While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (verses 26-28)
These words are so familiar. We reflect on them every time we take part in Communion.
But there are two things in the background that press firmly into these sayings, shaping the context as Jesus speaks about bread and wine, adding weight and significance to these familiar words.
The first is the immediate tension in that Upper Room round that particular table at that particular moment. Jesus had just made a clear declaration that one of the disciples gathered there was going to betray him (verses 21, 23). It’s an ominous statement. Even though it wouldn’t have necessarily communicated his impending death, it would have certainly put the disciples on edge. When Judas Iscariot, like each of the other disciples, protested that it couldn’t possibly be him, Jesus called him on it, clearly stating that he was the one. But it’s not clear any of the other disciples heard and understood. Nonetheless, later, after the fact, they would have looked back and realized that Jesus knew full well what was coming – betrayal and arrest and suffering and crucifixion and death.
So, when he said, “this is my body … this is my blood,” Jesus knew. His betrayer was ready. The cross was imminent. He would suffer and die.
The second thing has to do with the meal itself. The reason they were gathered there that night was to celebrate Passover. The bread that Jesus took from the table and broke was one of the unleavened loaves that was part of that Passover meal, as it had been every previous year of each disciple’s life. Similarly, the cup of wine was one of several cups at each place, just like at every previous Passover celebration. Jesus rooted his saying about bread and wine firmly in the soil of this regular, annual meal, tying it directly to the centuries old events that were being celebrated.
Those events focused on God’s rescue of his people out of slavery in Egypt. He had sent Moses to tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”, but Pharaoh said, “No,” time and again. So the Lord sent plagues to loosen his grip, culminating in the decree that the angel of death would move through Egypt, slaying every first born male, whether human or animal – except among God’s own people. Each Israelite family was to take a spotless lamb, slay it, and spread its blood on the doorframe of their house as they gathered inside. The blood of that lamb would keep them safe, for the angel of death would pass over, leaving them unharmed. That final plague brought Pharaoh to his knees – he let the Israelites go, releasing them from slavery. The Lord God had worked a mighty deliverance.
So, when Jesus took bread and wine from that Passover table, calling it his body and his blood, he was declaring a mighty deliverance for us – deliverance from sin and death and judgement. That rescue from Egypt, all those centuries before, painted a picture of miraculous rescue which Jesus himself would now work for us through his imminent death on the cross.
So, receive the gift of deliverance and salvation. And each time you take part in bread and wine, remember. Jesus knew what he was doing. He laid down his life. It was powerfully effective. It was for you.
Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for your sacrifice, laying down your life that I might be rescued and saved. Your body and your blood were given for me. Thank you.
Reflect: Pause. Remember. Receive, as if you yourself were there. Give thanks.