Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Continuation Of Communion, And The Passover Seder

 *Note: I do not necessarily agree with nor endorse everything in the articles that I link to, nor the website links*

In my last post, we looked at the issue of "Communion", with Acts 20:7 as our starting point because it has traditionally been pointed to as the "example" of the disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) coming together for a Sunday gathering, and taking communion together, both interpretations of which are anachronistic. This later practice of Christians worshiping together on Sunday rather than on the Sabbath, and the modern communion service of taking a cracker or piece of bread, and a small cup of juice or wine either weekly on Sunday gatherings (which is very common among many congregations, specifically because they think that this is what the early disciples did), or once a month, or at any time that they feel "led" to do so, is read back into the scriptures rather than what really took place.

I want to stress at this point that I do not believe that modern communion services are "wrong" or "evil" or anything of the sort. And, in many ways are very comforting and unifying for believers in Yeshua (Jesus). But I also must emphasize the point that it is not what the disciples in the bible did, nor is it fulfilling Yeshua's instruction to us to do "this" in remembrance of Him. As I breached this semi thoroughly in the previous post, I want to trod a little further into the scriptures to seek to gain a better perspective on what the disciples really did do regularly regarding this matter.

In my last post, one passage that we looked at was 1 Corinthians 5, specifically verses 7 and 8. Paul uses the backdrop of the Passover Seder, and the imagery found within it to speak to the Corinthian congregation about real heart issues (as well as true physical sin as well!), and urged them to consider more than the simple telling of the Passover narrative, but to seek to remove the "leaven" of wickedness and malice of their lives during the Passover week. Remember, however, that Paul is not merely "spiritualizing" the Passover/Unleavened bread feast, he is calling upon the Corinthians to celebrate the feast in "sincerity and truth"!  Paul therefore, contrary to common understanding, is not against Gentile Christians celebrating the Feasts of Israel - he is the champion for their inclusion to celebrate the Feasts!!! Consider these words, penned by Paul, regarding Gentile inclusion into Israel:

"Wherefore remember, that ye [being] in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition [between us]; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, [even] the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, [so] making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God." - Ephesians 2:11-19.

"For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." - Ephesians 3:1-6

Of course, many other passage could be shared, such as Romans 11, that demonstrate that's Paul was a champion for the case that the Gentiles could be partakers of God's covenants and promises to Israel - they were and are not to be regarded as those that are separate, or to be kept at bay. The Gentiles who desire to come to God through Jesus Christ (Yeshua HaMoshiach) are permitted to do so, and are considered "fellowheirs". To whom are they "fellowheirs" then? Those to whom the the covenants and promises were given to - Israel!

So then, Paul fought those teachings and ideas that sought to preclude (as opposed to his doctrine to include) the Gentiles. And in doing so, he taught the Corinthian community that they were indeed to "Keep the Feast" of Passover. And, this would make sense. If the Feasts of Passover, Firstfruits, and Unleavened Bread were and are "shadows" and pictures of the Messiah, Yeshua, then for whom would the celebration of said festivals be more appropriate for?!

*At this point I want to take a moment and say that I will in no way be able to cover all of the issues that could be raised and discussed in this post, such as the "middle wall of partition" spoken of in the above passage from Ephesians, as well as any other issues that will be found within other passages that I will quote from. If in the reading of these passages questions or other issues arise in your mind, then feel free to comment regarding it and we will address it separately. I will be seeking to stay on the topic at hand, which is the issue of "communion" and it's relation to the Passover.*

So, back to Paul. At this point I would like to share another passage that, while addressing another problem within the Corinthian congregation, makes an interesting point that I think is completely missed by Christians because we either are ignorant of the idiom that is actually used, or because we link Paul's words to communion because that is what we have been told is the "Lord's Supper." And that passage is 1 Corinthians 10:14-17, which read as follows: "Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we [being] many are one bread, [and] one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread."

As you can probably guess, I want to hone in on the highlighted part. Here, we can see that the cup and the bread that are taken by Christians worldwide are called by Paul the "communion" of the body Messiah. But is the practice of "communion" what Paul was referring to? Was it the practice of Paul and the disciples? Let's take a look and see...

First, it is obvious that Paul is referring to a regular practice of the believers to take a cup, and some "bread", and share in the "communion" of the body of Messiah. That is plain as day. But what "cup", and what "bread" is Paul referring to here? Let's take the "bread" first. When the "bread" that was broken, as Paul refers to when he says "the bread that we break", was indeed "broken", it was broken by Yeshua during His last Passover Seder on this earth. It was this bread, specifically the unleavened bread of the Passover Seder that Yeshua said represented His body! This point must not be overlooked. He said that that bread, the bread of Passover, was the bread with which we were to "remember" Him by, hence His words, "this is My body which is given for you: do this in remembrance of Me." Luke 22:19. So then, the question must be asked: do what in remembrance of Him? Well, let me ask a question to answer the question. Do we see any reference to any other bread in the scriptures that are referred to as the bread that we are to "break" in remembrance of Yeshua? We only see the directive given in connection to the matza of Passover. Remember that old catchphrase that we are exhorted to go to the scriptures with - "context, context, context." The context is the Passover.

