Remembering and Hoping Passover and the Last Supper
by Meghan Sullivan
Spring is a time of new beginnings. Mother Nature loosens her icy grasp on bare grapevines and frozen grounds, and buds, blossoms, and green shoots spring forth. Spring is also a time for remembering. We remember previous springs and familiar scents. We remember the feeling of sunshine on our backs and the promise of summer. As I prepare for Holy Week, I remember past celebrations of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. And I remember the centrality of wine in these celebrations.
Christians commemorating the Last Supper and Jews commemorating the First Passover share something in common: wine plays a role in both events. Christians drink wine or grape juice as they partake in Eucharistic Communion and remember Jesus’ Last Supper. Jews drink wine as they partake in the Passover meal and remember the liberation of their ancestors. Ancient Jews and Christians, too, with a cup of wine in hand, remembered the past.
Passover is based on Exodus 12, which depicts the night that the Israelites were led out of Egypt. In this passage, the Lord instructs Moses and Aaron to tell the people of Israel to slay a lamb and to place some of its blood on their doorposts. The Lord promises to “pass over” the houses marked with blood, thus sparing the lives of the Israelites. The story of Passover is a story of God’s love and mercy;1 it is a “feast of liberation,”2 because God freed the Israelites from slavery and provided them with a land of their own. An ancient rabbinic saying quoted in A Passover Haggadah reads: “In every generation each person should feel as though he himself had gone forth from Egypt.”3 Through the celebration of the Passover meal, then, Jews participate in the liberation of their ancestors. Alasdair I.C. Heron explains that this participation goes beyond mere remembering: “The ‘remembering’ involved here is not merely a matter of looking back to a past which is remote and distant. It is rather a setting of the present in the light of the past, a drawing of the two together in a way which transforms the present and renews hope for the future.” 4
This type of remembering is also associated with the Last Supper, which is described as a Passover meal in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). In His sharing of the Last Supper, Jesus departs from the traditional Passover meal. Instead of eating “the bread of affliction, the poor bread, which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt,”5 Jesus pronounces the bread and wine as His body and blood, instructing His disciples to consume the items “in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). Although Catholics and Protestants disagree over whether or not the bread and wine are literally Jesus’ body and blood, Christians generally agree that Jesus becomes the new sacrificial Lamb through His crucifixion. Like Jews remembering and participating in the liberation of their ancestors, Christians remember and participate in their liberation from sin through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Just as remembering during the Passover celebration renews hope for the future, remembering during the celebration of the Eucharist renews hope.
The past and the future, then, are intertwined in the springtime holidays of Passover and Easter. As we embrace the new beginnings of spring, may we do so with remembrance of the past and hope for the future.
1 Alasdair I.C. Heron, Table and Tradition: Toward an Ecumenical Understanding of the Eucharist (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983), 20.
2 Ibid., 21.
3 Ibid., 20.
5 From A Passover Haggadah.