Last week I talked about how communion is our “daily bread,” and how “daily bread”—a phrase Jesus gives us in the Lord’s Prayer—is in fact a callback to the manna God provided in the Old Testament. If you haven’t read that one yet, you can find it here.

But of course, if we’re going to be talking about Jesus’s sacrifice and the institution of the Last Supper and truly understand all it means, we have to look at the Feast during which He gave us this meal: Passover.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve read the story of the original Passover enough times that you could recite the gist of it without any trouble. Even so, there are things that I’d never paused to consider, and many of those things were expounded upon and then referenced by the Jews and Jesus. So having a good grasp of them is crucial to understanding the context in which Jesus acted and spoke.

First, something that really stood out to me when I was studying it this time was that when God instituted the Passover, He didn’t do it even then as a one-time thing. He created it as a tradition. Isn’t that just remarkable? How often in life do we really know when something is going to be such a big deal, so earth-shattering, so amazing that it will become an annual holiday we observe?

I didn’t know when I woke up on October 23, 2005, that I was going to have my first baby that day. I didn’t know when I woke up on September 26, 2020 that my son was about to be diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. My husband certainly didn’t realize on that warm January afternoon last year that he was going to slip, sprain his ankle, and it would impact his health for the next fifteen months.

But God obviously knew what He was doing (yeah, go ahead and laugh at the absurdity of that statement. I did.). And He did it on purpose. Which is to say, He did it with purpose, and He made it clear from the first word to Moses that this purpose was not just for NOW but for FOREVER. He didn’t just give him instructions to carry out, he gave him instructions for how to turn what was about to happen into a memorial to be remembered for all time.

Few things in history have such gravity. Few things were handed down with such direct orders. Not just do this but you will always do this. On this day of this month. Obey these traditions. Why?

Because it matters. Because it was so, so important that God’s people never forget what He was about to do.

Because it was the foreshadow, the foundation of what He would do later.

So God instituted the Passover tradition, and it was to be planned out well. On the tenth day of the month, each family was to select a lamb. (I wrote about that part already, here.) On the fourteenth day of the month, they were to slaughter the lamb. Some of its blood was to be smeared on the doorposts and lintels of their houses. They were to roast it whole, innards still in there. They were to eat it with unleavened bread, sandals on, travel clothes in place. Ready to leave.

Let’s pause for  just a moment and talk about the unleavened bread. Why? Because I love to bake, and this fascinates me, LOL.

So—yes, this is a total side note—I just learned about einkorn flour. Einkorn is the original wheat, what they would have eaten in the days of the Old Testament. It’s a kinda finicky grain, and it doesn’t have a high yield, so it didn’t take long for mankind to start breeding better-yielding varieties like spelt. Einkorn has been preserved only as an heirloom, hobbyist strain. Because of that, it has never been altered, neither by natural cross-breeding of strains nor by genetic alteration.

Today when we make a nice sandwich loaf, we use yeast. But yeast, as something you can buy on its own, is relatively new. It’s always been there, but not as a separate product. Back before you could just purchase a packet of jar of the stuff, you were relegated to the yeast that occurs naturally in your grain, and in order to have a fluffy loaf, you had to give those natural, “wild” yeasts time to do their work. And that could take a while.

We’re not talking an hour or two. We’re talking overnight. We’re talking a starter of fermented dough and water that is continually added to, sourdough style, used until it’s nearly gone, then fed again. That leaven, that yeast can go for years or decades or even centuries if you pay attention to it, add more, and use a little bit—it only takes a couple spoonfuls!—to start your new bread to rising. (“A little leaven leavens a whole loaf,” you know.)

This ancient grain, though, doesn’t have the same gluten that newer grains possess, and the rising process took way longer than our all-purpose flour does today. Rising times are typically double. (Flavor is, too. Just sayin’.) So the fact that the Israelites weren’t to give their bread time to rise meant a whole lot more. I admit that I’ve read that part before and thought, “Sheesh, it doesn’t take that long. What was the big deal?” But it was. Because it didn’t take a couple hours, it took half a day or more. My first sourdough loaves with this ancient grain took fifteen hours. Fifteen!! And these weren’t all inactive hours, either. It requires a lot of tending, turning, kneading, rising, moving, dusting…not a simple, hands-off experience.

It all started to make sense, then, LOL. That was the bread-baking God was telling them to forego. He said to simply mix the flour and water and bake the bread like that, then and there. What you ended up with was a flat cake of bread, usually baked in a circle. Make a note of that—it’s going to come up again in a couple weeks. 😉

Anyway, back to Passover. The meal was to be eaten in haste, together as a family. Note that this is part of the instructions, as clearly as killing the lamb and smearing its blood. The sacrifice alone was not enough. The blood being shed was not enough. They had to eat the lamb.


This goes back to the very nature of a covenant, which is something that moderns don’t really do much anymore. But in the ancient world, covenants were the things by which families were made. They weren’t a legal contract that said “you do this, I do that.” They were an oath that said, “I am yours and you are mine.” Marriage was not a contract, it was a covenant. When God made Abraham His child, it was a covenant. When He took Israel as His people—something He likens over and over again to marriage—it was a covenant.

Covenants are always, always sealed with a meal. I’ve looked before at the meaning of the word companion, which literally means “one you break bread with.” Why do we have a reception after a wedding? After a baptism? After pretty much all our big-deal life events? Because sharing a meal with someone means, “We’re opening our family to you.” It means, “We are no longer strangers, we are bound together.” Which is also why it feels weird to have a meal with a stranger, in a way it doesn’t feel weird to sit beside them on a bus or in a classroom. Meals invite conversation. Opening of hearts. Who do you eat most with in life? Your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings. Meals, in a very important way, give us life. Sharing that has historically been one of the most sacred things two humans can do, and it’s why hospitality has such deep roots in ancient cultures.

The Passover meal is the part that God told Moses was to be repeated every year, forever. Obviously the Angel of Death was not going to make an appearance again, year after year. Firstborn sons were not going to be killed on that night, forever. But He instituted a tradition with that meal, and through it, He gave a way for His people not only to remember the history, but to remember the covenant.

The people demonstrated their acceptance of this covenant by participating in the meal. Again, not just obeying the command to kill a lamb and use its blood, but to eat it.

Later, after the Law was given by Moses, each tribe appointed elders to represent them. And Moses took those elders up onto the mountain to basically make this new covenant official, and have you ever noticed what they did? There, up on the mountain? They beheld God, and they ate and drank. (Exodus 24:9-11)

I had never noticed that before! Had you?

Those elders saw God. Not, presumably, His face, but Him in a key sense. And the natural response to this was to eat and drink. Because this created that covenant with Him. This sealed them in relationship with Him.

We see, then, why it came as no surprise to His disciples when Jesus instituted a new covenant through…a meal. That same meal, in a way. He did it during the Passover celebration. And yet, in some key ways, He made BIG changes. We’ll talk more about those later.

For now, just dwell on that. The old covenant—both the original given to Abraham and the one made between God and all of Israel—was sealed with a meal. With the eating and drinking of flesh and wine. With a slain lamb and its blood.

A lamb that not only had to be killed, sacrificed, but consumed. And that meal was remembered every year through the Passover tradition. It was being relived that night in the Upper Room. The Twelve were thinking, then, about how God had delivered them out of Egypt.

And that was the stage on which Jesus made it clear a new deliverance was coming.

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