Alright, I've beaten that dead horse long enough! Now to our second clue. What else does Paul mention in the 1 Corinthians chapter 10 passage? He specifically mentions the "cup of blessing, which we bless...." What on earth is he referring to? Is he simply speaking of what we commonly know today as the communion cup, that simple cup of juice that Christians drink in remembrance of Yeshua's blood? After all, we usually pray and thank the Lord for His sacrificial giving of Himself for us for salvation and redemption. Isn't that the cup of blessing, which we bless? Well, the key is found in the phrase, "the cup of blessing." And I hinted at the answer when I mentioned that we thank the Lord for the "redemption" provided to and for us by Yeshua's shed blood. If you followed any of the links that I posted to in my last blog post regarding the four cups that are commonly consumed during the Passover Seder, you would have read that each cup represents a different element of the salvation/redemption ideal found within the Exodus narrative. When we read the narrative of Yeshua's last supper in the gospel of Luke, we read of Him taking a cup and giving thanks, and then sharing it with His disciples. In the scenario of the 4 cups of Passover, the first cup is often referred to as "kiddush", or "sanctification" because that cup begins the "sanctified" feast. But notice that after they had eaten, Luke tells us that He also took the cup "after supper", and it was this cup that He said represented His blood, shed for us. So, the cup after supper represents Yeshua's blood, and the inauguration of the 'New Covenant." Well, in the tradition of the four cups, the third cup, the cup after supper is often called the "cup of redemption." But you know what? It also has a second name. Care to guess what that is? I hope you guessed right - it is called the "cup of blessing"(1). There happens to be a cup that is drank every year at Passover by observant Jews, a third cup, a cup after supper, that is called the cup of blessing. And interestingly enough, Luke tells us explicitly that Yeshua took the cup after supper, and said that it represented His blood. And interestingly enougher (I know, bad English - so sue me ;-) ), Paul makes reference to a "cup of blessing, which we bless."

When Paul mentions the cup of blessing, he refers to it as he opens up into a teaching against Idolatry (1 Cor. 10:16-21). By mentioning the "cup of blessing which we bless" and the "bread which we break", Paul is specifically referring to the Passover Seder, and calls it "the Lord's table" (cf. vs. 21). He contrasts it with the "table of devils." It would take a whole 'nuther blog post to delve into this adequately, but I bring this up in order to show you where he is getting this distinction from. Remember that Paul grew up learning the Tanakh (Old Testament). Paul was a Pharisee (and remained one all of his life, something that perhaps may get covered in the future), and a student of Gamliel. We know from records that Gamliel required his students to memorize the entire Torah (the five books of Moses). So Paul was very intimately familiar with the writings of Moses. Soooo, when Paul made a distinction between the Lord's table, and the table of demons, and spoke against Idolatry in 1 Cor. chapter 10, he may have been drawing upon this passage in Exodus 34:12-18 - "Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee: But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice; And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods. The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt."

Notice that The LORD, via Moses, instructs the people to not take up the ways of the Nations around them, and to not worship their gods. He warns them that they could end up doing sacrifice unto these foreign gods, and "eat of his sacrifice." Immediately after these injunctions, he reminds them to Keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (in which Passover is intrinsically connected to). See, there are the LORD's feasts, but the "gods" of the heathen have their feasts as well. There is the Lord's table, and the table of demons. The Wiccan religion has it's calendar and feasts. Islam has it's calendar and feasts. Hinduism has it's calendar and feasts. And then there is the Lord's calendar and feasts. These are for us to remember Him by.    

I find it also noteworthy that Yeshua did not take the Pesach lamb and tell His disciples to eat it in remembrance of Him, even though we know that the lamb certainly represented Him, as He was the "Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." - John 1:29

Perhaps He knew that the Temple was going to eventually be destroyed, and then there would be no more lamb at Passover? Of course we know that this is the case because He foretold of the destruction of the Temple in Matthew chapter 24. But He did take the unleavened bread that is eaten at Passover, and the third cup of wine/juice and used them to symbolize His body and blood in His death. And, as Paul said "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come." - 1 Cor. 11:26. Many have taken this phrase "as often as ye eat..." to mean "whenever you decide to take bread and wine and eat." But remember, the context of Paul's instruction is the Passover bread and wine/juice. Passover is an annual celebration, and therefore it comes around year after year after year. The phrase "as often as" simply denotes a continuous thing, which happens to be the case for the Passover, Firstfruits, and Unleavened Bread. And what does Paul tell us? He tells us that every time we partake in the Passover Seder, we proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. We cannot take his words out of the context in which he said them. And how does eating "this" bread, and drinking "this" cup proclaim Yeshua's death? We proclaim that Yeshua is the Paschal Lamb, the "Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world!" For some reason, Christianity has proclaimed that Yeshua (Jesus) was and is the Paschal Lamb, yet it has rejected the Passover celebration that commemorates His death!!!

To conclude, I must restate that these last two posts are not intended to imply that what is commonly known as "communion" is wrong, or evil in any way. But it is out of context, and is not a fulfillment of what we were actually instructed to do by Yeshua Himself, and later by Paul in his letters (Epistles). There is a beauty to the communion service, but we do it to the neglect of what we were actually instructed to do in remembrance of Yeshua's death - the Passover.

So to close, I want to encourage everyone to "search the scriptures" themselves, and see if "those things were so." - Acts 17:10,11.

(1) As demonstrated, for example, in the following quote, taken from Wikipedia under the title "Birkat Hamazon" (to read entire article go here) : "It is customary for the person leading the zimmun to recite the blessings over a cup of wine called the kos shel beracha (cup of blessing). Although sometimes done at ordinary meals, it is more commonly done on Shabbat and Jewish Holidays, and almost universally done at meals celebrating special events. At a Passover Seder, the cup of blessing is drunk by everyone present, and functions as the "Third Cup". The practice of a cup of blessing is mentioned in the Talmud".