The Bread, The Wine, and The Lamb
Part Three of an eight-part series of reflections on Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.
Holy Thursday is the celebration of the Last Supper: a Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples. While this may seem like a minor detail, it is incredibly important. Each part of the meal – the lamb, the bread, the wine – was a significant part of the story of the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt.
The Lamb – The Passover lamb was eaten in remembrance of the unblemished lamb sacrificed on the night of the tenth plague, the death of the first-born. Each family was required to spread the blood on the doorposts to mark their homes for the angel of death to pass over, and they were required to consume the lamb in this sacrifice of communion, and become part of the sacrifice themselves.
Jesus is the new Lamb of God who will give His life as a sacrifice to save us from slavery to sin and eternal death.
The bread –The unleavened bread of the Passover recalled the speed of the Israelites delivery from Egypt. There was no time for the bread to rise; there was no time to prepare. The bread also represented the manna that fed them in the desert.
Jesus blesses the bread and says, “This is my body, given up for you.” The lamb is still on the table, yet Jesus says that this bread will be His body. Earlier Jesus insisted, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.” This is how we will participate in the sacrifice of communion.
The wine – There are four cups of wine in a Passover meal, each one expressing an aspect of redemption through the Exodus and the beginning of the nation of Israel.
Jesus takes the cup of wine and says, “This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant. It will be shed for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins.”
If Jesus intended those words to be symbolic, He would have indicated that the Lamb was His body that would be given up. Instead, He gave us something else.
We must consume the Lamb for this sacrifice of communion. In the Mass of Holy Thursday, we see that the Lamb is made truly present in the bread and the wine. In consuming the Body and Blood of Christ, we have the privilege of becoming part of the sacrifice ourselves.