Passover supper

The Last Supper - Leonardo da Vinci

The Last Supper - Leonardo da Vinci

The Sacrament of the Last Supper - Salvador Dali

The Sacrament of the Last Supper - Salvador Dali

We tend to forget that Jesus was surrounded by Jews. That Jesus himself was a Jewish Rabbi, leader of a small Jewish Sect. What we now call the Last Supper was in fact a celebration of the Jewish Passover.

Several years ago I was invited to a Jewish Passover Supper by St Peter’s Church. This evening I was at a Passover supper at the Trinity Centre in Guildford, the culmination of a series of talks by the Rev Robert Cotton of Holy Trinity Church.

The Gospels
Where does the New Testament come from?

The Passover or Pesach is a time of story telling and so Robert started the evening with two stories.

Around 100 AD a Roman asked a learned Rabbi to convince him that he should convert to Judaism. He required the Rabbi to recite the Torah whilst standing on one leg. This the Rabbi proceeded to do.

Do unto others as you would have done to thee. The rest is commentary.

A message we all could do to heed. What a better world it would be if we all carried out a random act of kindness every day.

Good Samaritans
Kindness is Contagious

In 70 AD the Romans laid seige to Jerusalem, the Romans had had enough of the rebellious Jews. The Zealots guarded the gates. This was as much to stop the people getting out as the Romans getting in. A Pharisee had himself smuggled out in a coffin. He made contact with the Romans. He said not all Jews had a quarrel with the Romans and asked for safe passage. This was granted. The Pharisees set up their own community which became a centre of learning.

Passover celebrates the escape from Egypt as described in Exodus. Every part of the meal is symbolic of that period, but we should not look only to the past, we should also look to the present and the future.

The unleaven bread or Matzo is served because the Jews left in such a hurry they did not have time to wait for the bread to rise.

Bitter herbs represent the bitterness the Jews felt towards the Egyptians for their suffering.

A spring lamb was slaughtered for the feast. Strict instructions on how it was to be cooked. Not pot boiled but roast whole over a fire. The blood of the lamb was to be daubed on the doorposts so the Angel of Death knew to pass over.

I had visions of the lamb equivalent of a hog roast in the graveyard but this was not to be. Nor did I notice blood daubed as I entered the Trinity Centre.

Unlike Christianity, Judaism is to question. Maybe a lesson to be learnt there. The supper is very ritualistic, a series of questions and answers, with periodic raising of a cup of wine which then has to be refilled. The modern equivalent would be the raising of a toast. Four cups of wine are raised and drunk during the course of the meal.

The Last Supper was the last meal Jesus had with his friends. Jesus told his friends that the bread represented his body, the wine his blood.

Jesus initiated three new customs: the communal taking of the bread and wine and the washing of feet. As Philip Yancey notes in The Jesus I Never Knew the latter has been conveniently forgotten. The only time I have come across the washing of feet is with Eden People who still continue this practice.

In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 Apostle Paul provides the theological underpinnings for the use of the Eucharist, stating:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

In Mark 14:24 and Matthew 26:28 Jesus’ reference to the “blood of the covenant” echoes Exodus 24:8, suggesting a tradition that understood Jesus’ sacrifice in terms of the Mosaic covenant with Israel.

Only in Luke does Jesus tell his disciples to repeat the ritual of bread and wine. These particular lines do not appear in certain ancient manuscripts and might not be original to the text.

The symbolism is that the sacrifice of Jesus is associated with the sacrifice of the spring lamb.

The Quran contains a possible reference to the Last Supper, as being a table sent down from God to Jesus and the apostle (Hawariyyin).

“Behold! the disciples, said: “O Jesus the son of Mary! can thy Lord send down to us a table set (with viands) from heaven?” Said Jesus: “Fear Allah, if ye have faith.” They said: “We only wish to eat thereof and satisfy our hearts, and to know that thou hast indeed told us the truth; and that we ourselves may be witnesses to the miracle.” Said Jesus the son of Mary: “O Allah our Lord! Send us from heaven a table set (with viands), that there may be for us – for the first and the last of us – a solemn festival and a sign from thee; and provide for our sustenance, for thou art the best Sustainer (of our needs).” Allah said: “I will send it down unto you: But if any of you after that resisteth faith, I will punish him with a penalty such as I have not inflicted on any one among all the peoples.”

A month earlier I had celebrated St Joseph’s Day in Istanbul with Paulo Coelho.

Two week earlier at the first talk I attended I had promised a lady a copy of The Alchemist. Unfortunately I had no idea who she was. I therefore gave the copy, together with a recording of The Alchimist Himself, to Robert Cotton as thanks for a wonderful evening. I asked that he please share it. If they have, as many churches have, a church library, then please add. If not, then this is your first book!

Talking to a lady at my table, she told me that Paulo Coelho was influential in liberation theology in the 1980s.

Traditionally Passover is on the night of the full moon. On my way home I looked back over my shoulder and there just appearing over the horizon was a full moon.

Passover or Pesach is a tradition more churches should mark. They would then have a better understanding of the origins, significance and symbolism of the Last Supper.

Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, the day the monarch hands money out to the poor, one coin for each year on the throne, is the day by tradition the Last Supper took place, the meal at which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The word maundy comes from the command (mandate) given by Christ at the Last Supper, that we should love one another.

The best known painting of the Last Supper is that by Leonardo da Vinci. It is a 15th century mural painting in Milan created by Leonardo da Vinci for his patron Duke Ludovico Sforza and his duchess Beatrice d’Este. It represents the scene of The Last Supper from the final days of Jesus as narrated in the Gospel of John 13:21, when Jesus announces that one of his Twelve Apostles would betray him. It is also one of the most infamous of the paintings of The Last Supper, with much speculation as to its meaning, speculation that formed the centrepiece of the plot in The Da Vinci Code.

The Sacrament of the Last Supper by Salvador Dali hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The composition was laid out using the classical Golden Ratio, which can also be derived from the Fibonacci sequence.

Salvador Dali made use of the mystical properties of mathematics in his religious art. This can be seen in his depiction of the crucifixation where Jesus is nailed on a cross using cubes and the cross is a hypercube. Dali is portraying in his art the crossing of the transition zone.

‘I Thirst’
Holy Week
Was the Last Supper 24 hours earlier? Scientist claims historic meal was TWO days before Jesus’ crucifixion
The First Easter Week Musing
Quema de Palmitos
Ash Wednesday
Maundy Thursday
The Cross

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One Response to “Passover supper”


    Beautifully written. Precious information! Thank you Keith.

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