A Sacred Charge
The "this" to which Yeshua referred to was the Festival of Unleavened Bread and the Seder meal. As his disciples, we are privileged to fulfill his commandment by annually celebrating the Festival of Unleavened Bread in remembrance of him. Our observance of the Feast is not optional for us. Rather it is a sacred charge the Master left in our hands on his last night with us before he suffered. We are to remember him whenever we take the elements. How much more so at Passover when he spoke those words!
The command to keep the Appointed Time of Unleavened Bread is an eternal commandment of the Torah. Every year the 15th day of the 1st month on the Biblical Calendar is a High Sabbath marking the beginning of the seven days of Unleavened Bread. The last day of the Festival is also a High Sabbath:
Cleansing out the Leaven
During the seven days of the Festival it is forbidden to be in possession of anything containing leaven. Prior to the Festival all yeast and products containing yeast should be removed from the household. They should be consumed or given away. The sunset which begins the 15th day of the month is the absolute deadline for removing the leaven. One's house should be cleaned to insure that no crumbs of bread or other leavened items are overlooked. Kitchens are thoroughly cleaned. Usually a ritual search for leaven is made the 24 hours prior to the beginning of the festival. The search is done just after dusk with a candle, a wooden spoon, a feather and a piece of linen. If children are present, it is not unusual to plant some crumbs of bread for them to find. Any crumbs or leaven which are found are swept onto the wooden spoon with the feather. Then the wooden spoon, the candle, the feather and the leaven are all wrapped tightly together in the linen. The whole "leaven package" is placed outside the house to be burned in the morning.
The Symbolism of Leaven
The search for leaven symbolizes our personal cleansing of home and body from sin. Just as we carefully clean our homes to remove any yeast or leavened bread and we do not spare even the smallest crumb, so too we should search our hearts, deeds and words for any sinful act or attitude which must be removed. Paul writes, "Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are. For Messiah, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth." (1st Corinthians 5:6-8) As we search our homes for leaven and our lives for spiritual leaven we should be reminded that we are preparing to come to the Master's table. Paul referred to this when he said, "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup." (1 Corinthians 11:27,28). In the same way we carefully search our homes, we must also carefully search our hearts.
Traditionally the leaven package is burned at the time of morning prayer on the 14th day of the first month. By Divine coincidence, that is the exact day and hour in which our Master was crucified. He is the one who removes our sin and spiritual leaven.
Born Again Bread
For the duration of the seven days, no product containing yeast can be eaten or brought into the home. It is a commandment to eat unleavened bread (that is matzah) on each of the seven days. There is a deep and spiritual meaning to the ritual of eating only unleavened bread for the seven days of the festival. In ancient times, dough was leavened by adding a starter dough left over from the last batch of bread, much the way sour dough bread is made today. Therefore, a culture of leaven was passed on from loaf to loaf to loaf. The commandment to get rid of all the old leaven and start with new unleavened bread symbolizes a clean break with the past. It is a chance to start over. It is a chance to start fresh. It is like being born again.
Paul Tells Us To
"Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast. (and to) Keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth." 1 Corinthians 5:7,8
The Body of the Master
Disciples of the Master find and even deeper meaning in the bread. Yeshua took the matzah bread at his Last Seder and said, "This is my body which is for you, do this in remembrance of me." The Unleavened Bread teaches us about the Body of the Master! If we examine a piece of matzah, we will see that it has three peculiar attributes.
- It is pierced.
- It is striped.
- It is flat.
Just as the Unleavened Bread is pierced, Messiah's body was pierced. Just as the the Unleavened Bread is striped, his body was striped and wounded, and just as the unleavened bread is without yeast, making it flat, he was without sin. We find it written in the Scriptures, "They will look upon the one they have pierced," (Zecheriah 12:10) and again, "By his stripes we are healed," (Isaiah 53:5) and again, "Yet he was without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)
The Seder Meal
In Exodus 12, the Torah instructed the children of Israel to celebrate a special feast on the first night of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. On the menu was roasted lamb, bitter herbs and unleavened bread. This meal is called a Pesach Seder. The purpose of this meal was a commemoration. It was a memorial meal to remember the meal eaten in Egypt as the LORD passed over.
'Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations . . . (Exodus 12:14)
The Passover Seder meal was given to Israel in order that they should always remember the great redemption from Egypt. It is a way of teaching each subsequent generation the story of Passover. God gave the commandment for this particular feast as a "remembrance." In Judaism to this day, the reason for the Seder meal is to teach the children the story of their redemption from Egypt. (Exodus 12:26,27)
The Passover Seder meal is usually held in one's home with festive foods and guests. Since the destruction of the Temple, lamb is no longer served at a seder, but the bitter herbs and unleavened bread still constitute the main rituals of the evening.
The Last Seder
It was a traditional Passover Seder meal that Yeshua and his disciples celebrated as their Last Supper.
