This will be a bit of an unusual starting point for a message about Passover. In Exodus 24:9-11 there is a vignette about a meal that God puts on for Moses, Joshua and the 70 elders of Israel in celebration of the ratification of the covenant earlier in the chapter. This covenant was a big deal: it set Israel up as a special people belonging to God. It brought them under the mighty and loving hand of God for both blessing and discipline. From this meal, Moses and Joshua are invited to go up the mountain so Moses can receive the tablets of the covenant.
[Unlike the modern idea of the tablets containing only the 10 Commandments, they probably had the entire text of Exodus 20-23 on each of the two tablets. This would be consistent with Ancient Near Eastern suzerainty covenant practices that had two copies: one for the sovereign (God) and one for the vassal (Israel).]
To the best of our ability to determine, this meal probably took place at the time of the Feast of Weeks (now known as Pentecost), making this seem like an unusual place to get meaning about Passover. The connection between Covenant and Passover begins with the fact that Pentecost is calculated from a Sabbath during Passover week. Another connection is the introductory statement God makes in the prologue to the covenant in Exodus 20:2, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”
This connection strongly roots the covenant in the prior saving activity of God. This is why Jesus can link the New Covenant with the blood of His Passover sacrifice. Salvation and covenant are inextricably linked in both covenants. Like the meal in Exodus 24, the Passover/Lord’s Supper sharing of bread and wine can be seen as a meal “before the Lord” in celebration of the New Covenant as we remember Jesus’ blood and body sacrifice for us.
Bread also figures prominently in the festivals of the Bible. This should come as no surprise, since they are also harvest festivals. The three great festival seasons feature communal meals at a central point in Israel. The sacredness of eating together goes back to earliest antiquity, when eating together symbolized a bond of peace and brotherhood. For a guest to betray their host was considered the most heinous kind of crime imaginable, which is why Judas’ betrayal garners such disapproval in the Gospels.
Jesus, the Bread of Life, is revealed as raised up at dawn on the third day, at the time the sheaf of the firstfruits of the spring barley harvest is raised as an offering before God. Later that day he is able to walk and talk with two disciples incognito until he blesses the bread at the meal that evening.
In John 20:19-23, He appears to the assembled disciples. He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. “ A couple of things seem to be going on here. One is a reference to God breathing life into Adam on the day He made humankind. This is a symbol of their reception of new life in Him.
The second thing to notice is the link to Pentecost as described in Acts 2. Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit in a closed room on the day of the Sheaf Offering, then follows it up on Pentecost by a display of fire and speaking in multiple languages that grabs the attention of the whole city.
The seeds of the Pentecost light show are sown on the Sunday during Passover week as Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into them on the day of His resurrection. Seven weeks later that same Spirit begins to plant the seeds of the Great Harvest of souls for the Kingdom of God.
Jesus continues in often sharing bread with His disciples after his death and resurrection (for example: John 21:9-14). In a strange way, he is even sometimes only recognized by them when he blesses the bread (Luke 24:30-31).
In John 6:35-40 Jesus ties all of the bread and harvest analogies in His own person when He declares, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
The saving grace of God is so vast and so amazing that no one analogy can say it all. The festivals of spring, summer and fall feature themes that overlap and display thematic links to one another. While it is true that our salvation does not depend on these days, their richness as signposts of Jesus’ saving grace argues for at least knowing about them.
Each time we gather for the Lord’s Supper, by whatever name, at whatever time, we remember Jesus, our Bread of Life. We also gather for a sacred meal in the presence of our Lord. As we partake together, we are also symbolizing our common salvation as well as our common rootedness in the saving death and life of Jesus Christ. The common meal also represents our solidarity with every other believer, which is why the Apostle Paul links participation in the Lord’s Supper with seeking each other’s well-being (1 Corinthians 10:16-33) and not just our own.
We need to live as if each other believer’s conscience is just as important to us as our own. He elaborates further in 11:16-34 that God judges believers on that basis. He goes so far as to say that sharing the bread and wine while treating brothers and sisters in the faith as somehow lesser beings is literally hazardous to our health!
Jesus did not sacrifice Himself to bring self-satisfaction, haughtiness and empire-building into His Kingdom. He came to relieve burdens and set things in healthful, harmonious order. He was willing to die to save each of us. Shouldn’t we be willing to live to save one another?