The Lamb’s Supper, Lesson 6.2

The Lamb's Supper: The Bible and the Mass

Lesson Six: Memory and Presence: Communion as the Coming of Christ

Lesson Objectives

  1. To understand the deep biblical foundations of Jesus’ command that the Eucharist be celebrated “in memory of Me.”
  2. To see how Scripture portrays Jesus as the Passover Lamb and how that portrayal is reflected in the Mass.
  3. To understand the Eucharist as parousia, the “coming” of Christ, and as the “daily bread” we pray for in the Our Father.

II. The Memorial Feast

A. The Passover Remembered

God commanded Israel to commemorate this national deliverance in a "memorial feast" that would be a "perpetual institution" (see Exodus 12:14,17).

This memorial, the Passover, was what Jesus was celebrating on the night of His last supper, when He instituted the Eucharist as the memorial of His suffering and death.

The Passover, as given to the Israelites by God through Moses, was to be an annual thanksgiving celebration that would call to mind God's saving actions and inspire the people to keep God's commandments (see Exodus 13:3,8; Deuteronomy 6:20-25; 16:3).

Israel's worship, not only in the Passover, but in the other festivals and customs instituted by God through Moses, was a worship of ritual remembrance.

What was remembered? God's salvific intervention in Israel's history - especially in the exodous - and His covenant with Israel. The ritual remembrance included the reading or narration of His saving deeds, along with the offering of sacrifices.

And Israel was taught to believe that in these rites of remembrance they were brought into a mysterious sharing and participation in the covenant that God made with their ancestors centuries before.

We see this most clearly in the covenant renewal ceremony recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy. In this remembrance, Moses explains, the original covenant made at Mount Sinai is "actualized," or made present in their midst.

"Not with our fathers did He make this covenant, but all of us who are alive here this day. The Lord spoke with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. Since you were afraid of the fire and would not go up to the mountain, I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to announce to you these words of the Lord. . . " Deuteronomy 5:1-4, 15,23,25; 6:20-25)

Moses is remembering a series of events that took place on Mount Sinai during the first generation after the Exodus (see Exodus 19-20). Yet he is describing them as if the assembled Isralites are themselves there, as witnesses and participants in those events.

Notice his intense stress on the present moment - us, you, alive, here, this day. Though the covenant was made long ago on Sinai, it is present in their midst.

In recalling the covenant, they aren't rehearsing the facts of a past event. In their remembrance, through the power of God, they are being made contemporaries of those events. Those events are being made present. In remembering the covenant, they are made heirs to that covenant, part of the family of God created by the covenant.

In every celebration of the Passover, men and women of every generation remember the day when they themselves came forth from the land of Egypt (see Deuteronomy 16:3). The exodus is something that they personally participate in. Every Israelite, even today, speaks of the exodus in the first person. It is "what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt" (see Exodus 13:8).

B. The New Exodus

This is the rich Old Testament background to Jesus' command at the last supper.

He aimed to institute a new Passover memorial, one that would remember His "exodus" (see Luke 9:31), the mighty act of salvation accomplished by His life, death, and resurrection, by which all peoples and generations are freed from sin and death.

The new memorial instituted by Jesus wasn't to be a nostalgic reminiscence of Christ's last meal, or His days on earth. Like the Passover, it would be a liturgical memorial that would re-present, "actualize" - make actual - God's mighty work.

In the Eucharist, the once-and-for-all sacrifice of the cross becomes present, God remembers and renews the covenant made in Christ's blood (see Luke 22:20), and we who worship through this memorial are made sharers in the power and promises of that covenant.

What Moses told the Israelites about the covenant and Sinai could be said of us: Not with our fathers, the apostles in that upper room, did Jesus make this new covenant. He made it with all of us who are alive here this day. The Lord spoke with us face to face when He said, "Take . . . eat. . . This is my body . . . Take . . . drink . . .This is the cup of my blood . . . Do this in memory of me."

C. Christ, Our Paschal Lamb

Because the Eucharist is a memorial of the Lord's passover, we remember these words of its institution, just as Jesus spoke them at the last supper.