Although the various elements of the Seder have undergone some alterations over the centuries, today's Seder liturgy is not at all unlike what Yeshua and his disciples were doing in that upper room. An ancient Haggadah (Seder meal liturgy) found in the Cairo Genizah dates back to the early centuries of Rabbinic Judaism. In form and content, it is very similar and on many points identical to the Haggadah still in use by Orthodox Judaism. By using the Passover Haggadah as a compass, it is possible for us to reconstruct the "last supper" of Yeshua and his disciples.
The Cup of The Master
When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, "Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes." (Luke 22:14-18)
Try to see the large upper room, furnished for Yeshua and his disciples. They are reclining at the table, as is the custom. He takes the cup, and gives thanks. The Greek word translated as "giving thanks" is eucharisteo. From this word, the church has coined the term "Eucharist." In the original context of the Passover Seder, however, the term applies to the words of the Kiddush. The Kiddush is the blessing which began the Passover Seder Meal and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. Kiddush is Hebrew for "sanctification." The Passover, like all the feasts, was to be a "holy" day. Therefore, the Seder is begun with a declaration of the holiness of the day. This kiddush declaration is done over a cup of wine, which is then shared among the participants.
So it was on that night that Yeshua took the cup in his right hand and lifted it for everyone to see. Then he chanted the kiddush. The text of Kiddush in a modern Seder is as follows: "Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth the fruit of the vine. Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who has chosen us from among all nations, exalted us above all tongues, and sanctified us with His commandments. With love you have given us, O LORD our God, appointed times for gladness, festivals and seasons for rejoicing, this Feast of Unleavened Bread, the season of our deliverance, with love, a sacred rehearsal in remembrance of the departure from Egypt. For you have chosen us, and you have sanctified us from all the nations, and you have given us festivals with gladness as our inheritance. Blessed are You, LORD our God, who sanctifies Israel and the seasons."
As the disciples responded, "Amen," Yeshua drank from the cup and then passed it to his disciples, saying, "Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes."
The Cup of Salvation
In addition to the cup for the Kiddush, the Sages ordained three more cups to be drunk on the eve of Passover. The total four cups of the Seder are meant to correspond to the four expressions of redemption which God spoke to Israel in Exodus 6:6,7. According to the Sages, these four cups of the Passover Seder fulfill the verse: "I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD." (Psalm 116:13 and Shemot Midrash Rabbah 6.4) Therefore, all four cups of the Seder meal are collectively called the "Cup of Salvation." The Hebrew word for Salvation is Yeshua.
It is the four Seder cups , "the cup of salvation," that Yeshua took with his disciples when he said, "Do this in remembrance of me."
The Last Seder
Other elements of the Last Supper are also anchored within the rituals of the Passover Seder. The washing of the disciple's feet has a natural compliment in the initial washing ceremony of the Seder. The dipping into the sop, which Yeshua used to point out his betrayer, is a Seder meal ritual. The breaking and sharing of unleavened bread is a Seder ritual. The use of unleavened bread as a ritual substitute for a sacrifice comes from the Seder meal. The table prayers and even the hymn sung at the close of the meal are all regular features of the Seder that find expression in the Gospel's telling of the Last Supper.
When we participate in the annual Passover Seder meal, we have the opportunity to relive the Gospel narratives of the Last Seder of Yeshua and his disciples.
Communion and the Seder
The cup and the bread, which Christianity normally associates with Communion or the Lord's Table, are originally elements taken from this larger context of the Passover Seder meal. It is sad and unfortunate that Christianity has misapprehended the words of the Master. We have assumed that when he said, "Do this in remembrance of me," that he referred only to the cup and the bread. But by putting those words back into the original context, that is the traditional Jewish Seder meal as commanded by God in Egypt, we see a bigger picture.
God had commanded the Appointed Time of Unleavened Bread to be a Memorial of the exodus from Egypt. In Exodus 12, the Torah calls the Festival of Unleavened Bread, "A remembrance." The Master's command was an allusion to the entire meal, even to the entire Festival of Unleavened Bread. Yeshua was not initiating a new "Christian rite" at the last supper. It is not communion, nor is it the host, nor is it a new sacrament. We may celebrate any or all of these rituals which we have derived from the gospels, and it is good that we do! But in the original context, Yeshua said to his disciples, "Do this [Passover Seder/Feast of Unleavened Bread] as a memorial of me." He was not initiating a new "Christian rite"; he was redefining a very old Jewish rite.
A Tragic Loss
Here is the great tragedy of Christianity. Because we believed that all the old vestiges and rituals of "law" were done away with at the cross, we have not kept the words of our Master. He said, "Do this in remembrance of me." While we have faithfully taken the cup and bread in remembrance of our Master, we have failed to enjoy and celebrate the greater context of that bread and cup. In so doing, we have missed much of what the Scriptures want to communicate to us. By ignoring the Festival, we ignored the "substance of the Messiah."