And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day throughout your generations by an ordinance for ever (Exodus 12:17).
There are a lot of people who read the Bible and learn of all kinds of momentous events that took place in the past. A lot of them are willing to believe that God acted in the ways that the Bible teaches– that He is the Creator of all things (Genesis 1:1-2:3), that He delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 1-14), and that in the first century of our own era, that Jesus His Son lived, died, and was raised again (1 Corinthians 15:3-5). But that was all a long, long time ago. Many people are troubled that God no longer acts in the same way that He did in the past. Surely, they imagine, if God could do great acts 3500 and 2000 years ago, He could do it again now!
Let us consider the Passover for a moment. God commands Moses to instruct the people in regards to the Passover in Exodus 12. Not only will they be slaughtering the lamb and eating bitter herbs and unleavened bread that evening, as they are leaving Egypt, but will be doing so every year for as long as Israel is a people. When they enter the land of Canaan, build houses, and establish themselves, they will still be observing the Passover. They will still be eating with loins girded, shoes on their feet, and their staffs in their hands (Exodus 12:11).
This might seem absurd after a few generations. Imagine, after all, observing the Passover in the days of Solomon. The Israelites are firmly planted in Israel, Solomon is one of the most powerful monarchs of his day, even having a daughter of Pharaoh as wife (1 Kings 3:1). And yet, even at this apex of power, Israel is to annually clean out the leaven from their homes, slaughter the lamb, eat leavened bread and bitter herbs, and be dressed to leave. Even when they are in control, they are to remember and re-enact the days of deliverance from slavery.
While this may seem strange at first, it makes sense when we understand what God is doing. One could argue that the days of Solomon were not terribly different from today– God had not performed any major saving act akin to the Passover and Exodus ever since, 500 or so years earlier. The people were in a very different place than before, with much greater prosperity and independence. The Passover and Exodus would have seemed quite foreign to them. They would easily forget about YHWH and what He had done for Israel. And, functionally, they started to– they served other gods and would eventually pay the penalty (2 Kings 17:7-23).
This is not what God intended. The entire reason behind the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread was to remember, and to an extent to re-enact, the act of God’s deliverance of Israel, so that Israel would never forget that they were dependent on YHWH for their land, prosperity, and situation. Each generation, in turn, would have the opportunity to vicariously experience what Israel went through in leaving Egypt. They could share in the great drama of YHWH’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt and their establishment as His chosen people. Yes, the later generations would live quite differently– witness the generation in the days of Solomon– but they could still share in the story of YHWH and His people!
While the Passover could become an empty ritual, it was not supposed to be so. It was supposed to be the continual reminder of what YHWH did for Israel.
The Passover feast of 30 CE would lead to a new memorial and a new re-enactment. It was then that Christ, our Passover lamb, was slain, allowing for mankind to be delivered from sin and death and made a part of God’s Kingdom (Romans 8:1-3, Colossians 1:13). Yet, just before His death, we read the following:
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.”
And the cup in like manner after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19-20).
In the midst of the remembrance and re-enactment of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, Jesus institutes a remembrance of what He is about to do. While the observance was inaugurated before Jesus’ death, its power derives from His death and resurrection, and was established as a perpetual observance for Christians on each first day of the week (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). It is not just a remembrance of Jesus’ death for our sin, or it would be taken on Friday; its observance on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection (Luke 24:1-7), is the reminder that He is risen, Lord, and will return again (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Yet the Lord’s Supper is also a re-enactment. We have the opportunity to place ourselves in that upper room on that fateful night, surrounding the Lord’s table, receiving the bread and fruit of the vine. We have the opportunity to take our place in the story of God’s redemption of mankind. We commune with one another, Christ, and the saints in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 10:16-17), even if 2,000 years may separate us from the saving event. That time melts away as we partake of the bread and the fruit of the vine.
The Lord’s Supper must never become an empty ritual. The One True God acts to save in history and expects His acts to be remembered and re-enacted continually lest the people forget the God who delivered them. In the remembrance and re-enactment, God’s acts become real and fresh for every new generation. As it was with Israel and the Passover, so it is with Christians and the Lord’s Supper. Let us thank God for deliverance through Jesus Christ, remembering and re-enacting that fateful Passover night in the Lord’s Supper!
Ethan R. Longhenry