Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
(Matthew 26:26-29 ESV)
Today’s verses are an important and pivotal passage not only in the life of Jesus but in the history of mankind. For in it, Jesus replaces the Passover from the Old Testament with the Lord’s Supper of the New Testament.
The Passover had been initiated by God while the Israelites were still slaves in Egypt. Its purpose was to remind themselves of something that was going to happen. Namely, that God would send a savior whose blood would be shed to protect people from the penalty of their sins [Exodus 12].
Now, Jesus brings an end to this 1,500-year-old observance and initiates a ritual that He commands His followers perform regularly to remember something that already happened [Luke 22:19-20] – the shedding of His blood which actually did pay for the sins of mankind.
Many, if not most, Christian churches perform a ritual they call “The Lord’s Supper”, “Eucharist” (which in ancient Greek means “thanks”), or “Communion”. All these terms refer to this new observance Jesus initiates here. Some churches perform it monthly, some weekly. But all Christians are commanded to observe it with some regularity.
Historically this passage has created a lot of controversy. Early Christians were accused of cannibalism because Jesus said “eat; this is my body… drink, this is my blood”. Catholicism erroneously teaches that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus through a process called transubstantiation when they are blessed by the priest during mass (CCC 1376 from the official Catholic Catechism). None of this is true.
The bread and the wine are mere symbolic representations of Jesus’ body and blood (most churches use grape juice, although some do use non-alcoholic wine). It is not more complicated than that. There is no mystery to it. It’s no different from when Jesus said He was a “vine” or a “gate” [John 10:9, 15:5]. He isn’t really those things. Here, like there, He was simply speaking metaphorically.
When we eat a piece of unleavened bread and drink a small cup of juice during this ceremony we recall Jesus’ death and how His body was bruised and His blood was shed on our behalf. The outcome of this should be humility and thanksgiving.
But notice that when we participate in the Lord’s Supper we also anticipate His return as Jesus tells us He will not drink wine with the disciples again until they are all in His Father’s kingdom. This tells us a couple of things. Jesus will return. And all eleven of these disciples will be in heaven (remember, Judas is no longer present in this scene).
It’s interesting to note that God never commands us to celebrate Jesus’ birth (i.e. Christmas) or any other aspect of His life. We are only commanded to commemorate His death because it was through His death that we have eternal life.
Jesus therefore didn’t simply have to die (otherwise a heart attack would have sufficed) but He had to give His own life by shedding His blood [1 Peter 1:18-19] for the life of all flesh is in its blood [Leviticus 17:14].
All the animals sacrificed over the hundreds of years under the Old Covenant were mere symbols of Jesus. But in this passage Jesus ushers out the Old Covenant and replaces it with the New Covenant, based on the shedding of His own blood
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