The background of the Passover Seder is that this was a meal of remembrance. This feast, this celebration, this meal was given to the Children of Israel by God Himself as a reminder to His people of their being delivered from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. The very first Passover entailed each family of the children of Israel to select an unblemished lamb which was slaughtered, the blood collected and with a hyssop branch painted on the door post and lintel of the door of the house as a sign and mark that the angel of death would pass over that house and spare the life of the first born. Interestingly enough, the painting of the blood on the door post and lintel make for a sign of the cross, the up and downward motion on the door posts and the side to side motion over the lintel.
The Seder meal included the consumption of four cups of wine and the eating of unleavened bread. The cups of wine in order were called the cup of sanctification, the cup of deliverance, the cup of redemption and the cup of praise. The unleavened bread consisted of three pieces of matzah in which the middle piece of matzah was broken with half being hidden and found later. Also the unleavened bread or matzah was pierced with holes, and stripped with char or burn marks.
The Seder meal was a meal of remembrance, remembering the passing over of the angel of death as Israel departed, escaped and were delivered from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. The final plague God sent in Egypt was the angel of death who went throughout Egypt killing the first born of man and animal, passing over the houses of the Israelites that were marked with the blood of the lamb.
The meaning of symbols include the Middle Matzah, which, as we said was broken, and half was hidden. The hidden half was later found and “redeemed” or bought back by the father. This middle matzah, broken, hidden and redeemed reminds us of Jesus who was broken, died, was buried and in three days rose for us.
It was this third cup of wine in particular, cup of redemption, which Jesus gave to His apostles with the words, “this is my blood.” Paul reminds us in his epistle, a little later than our text that if anyone eats and drink this Lord’s Supper without recognizing the body and blood of Christ, eats and drinks judgement on themselves. Thus, Jesus’ words are important and meaningful, this is His body and blood which He has given, broken and poured out for us.
And Jesus says to “do this in remembrance.” This word remembrance is not simply a recollection of a certain event as we would imagine today. No, this remembrance is an actual participation in the event which has taken place. So, as we eat the bread and body of Christ, and as we drink the wine and blood of Christ we are actually participating in His life, suffering, death and resurrection so that His life becomes our life, His suffering becomes our suffering, His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection.
In the Old Testament the family would bring the lamb to be sacrificed. The lamb was to be a whole, pure, unblemished lamb. The lamb was slaughtered, killed, and barbequed. The priest would keep part of the lamb for himself and his family and the rest of the lamb was eaten by family as they participated in the sacrifice.
So, what does this mean? And what is the significance of the chalice, of the eating and drinking of bread and wine and the body and blood of Jesus mean for us today? In the Garden of Eden God promised to take care of the sin of Adam and Eve. The price for sin was set, death, physical death and, apart from Jesus, eternal spiritual death, or hell. The price could only be paid by someone who did not owe, thus, we could never and will never be able to pay the price for our sins, because we owe too much, even our own souls for our sins.
Throughout the Old Testament, God directed the children of Israel to sacrifice offerings in order to remind the children of Israel that the price for sin is death. Truly, all these Old Testament sacrifices meant nothing as far as actually paying the price for sin, all they did was point to the one ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Like the Old Testament lamb, which was to be unblemished, Jesus is our Lamb of God, pure and holy, yet, it was not we who put our sins on Jesus, rather it was Jesus who took our sins, and all sin, the sin of all people of all places of all times. Jesus took our sins and He suffered and died, shedding His blood and paying the price, the physical death as well as the eternal spiritual death of hell for us in our place. Jesus could do this, take our sins, because as true God He was perfect and holy. And He could do this, take our place and be our substitute, because He was also one of us, truly human, being born of the human woman, the virgin Mary.
When we attend the Lord’s Supper we eat the bread and with the bread we eat Jesus body’ and we drink the wine from the cup and with the wine we drink Jesus’ blood, thus, very much like the Old Testament sacrifices, we participate in Jesus so that His life becomes our life, His death becomes our death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection.
And so, very much like the angel death passed over the homes marked with the blood of the lamb in Egypt, so too even today the angel of death, the angel of eternal spiritual death passes over us who are marked with the blood of Jesus, so that we do not die an eternal spiritual death, even though we may have to suffer physical death.
We are given life. The greatest gift we are given is the gift of forgiveness of sins. Without forgiveness we are left in our sins and we would only have eternal spiritual death. But with forgiveness is life and salvation. And the Gospel is that it is all gift. Gift given, gift received, all God’s doing, all our being done to.
As we look at the chalice we are reminded of the blood of Jesus. We are reminded that it was Jesus who shed His blood for us. It was Jesus who traded His life for ours. What should have been ours, eternal spiritual death, Jesus took. What should have been Jesus’, eternal life in Heaven, is ours. It is when we understand the whole sacramental aspect of the Lord’s Supper, that is when we realize how wonderful the Lord’s Supper truly is and why we crave the Lord’s Supper, for without this understanding, it would simply be a snack. But when we understand how the Lord’s Supper is a means through which He comes to us to give us the gifts He has to give, we crave the meal for our strengthening. May the chalice indeed remind you of this pure gift of Gospel of Jesus giving Himself completely for you because of His love for you.
Let me leave you with Paul’s passing on of the giving of the Lord’s Supper, ““23For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.