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Volume 14, Issue 3: Stauron

Celebration of Salvation

Gary Hagen

The twelveth chapter of Exodus records the Lord's decree that instituted the old covenant feast of remembrance—Passover. John's Gospel indicates that Jesus was tried before Pilate and delivered to be crucified on the day of preparation for the Passover feast (John 19:14_16). Indeed, both Jesus and Paul clearly refer to Christ's sacrifice as the fulfillment of the Passover (I Cor. 5:7 cf. Luke 22:16).

The gospel in which we stand, and by which we are saved, centers on the message that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (I Cor. 15:1_3). While we were still slaves to sin, Christ died for us so that we might be reconciled to God (Rom. 5:8_10), and crucified to the world (Gal. 6:14).
And when Christ instituted the feast of remembrance of the new covenant in His blood (Luke 22:19_20), He did so in conjunction with the day that the Passover lambs were sacrificed (Luke 22:7), and at a celebration of the Passover feast (Luke 22:15). This final celebration of Passover came on the very night before the crucifixion. But oddly enough, we also read that the chief priests and Jewish officers refused to enter Pilate's headquarters for Christ's trial that next morning because they had not yet eaten the Passover (John 18:12, 28).
Now the Passover feast was observed at the full moon in the first month of the Jewish calendar.1 The Passover lamb was slain "at evening" (Ex. 12:2, 6).2 Josephus indicated that Passover sacrifices were traditionally killed at 3 p.m. Luke records that hour as the same time that Christ, our Passover lamb, yielded up His spirit on the cross (Luke 23: 44-46).
In Exodus 12:6, the phrase that is often translated as "at evening" (AV) or "at twilight" (NKJV), literally says "between the evenings." John's Gospel indicates that Christ and His disciples simply celebrated the Passover early in the period "between the evenings" (John 13:30), rather than according to the more customary next day as the chief priests did.3
Given the prominence of the Passover feast in Christ's death on the cross, a closer look here should inform and enrich our worship in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. As reformational Christians, our default assumption often is that our worship and practice are thoroughly in accord with the Scriptures and not a derivative of centuries-long traditions of men. Yet compared to the old covenant celebration of deliverance, and the feasts observed in the early church, our modern proclivity to distill the Lord's Supper down to a brief ritual with a paper-thin wafer4 or a crouton-sized piece of bread along with a half-swig of Welch's is truly an anemic shadow of that supper on the eve of crucifixion. Not only was the food at that first Lord's Supper a true feast, but so also was the liturgy.
Many churches obtain their liturgy for the Lord's Supper from four short verses found in I Corinthians 11: 23_26. But it is worth noting that this is only a brief excerpt of the extensive recording of the Lord's words at the institution of the Supper. Looking at a red-letter edition of the Gospel of John highlights this nicely.
Of the twenty-one chapters comprising his Gospel, John devotes an entire five chapters to the recording of our Lord's final Passover feast with his disciples. DaVinci's painting aside, it is not unlikely that more than just the twelve disciples were present with Him that night. There may have been as many as 120 disciples, such as those that met in the same (or a similar) upper room in Acts 2 (cf. Luke 22:12). This possibility is supported by the accounts in both Exodus 12:3_4 and Luke 2:41_45, which show the Passover feast was a family meal, perhaps even shared with close neighbor households as well.
Unlike the practice of many churches that fence the communion table, the Passover was open to all the covenant members who were old enough to eat solid food. There was no litmus test of age or understanding.5 While Paul's admonition about excommunicating publicly apostate members is clear,6 it must also be noted that Jesus Himself did not fence the table from Judas Iscariot, even though He prophesied of this disciple's imminent betrayal.7 When our churches schedule observance of the Lord's Supper so as to attempt to limit its participation to only those who are the true faithful branches (e.g., only at midweek, evening, or afterglow services), they are trying to be wiser than Christ. Covenant membership (baptism and lack of a scandalous lifestyle) is the entering argument—not some supposed age of accountability, not Confirmation, and not a Hell's Angels conversion testimony.
It has been discussed before in this column that the biblical meaning of remembrance is not simply a cognitive term—it has to do with action. Therefore, as we celebrate the Lord's Supper in the church, and remember the deliverance won by our Passover Lamb on the cross, we must understand that one of the primary points of Scripture's instruction on this feast is not that we devote five, ten, or even fifteen minutes to a ritual observance per week, per month, or some other schedule of short sacraments. Rather, God's word teaches us that the Lord's Supper is a feast and a renewal of the eternal covenant. And therefore, we are to live out this salvation—we are to celebrate this eternal life He gives by His sacrifice—by living unleavened lives, daily.8

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