THE PASSION OF OUR LORD:
DETAILING THE EVENTS OF OUR LORD’S SUFFERING AND DEATH
Session #9 (Most quotes are NIV)
THURSDAY MORNING, APRIL 6, 30 A.D.: PREPARING FOR PASSOVER
Matthew 26:17-19, Mark 14:12-16, Luke 22:7-13 all tell the story: on Thursday morning, Jesus says to Peter and John (the names found only in Luke 22:8) “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” As we follow the story, the two are told specifically to head into town and look for a man carrying a water pitcher and say…. (I think it is interesting that John’s Gospel omits this story, even though John was one of the two disciples who were sent. He probably felt that telling it three times was enough! Oddly, he never mentions himself in his Gospel.)
Too many times we invent miracles where there are none. This is clearly something which has been prearranged. This is the equivalent of telling them to look for a guy with a white flower in his lapel, walk up to him, wink twice and say “Bill sent me.”
OK—so, it is prearranged! But WHY? Remember that Judas Iscariot has already met with the Chief Priests to arrange the betrayal, and Jesus “knows” this. In fact, it is John’s Gospel which repeatedly reminds us that “Jesus knew.” (See John 13:1 as an example: “Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world.…”) Judas had plans, but so did Jesus! Jesus was going to be betrayed, tried, abused, crucified and die—he “knew” that—but it was going to happen on Jesus’ terms and on His timetable. Judas was not going to mess this up. So, secretly prearranging the Passover site kept Judas out of the loop. Since Judas didn’t know where this “upper room” was located, he couldn’t betray Jesus in the middle of the Passover meal! Jesus wished to be arrested AFTER the meal was completed.
Mark and Luke both offer some detail about the room, but Mark 14:15 is the most complete picture: “He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready.” The room is “furnished” and thus has the couches and table necessary. It is “ready,” which probably means it has been swept clean of any leavened bread—although, as good Jews they would probably re-sweep it to be absolutely sure (yes, it is really that big a deal!)
In James Voelz’ newly published commentary on Mark, he translates the verse “He will show you a large upper room, decked out, ready.” He says that the Greek, ἐστρωμένον, which normally means “to strow, to spread out” (same verb on Palm Sunday for “spreading” the palm leaves in Jesus’ path), indicates that material had been spread out on the couches in preparation for the meal. In the final analysis, a “decked out” or “furnished” room meant that Peter and John did not have to run out and try to find the necessary items for the meal. This was all taken care of ahead of time.
HOW WAS THE PASSOVER EATEN? LEONARDO GOT IT WRONG!
In the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy, is the famous painting of the Last Supper by Leonardo d’ Vinci. Considered a masterpiece among art critics, people naturally line up to see it. Two things you should know: 1. The frescoed paint has been touched up so many times that you probably aren’t seeing anything that Leonardo actually painted. 2. His depiction has nothing to do with a Passover meal in a Jewish household! As an Italian artist, Leo imagined the scene, but he was clueless. (It isn’t his fault—he didn’t have the information!)
Unfortunately, it is because of that painting that we imagine a Last Supper which looks like that: a big European-style table with the 12 disciples strung out on either side.
Does it take much convincing to have you imagine that Middle Eastern people often eat while sitting on the floor on mats or rugs? They eat with their fingers, not with forks and spoons. We’ve all seen this in the movies! The world in which Jesus lived was like this as well. Eating at a table with furniture was nearly unknown. Rich people might have furniture, but the poor eat on a dirt floor. In the towns and villages of Judea, people had one meal a day, in the evening. And this meal consisted of a little bread and some lentil beans (like the samples at Costco!).
Ah, but the Passover was different. It was designed to make even the poorest Jew feel like he was king for the day! In a land which teetered regularly on the brink of famine, the Day of Passover MUST include every Jew, and that poor Jew had to share fully and completely in the biggest feast of the year, and rarely used couches would be set up.
Now to eat the meal, the disciples would lie down on a low couch, with their head propped up with their left elbow and hand. This allows the person to eat with his right hand. The feet (always considered “disgusting”) are away from the table. The dinner guest reaches for the food on the small central table and takes what he needs with his fingers. There are three people to a couch, all lying down in a “spoon” position. There is an order of importance, of course, and the most important person would be in the center position of three people on the “head couch.” The Passover, however, like all meals, was eaten with the fingers.
How accurate is this? Allow me an aside: even today, most of the Muslim world in the Middle East wipe themselves with their left hand and eat with their right hand. (Keep in mind that indoor plumbing is unknown in most places, and—like our grocery stores today, no toilet paper!) IF you are caught stealing, your left hand is cut off. That means you must eat with the same hand you use to wipe yourself! Yes, that’s disgusting! But it emphasizes that, IF YOU EAT WITH YOUR FINGERS, there is greater on-going punishment for theft than just missing a hand.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PASSOVER MEAL
Exodus 12 gives the exact details of the first Passover: take a perfect lamb one year old, cut it’s throat and bleed it, smear the blood on the doorpost and lintels of the house, do not break ANY BONES (remember that little item for later!), eat it whole—head, tail, etc., eat it in haste, standing up and ready to run!
The annual Passover Meal was a moment of remembering, but it was far more than that. The Rabbis taught that by eating the Passover, each Jew was actually participating in the events so long ago: God was releasing you from slavery and giving you your freedom. (Some of you are starting to notice a bunch of parallels with the Lord’s Supper. We’ll come to that later!) This was a COVENANT meal. Blood had been shed with a Divine promise attached: “I hereby make a commitment that I will make you a free people!” In the Passover meal, every Jew is reclining, eating like a king, and taking all night to eat it! God is saying: “You were slaves, but I have given you rest!” Echoes of Saint Peter who ate this meal with Jesus: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” I Peter 2:9.
God’s own Jewish people were called to be a beacon in this world—to proclaim God’s love and power. The Passover meal was an annual reminder. In Egypt, YOU WERE THERE and now you are free to tell the world what God has done.
THE PASSOVER MEAL AS A COVENANT
Too often “Covenant” (B’rith in Hebrew: בְּרִ֣ית) is written off as a “promise.” It’s not a promise—it’s a contract! But note carefully that it is a unilateral contract. That means that only one party is making himself obligated to act. When God makes a covenant (and he made a LOT of them in the Old Testament), He is committing himself to doing something and sealing the deal with blood. This is an act of GOD’S GRACE—we are not committing ourselves. Only God is committing himself! We are not asked to cooperate in our salvation! Forget about “deciding to follow Jesus!” It’s ALL GOD”S WORK!
There is no covenant without blood. Read Genesis 15—the whole chapter–to see how it’s done. An animal is cut into two, laid on the ground and God passes between the parts of the bloody animal. In effect, God is saying “May what happened to this animal happen also to ME if I break my commitment.”
Blood is the symbol of life. It belongs to God. The shedding of life is a serious matter. This covenant is sacred, and it is between God and his chosen people—no Gentles are welcome at this Passover meal! (Close communion!)