The explosive joy of Easter is nearly upon us! Soon, we will be celebrating our Lord’s triumph over death and giving thanks for the gifts of our own redemption and resurrection. But before we rush head long into the glory of the Resurrection, I want to slow our pace and take a moment to delve deeply into the rich symbolism of the next few days.
Today is Holy Thursday – significant for the fact that it is the evening of the Last Supper. While this year’s readings come from John, I have always preferred those from Luke because of it’s deep well of profundity. Below are my thoughts on Luke 22:14-20 – citations have been removed for formatting, but if you’re interested in the sources let me know and I will provide them.
14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ 17Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 19Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 20And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
Free Men – 22:14
It is significant that Jesus and the disciples are depicted as reclining, a posture which imparts upon the reader that these were free men. In essence, Luke juxtaposes the disciples with the marginalized whom are often depicted as standing (indicating waywardness) or crouching (indicating animality). What will follow in the course of the next five verses is a pedagogical moment in which Jesus teaches an abridged methodology of the attainment of the Kingdom of God. These are privileged men will be taught what it means to true disciples of Christ.
Luke’s use of the abstract cognate, “with desire I have desired” not only intensifies the joy Jesus felt at celebrating the Passover with his disciples but also emphasizes the symbolic significance of the meal. The author couches the story of the Last Supper within the greater narrative of the Passover, drawing a parallel between Israel’s liberation from Egyptian bondage and the earthly mission and death of Jesus.
Luke forges the connection between these two salvific events by utilizing the word πάσχω; to suffer. To interpret the word as simply describing the meal on the table would be superficial, rather it speaks to the wider reality that Jesus is the Passover lamb; the unblemished creature which is sacrificed to secure liberation. In this role, Jesus becomes the new Moses, liberating humanity from socio-political oppression.
Explaining his desire to share the Passover meal, Jesus speaks of not eating in again until it finds its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God, imparting upon the meal an eschatological dimension; a messianic banquet at the end of times. In his exegesis, Stein points out an interesting anomaly; the second “it” in the verse is unclear. He theorizes that “it” cannot be the Kingdom of God because “it” is distinguished from the Kingdom. Instead, he proposes that “it” is best understood as the messianic banquet.
Contrary to the rules of definition, Stein uses a concept to define itself; Jesus will not eat the messianic banquet again until the messianic banquet finds fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. This explanation makes little sense, and is cumbersome at best. It is obvious that Jesus is making a qualitative remark about the Kingdom, and for that we must rely on a thematic interpretation: Jesus will not eat Passover again until liberation finds its fulfillment through the Kingdom of God. Here the messianic banquet is cast as the incorporation of Passover, Last Supper and Paschal event – a trinity of salvific liberation. As such, the Kingdom of God is a goal to be achieved, one that must be pursued actively, not passively waited for.
Jesus is depicted as pronouncing a blessing over a cup of wine, naturally scholars have attempted to decipher which of the four traditional Passover cups it was. Each cup symbolizes one of the four terms of deliverance God employed in Exodus.“I will bring you out;” “I will deliver you;” “I will redeem you” and “I will take you unto me as a people” Some argue this as the third cup on the basis of the blessing, the more feasible explanation would be the first which reinforces the parallel between the Passover and Jesus’ death: “I will liberate you.”
Also known as the Cup of Sanctification the disciples are then instructed to share it among themselves. What we are witnessing is not simply the sharing of wine among friends, but the creation of the eschatological Church. This cup, then, is the cup of Communion which brings us in union with Jesus. This explains why Jesus will not, indeed cannot, drink the Passover wine again until we are united at the messianic banquet when we may celebrate our re-union.
This verse begins as Jesus’s symbolic interpretation of the elements of the Passover meal in terms of himself. Fitzmeyer posits that instead of identifying the matzah as the Bread of Affliction, Jesus reinterprets it to represent his body. Rather than reinterpreting the bread, Jesus is creating a parallel. The bread symbolizes both the food of slavery but also the food eaten in haste as the Jews were liberated from Egypt. During the Passover meal, the bread was broken and a portion of it wrapped in cloth and hidden. This portion was later found by the children and eaten at the end of the meal.[ There was no need for Jesus to reinterpret the symbolism of the bread, it parallels exactly what will occur to his body; the affliction of the passion, the body wrapped in funeral shrouds and hidden away in the garden tomb only to be found later by his faithful followers – called the children of God. Jesus is merely deepening the symbols of the Passover to communicate to his followers what is soon to come.
Diving deeper into the symbolism of the body we find a question regarding the linguistics used. Bock acknowledges the debate about whether the Aramaic term that Jesus used meant ‘person as a whole’ or ‘flesh.’ He myopically concludes that it is “ultimately irrelevant since either way the remark’s force is clear.” The Greek used in the verse is σῶμα which must be understood as the body and the Self.[ Interpreting the world as only “flesh” removes any trace of depth from the passage; breaking the body is only a physical act and can be read into as merely hard labor (i.e.; ‘back breaking work’). Given the familiarity of gladiator sports during this time period, breaking of the body was considered a spectator sport. Surely Jesus intended for a more profound understanding of this symbol – the breaking of the Self. The Self is the core of our being, where we hold our most sacred beliefs and the highest truths. The impact of Jesus saying that he is breaking his Self for us is staggering in its profundity. He is sacrificing all of himself – body, mind, soul, and his earthly ministry – so that we can be free from bondage. σῶμα speaks to the enormity of that sacrifice.
There is a unanimous interpretation of Jesus’ instruction “do this in memory of me” within the scholastic community; that Jesus was instituting the practice of a memorial meal. The worlds, similar to what is found in 1 Cor 11, link this memorial meal to the Lord’s Supper which, over time, transformed into the Eucharist.[ Not a single scholar that I encountered in my research deviated from this traditional interpretation which speaks more to plagiarism than actual academic scholarship. We must ask the question; what did Jesus intend when he said “do this”? Given the rich symbolism Luke employed throughout the pericope, I posit that the eating of a memorial meal was not what Jesus had in mind.
The sentiments expressed and symbols present when Jesus called the Bread of Affliction his body, then proceeded to break it for them – indicating a vicarious sacrifice – directly correlates to 6:20-26; Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Jesus is pointing to the methodology of breaking the Self for others; to be poor, to go hungry, to mourn, to be hated, excluded and reviled – all of which he experienced. When Jesus instructs us to “do this” – a pronouncement made immediately after he broke the bread – the logical conclusion is to break ourselves in the same fashion he did.
The final scene of the pericope depicts Jesus taking another cup and explaining it to his disciples. Typically, this is thought to be the third Passover cup – the cup of Redemption – which favors Jesus’ discourse with an element of soteriology; through his blood we shall be saved. This cup represents the plan and purpose of God throughout the ages,reflecting the sacrificial blood that inaugurates and seals the New Covenant.[
Covenant, as understood in the biblical context, is a solemn promise between God and humanity that requires certain conduct. Jesus establishes and inaugurates the New Covenant with his sacrificial death, but what are we to do in return? This circles back to the previous verse in which Jesus directs us to do “this” in memory of him. Simply, we are to love as Jesus loved, by taking on the cross – not simply walk to the foot of it and stop. No, Jesus is inviting us to climb up on it and feel the spear, nails and thorns for ourselves. Our end of the bargain is to break our very self, to suffer willingly and lovingly so that others may, too, be liberated.
And those are my thoughts, friends. What do you think? Comment below! I’ll be back tomorrow with my thoughts on Good Friday.