But what do those words mean, exactly?

Remember, Jesus spoke them in a Passover context. The Passover meal prescribed by Moses included eating an unblemished lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs and reciting an explanation of the feast's meaning (see Exodus 12:8-11,24-27). Later Jewish tradition added to the celebration the singing of psalms and the of drinking wine.

Notice that in the last supper accounts, unleavened bread and wine are mentioned (seeMatthew 26:26-27; Mark 14:22-23; Luke 22:19-20), and even the singing of psalms (seeMatthew 26:30; Mark 14:26).

But no mention is made of the Passover lamb.

Jesus appears to be presenting himself as the Passover lamb, whose flesh and blood would be eaten in remembrance of the Lord's salvation. In fact, this is how Jesus is depicted in the Gospel of John.

John, incidentally, is the only one of the gospel writers who doesn't provide an account of Jesus instituting the Eucharist at the last supper.

But from his earliest verses John identifies Jesus as "the Lamb of God" (see John 1:29). At the gospel's end, John again subtly describes Jesus in terms of the paschal lamb.

When Christ is condemned by Pilate, John tells us, it was the "preparation day for Passover, and it was about noon." Why this detail? Because that was the time when Israel's priests slaughtered the lambs in preparation for the Passover meal (see John 19:14).

As He hangs on the cross, the soldiers give Jesus a sponge soaked in wine. They raise it to Him on a "hyssop branch." That's the same kind of branch the Israelites are instructed to use to daub their door posts with the blood of the Passover lamb (see John 19:29; Exodus 12:22).

And why don't the soldiers break Jesus' legs on the cross (see John 19:33,36)? John quotes Moses' original Passover instructions, explaining that it was because the legs of the Passover lambs weren't to be broken (see Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; Psalm 34:20).

This point is further driven home in the long sermon that Jesus delivered in the synagoue at Capernaum near Passover (see John 6:4,35-59).

Jesus describes himself in terms of both the paschal lamb whose flesh must be eaten and the manna with which God fed the Israelites in the wilderness.

He insists on describing the eating and drinking of His flesh and blood in starkly literal terms. Four times, He uses a Greek word - trogein - that refers to a crude kind of eating, almost a gnawing or chewing (see John 6:54,56,57,58).

His original audience, including many of His followers, were shocked and appalled at His insistence that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood (see 6:52,61,66).

Continue to Section 3

Other Lessons

  • Lesson One: A Biblical Introduction to the Mass
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. 1. To understand basic Catholic beliefs about the relationship between the Bible and the Liturgy.
    2. To understand the biblical basis for the Mass.
    3. To understand how in the Mass, the written text of the Bible becomes Living Word.

    Begin Lesson One

  • Lesson Two: Given for You - The Old Testament Story of Sacrifice
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To understand the biblical background to the Penitential Rite and the Gloria in the Mass.
    2. To understand how God is worshipped in the Old Testament.
    3. To understand the biblical notion of sacrifice as it is presented in the Old Testament.

    Begin Lesson Two

  • Lesson Three: One Sacrifice for All Time
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To understand the death of Jesus Christ on the cross as a sacrifice.
    2. To see the parallels between the Old Testament sacrifices and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
    3. To understand how that sacrifice is re-presented to us in the Mass.

    Begin Lesson Three

  • Lesson Four: Fulfilled in Your Hearing: The Liturgy of the Word
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To understand Scripture as the living Word of God.
    2. To understand the place of Scripture at the center of the liturgy.
    3. To see Scripture as an encounter with Christ, the living Word of God.
    4. To see how the Liturgy of the Word prepares us for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

    Begin Lesson Four

  • Lesson Five: Heaven On Earth: The Liturgy of the Eucharist
  • Lesson Objectives
    1. To understand the deep biblical foundations for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
    2. To see how the Book of Revelation describes the liturgy of heaven.
    3. To understand how the Mass we celebrate on earth is a participation in the liturgy of heaven.

    Begin Lesson Five