Communion and Passover

I recently read a wonderful book by a Catholic scholar, Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Passover.  Not too long ago, I read a wonderful book by the late French Catholic scholar, Louis Bouyer, Eucharist. It is wonderful to see a developing interest in the original context for understanding the Bible. I will not emphasize Bouyer’s book in this post. I will write a bit about it. I should note that the term Eucharist, meaning thanksgiving, is very Jewish in rooting and comes from the blessing prayer, or thanksgiving prayer Yeshua prayed before the bread and the wine. “Blessed are you Lord our God” … is the Jewish thanksgiving formula. 

Boyer argues that the liturgy for the Communion service in the ancient Church was based on Jewish synagogue liturgy which itself was based on Temple liturgy. He presents a strong case that the most basic prayer, the Amidah or the Shemoneh Esreh (the 18 Benedictions) formed the basic prayer for the communion liturgy. Grace after meals and elements of the Passover liturgy were integrated into the liturgy as well. For post Temple Judaism, the Amidah prayer is prayed as a substitute for sacrifices with the hope that God will accept this prayer in lieu of bringing an actual sacrifice. Hence the prayer is repeated in the morning and evening as were the sacrifices. In the Christian version of the prayers, the worshipper does not offer the prayer as a substitute for the sacrifice, but as a liturgy to enter into the meaning of the sacrifice of Yeshua and to receive the life that flows from His death and resurrection. When we sing the Holy, Holy, Holy in the Amidah worship prayer, we enter into the experience of being in very Holy place of God (Eph. 2:5). This leads to taking the bread and the wine. 

Some of the elements of Pitre’s presentation are worth evaluating and probably worthy of our embrace as Messianic Jews. Pitre presents the case that Yeshua’s discourse in John 6 in a Passover context about eating His body and drinking His blood has Passover roots. There are several emphases the bread and the wine in this that some do not see in their celebration of communion. 

First of all, the Bread of the Presence (literally the Face) in the Temple, eaten by the priests is connected to eating the bread of the Lord’s supper. The Mishnah, the Jewish application of Law in early rabbinic Judaism going back to the Pharisees, presents the Bread of the Presence as a manifestation of God’s love. This bread is offered with sacrificial wine. In the three pilgrim feasts, the table with the bread is carried out and shown to the people in the words, “Behold, God’s love for you.” The bread and wine of the Last Supper is the bread and wine of His Presence as a sign of the New Covenant. 

Secondly, the feeding of the five thousand has overtones of the miracle of the manna in the wilderness, which was supernatural bread, the bread of angels. Those who asked afterward for Yeshua to do an actual miracle of manna from heaven are asking that He do an actual repeat of the miracle of manna. Why? This was expected in some Jewish traditions at that time as a miracle of the Messiah as the new Moses. However, Yeshua was offering Himself as the supernatural manna, and He is our supernatural bread in fulfillment of the manna expectations. 

Thirdly, Pitre argues that the lambs killed for Passover were impaled after their slaughter. The lambs looked like a crucifixion. The crucifixion of Yeshua as the Lamb of God would have presented an image of the lambs that would find association by first century Jews who experienced Passover every year due to the annual Passover pilgrimage festival. 

Fourthly, Pitre also argues that the seder celebrated the four cups of wine as in the Seder today. This is found in the Mishneh as well. Luke presents us with two cups. The one after the supper, Pitre argues, is the cup of redemption, the third. This is a common view in Messianic Judaism. He also presented a new argument for me.  That is that Yeshua said he would not drink of it again until he would enter into his Kingdom. There was no recording of Yeshua eating the Lamb or drinking the last cup. Yeshua was the Lamb and many have noted that Yeshua and his disciples did not eat the Passover lamb. Pitre also believes Yeshua ended the seder early before the last cup. He then notes that just before He died, He drank the wine offered to him on the sponge, and then gave his spirit up to the Father. Was that the fourth cup? I find this to be more speculative, but possible. 

Pitre is a proponent of the Catholic view that when the bread and wine is blessed and set apart by the priest (a necessary act for the transformation) it becomes the real body and blood of Yeshua. However, this is qualified because he argues that it is not the earthly body and blood but a partaking of his resurrected body and his actual life. This becomes, in my view, closer to the Lutheran view of the real presence. What is the actual body and blood really if it is not the earthly body and blood but resurrected and supernatural? I have argued that the Baptist view that the bread and wine are only part of a dramatic way of remembering and do not really convey the reality portrayed is wrong. Rather we participate in the symbol and receive the real life of Yeshua. Catholics, Anglicans, Moravians, Lutherans and Reformed all explain this in different ways, but say we really enter into and renew the reality of his death and resurrection in us as we partake. It should be the same for Messianic Jews.

I think this book by Pitre richly adds to our Messianic Jewish theology.