mother and father. Jesus told them to quit murmuring and went over the whole thing again more thoroughly. He stated that the Father draws people to Jesus to raise on the last day, and anyone who listens to the Father and learns from the Father will wind up coming to Jesus. Whoever believes that He [Jesus] is the bread of life has eternal life. He explained that, unlike the bread that their ancestors ate in the desert and died, the bread that Jesus offers gives life. Once again, Jesus iterated that He is the living bread that comes down from heaven, whoever eats His bread has eternal life, and the bread He speaks of is His flesh that He will give for the life of the world.
John 6:52-58 – This really set the people on edge and they began asking amongst themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”, to which Jesus presents the meaning of the Eucharist in its entirety. Read, carefully, His words:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
John 6:60-65 – Then Jesus’ followers said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Jesus asked them “Does this shock you?” and tells them that the Eucharist is for the spirit, not the body. But some would not believe Him anyway, that is why He told them, “no one can come to Him unless it is granted by His Father”.
John 6:66 – As a result of this, many of his followers returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.
All of this happened long before the Passover meal where Jesus actually instituted the Eucharist to His disciples in Jerusalem.
The Eucharist Is Jesus Christ
Clearly, Jesus taught that He is present in the Eucharist and that no one is able to believe this on their own. How could they? It defies all logic and reason of the physical world we live in. Because of this, many people remain convinced that Holy Communion is a memorial or symbolic act of faith.
- Knowing that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist makes the Sacrament holy and reverent because you are no longer standing in front of mere bread and wine, you are standing before your Salvation.
- Knowing that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist puts an entirely different perspective on receiving it because you are no longer ingesting bread and wine; you are receiving the spiritual flesh and blood of Jesus Christ for eternal life.
- Knowing that God, the Father, leads people to understand the Eucharist, yet gives them the free will to choose whether to believe it, shows the consistent fatherly virtues of God; love, patience, and mercy.
The Old Testament shows God, the Father, pointing to His Son. The New Testament shows God, the Son, pointing to His Father. The love and understanding between them is so real that it takes the form of the Holy Spirit and it is the Holy Spirit who leads us to understand the lessons of both, the Father and the Son.
Jesus Christ became the paschal sacrifice, the lamb of God, to take away the sins of the world. He died, rose, and ascended into heaven sharing eternal life, love, and understanding with God, the Father. Understanding that Christ is truly presence in the Eucharist allows us to share in the Holy Communion of everlasting life, love, and understanding between them.
Christmastime celebrates the physical birth of the Son of God into this world, but more importantly, it points to the redemption of mankind. In a very special way, Jesus is born into the world each and every time Christians eat His body and drink His blood because, by truly believing He is present in this Sacrament, He is born again WITHIN us and shares Himself. He shares His cross, His longing to obey His Father, His understanding of the Father’s will, His redemption, and His eternal salvation.
May the LORD be with you and your spirit this Christmas season!