WHY WE REMEMBER.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Communion is a celebration that has been practiced by Christian churches since the very beginning of our faith. In fact, Jesus himself taught and instructed us on the practice of remembering in communion with one another.
In Mark 14, Jesus is sitting at a table with his disciples on the final night before his crucifixion, celebrating Passover. In a final attempt of many throughout his time with them, Jesus takes the opportunity to explain to his disciples the meaning of why he must die. He does so through the Passover meal.
Passover is a holiday still celebrated by the Jewish community today. It commemorates a time when the Israelites cried out to God for a deliverer from the oppression and enslavement of the Pharaoh of Egypt. God heard their cries, sent Moses to deliver His people, brought about acts of justice against their oppressors, and redeemed the Israelites to bring them to the Promise Land (a land He had chosen and promised to their ancestors).
Upon Egypt, God sent ten acts of justice or plagues. The final, and most devastating, was the plague of of the first born. All throughout the land of Egypt the firstborn son and firstborn of every animal died in one night (an act of justice towards a people who years earlier had ordered all the baby boys of Israel to be thrown into the Nile and killed) – except among the Israelites, who had been instructed by Moses to slay a lamb and paint its blood over their doorposts. This would be a sign that would protect their home from the plague. God would pass over the home when He saw the blood of the lamb on the door frame, and the firstborn would be spared.
The elements of the Passover meal include:
1. Unleavened bread
2. Bitter herb
Jesus gave every part of the Passover celebration a new meaning. While Moses served as the deliverer of the Israelite people from their slavery in Egypt, Jesus had come to set all people free. While the blood of a slain lamb served as a sign to protect the Israelites from death, it would be the blood of Jesus that would atone for the sins of all mankind and save all who believe in him from eternal death. The wine and the bread – are symbols of his sacrifice and willingness to be broken, to shed his own blood on our behalf.
Not only would Jesus go on to die in our place, but he even beat death itself when he rose to life again three days later. The bitter herb from the Passover meal can be connected to the herbs used in burying the dead. The lamb, once used as a sacrifice on behalf of the Israelite people and used to save them from the plague of death, is now Jesus. Jesus himself takes the place of the slain lamb and has not only given his life for us, but beat death as well.
In re-defining these elements of Passover to be symbols of a new covenant, Jesus is inviting us to remember what he did for us. We are to remember that our freedom did not come without a cost. In fact, our freedom was bought by the blood of Jesus himself, the slain lamb. His death and resurrection have rescued us from death itself and given us the opportunity to experience new life in him.
We take communion together, just as Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples, to remind one another of this gift we don't deserve, but are grateful to receive. Rather than remembering the Exodus, we remember the new covenant through Jesus: that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.
May we always take the time to remember.