It’s Thursday night in Jerusalem, 33AD. The entire city has receded into their homes to celebrate the Jewish feast of ‘Passover’, creating a sense of ethereal silence in the streets. The prophet ‘Yeshua of Nazareth’ and his followers gather secretly in the upper room of a private home. The food is prepared by the women. The Passover ceremony begins.
And then he does it again. Something unexpected, something controversial, something reserved for the servants, not the master. He bends down and begins to wash his follower’s feet. “I am setting you an example” he says, “that you should do the same for each other”. The ceremony was meant to begin with a washing of hands, not feet. Get comfortable; it’s not the last controversial statement the carpenter will make that night. He’s just warming up.
“One of you is about to betray me.” Only one in the room knows that Jesus has just read his mind; the others are thrown into whispers of self-doubt. Eye-balling his betrayer he takes a piece of the unleavened bread, dips it into a dish of traditional salt water and says “Do what you have to do”. The salt water represents the tears the Jews shed while they were in slavery in Egypt. The bitter irony is not lost. Judas slips away into the night.
This is a ceremony Yeshua has gone through many times his whole life. Four cups of wine to drink. ‘Matzah’ bread to break and share. Roasted lamb meal at the end. All has been thought through. Nothing is accidental.
He picks up the Matzah. As he breaks the bread in his hands, he goes on to break all tradition with his following words: “This is my Body…” What did he just say?? This bread is His flesh? Sounds mysteriously like something he said to the crowds recently which cost him half his followers (John 8). Silence as the bread goes around the table. No-one questions the Master anymore; they have learned not to. Just eat it.
They are up to the third cup of wine now. The alcohol is pleasing to the brain, creating an illusion of peace. Perhaps it’s going to be a good night after all.
“This is my Blood”. If the ‘flesh’ statement didn’t wake them up, this one did. It is strictly forbidden for a Jew to eat anything with blood still in it, “for the life is in the blood” as the Law clearly says (Leviticus 17:11). To drink the blood of anything is unthinkable, repulsive, an abomination. He goes further; “This is the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins.” He passes the cup. Do you refuse? Peter tried that with the feet-washing thing; it didn’t work out so well. As unsettling as it is, there is something more at work here; something more than the Law, greater than the rules of the ritual. Just drink the cup.
No-one makes the connection at the time. At the first Passover in Egypt, 4000 years before, an innocent Lamb without blemish is slain and its flesh eaten by those inside the house. Its blood is painted over the door-frames and windows so that the angel of death will see and ‘pass over’ the inhabitants (Exodus 12:23). The children of the Egyptians –those who didn’t eat the Lamb and weren’t protected by the blood – died in their beds. The Jews were delivered that night from slavery to freedom.
Yeshua sits back against the wall in a melancholy silence.
One day they will understand.