Easter With Hindsight: The Last Supper, Exodus and Passover Redefined
Religious leaders usually leave their followers detailed instructions about continuing their work after their death. Jeshua was refreshingly different. Many have written about him, or reported what he said, but Jeshua himself simply left his followers a meal to enjoy.
Passover may be the most important celebration of the Hebrew year, so Jeshua’s disciples would have been looking forward to sharing the feast with their rabbi. This year they were in Jerusalem itself. Were they dreaming that next year they would be together amid the luxury of the King’s Palace? First though, they had to overthrow the Romans.
Jeshua had been in the Temple most days since they had arrived in the city. He had taught huge crowds and answered his critics in ways that had drawn admiration and outrage. Jeshua probably had local supporters from previous visits to the city. This year one of them (unnamed in the gospel accounts) had provided him with a venue for the celebration feast. It was probably a wealthy supporter, since only the wealthy were normally able to add upper room onto their roofs, purpose built for guests, especially one large enough to fit Jesus, the Twelve, and others probably including Mary, Martha, their brother Lazarus and so on.
The location had been kept secret as long as possible. Jeshua would have known the authorities wanted him off the streets, if not dead. Maybe some disciples were smiling at the thought of the outraged priests and the Temple police searching for them in vain.
The feast would have proceeded in the normal way. Each item of food, the lamb, the bread, the herbs, were symbolic of the bitterness of slavery and the haste of escape. Traditional questions were asked and the ancient stories of the Exodus were told in reply, not least so the children present learned the significance of the history of Passover. The disciples expected Jeshua, as leader, to take the role of family head at this most family-centred celebration.
Unexpectedly perhaps the celebration ended up centring on him. He took bread and wine and redefined Passover. The symbols of Israel’s historic escape from slavery in Egypt now became symbols of the escape of all humanity from a much more daunting slave-master: sin itself. The disciples who grasped Jeshua’s meaning saw him proclaiming a new Exodus story.
Jeshua tooks the unleavened bread and broke it: a symbol of his body soon to be broken in death. He took wine and made it a symbol of the blood he will soon shed. What were the disciples thinking as it dawned on them that Jeshua was casting himself as the lamb, slaughtered by each family the night before Israel escaped from slavery? The lambs’ blood marked the Hebrew houses in Egypt so that when death fell on the nation that had enslaved Israel, it passed over the houses of the Hebrews. Justice for their sins would now pass over any marked with Jeshua’s blood.
What did his disciples feel as they realised, maybe for the first time, what their rabbi’s warnings had really meant? Jeshua’s death would be as literal as that of the lamb they had just eaten in celebration.