Passover: How the Meal of Remembrance Makes Sense of Communion

Passover: How the Meal of Remembrance Makes Sense of Communion

Written by Kenneth J. Turner |
Sunday, April 23, 2023

At the Passover “party,” God’s people regularly shared fellowship and food, remembering God’s redemptive work and his care for the weak. The festival provides an important backdrop for our regular remembrance during the Lord’s Supper. As we come to the communion table, as we gather and worship together, may we reflect on the blood of the Lamb shed for forgiveness as the centerpiece of salvation history. Let’s not neglect the Lord’s Table. Let’s celebrate in remembrance of him.

Jesus loved a party. Besides enjoying a good meal and fellowship, Jesus used local gatherings and banquets to proclaim his gospel of forgiveness, to show inclusiveness to those deemed unworthy, and even to perform miracles (Matt. 9:10–13Mark 2:15–17Luke 5:29–32; 19:5–10John 2:1–12).

When the New Testament describes Jesus’s participation in the Jewish festival calendar, the Gospels focus on Passover.

Luke gives us a unique glimpse into a young Jesus, who amazes the temple teachers during his parents’ annual trek to Jerusalem (Luke 2:41–52). John uses Passover time stamps to point to various points of Jesus’s ministry: the cleansing of the temple (2:13–22), the feeding of the 5,000 (6:1–15), and several events during Passion Week—Jesus being anointed by Mary (12:1), him washing the disciples’ feet (13:1), his trial before Pilate (18:28, 39), and the crucifixion (19:14). The Synoptic Gospels describe the Last Supper as a Passover meal (Matt. 26:17–19Mark 14:12–16Luke 22:1, 7–15). This then serves as the background for the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17–34).

If we want to understand communion, the new covenant ceremony Jesus instituted, it’s important to first understand the Passover festival that lies behind it.

Passover Was Regular

In addition to weekly (Sabbath) and monthly (New Moon) holy days, the Torah identifies an annual festival calendar linked to the agricultural cycle (Ex. 23:14–17; 34:18–23Lev. 23Num. 28–29Deut. 16:1–17). Three feasts stand out because they involve pilgrimages to Jerusalem for a time of communal sacrifice and celebration. 

Passover begins the repeated cycle in the spring, on the 14th day of the first month. The day is just before of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (days 15–21 of the first month), at the beginning of the barley harvest and lambing season. The Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, is seven weeks later in the summer, at the height of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. Finally, the Feast of Booths is in the winter (in the seventh month), at the end of the wheat harvest.

Passover Was for Remembering

Though the feasts were related to the agricultural calendar, festival worship went beyond praising God for his bountiful blessings.

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