On the night we betrayed him, Jesus’ Passover table in the upper room would’ve been set according to the Seder instructions in the Haggadah from the Book of Deuteronomy.
The reason the disciples fall asleep later that night in the garden is because the Haggadah requires enough wine for 4 cups for each of them. 4 cups of wine not 1.
4 cups, each of which represents one of the promises God makes to Israel about their deliverance:
Cup 1: ”I will take you out of Egypt…”
Cup 2. “I will save you from Pharaoh…”
Cup 3. “I will redeem you from captivity…”
Cup 4. “I will take you as a People…”
Along with the 4 cups, at the center of Jesus’ Passover table would have been brick-shaped mixtures of fruits, nuts and vinegar symbolizing the bricks that Pharaoh forced them to build, a plate of bitter herbs and a bowl of salt water symbolizing the bitterness and tears of their captivity, unleavened bread, symbolizing the urgency of their escape, and the lamb itself which the head of the household, the host, would’ve taken home from the Temple to skin it and then roast it for the feast.
Presumably Jesus is the one who kills and skins and roasts the lamb as he’s the host who leads the script that night.
According to the Haggadah, that night in the upper room Jesus blesses the first cup of wine and invites them all to drink.
Then the bitter herbs, which Jesus blesses and invites them to eat with the salt water. Then comes the bread and the dried fruit and the lamb. Next, Jesus the host would have poured the second round of wine, retelling the story of the Exodus, before inviting his disciples to drink. Then, according to the script, Jesus breaks the bread. And according to the script, according to the Haggadah, what Jesus is supposed to do next is bless the bread, mix it up with some of the herbs and fruit and lamb and say to his table mates: ‘This is the body of the Passover.’
But Jesus changes the script.
He inserts himself into it. He doesn’t say ‘This is the body of the Passover.’ He says ‘This is my body.’
He connects the body of the Passover Lamb to his body and then he connects it to their bodies by saying‘Take and eat.’
Jesus changes the script.
Jesus takes the symbolism and promises behind the herbs and the fruit and the bitter herbs and the bread and the lamb and he ties them not to his teaching or his preaching, not his miracles, not to his compassion for the poor or his prophetic witness against power.
Jesus changes the script.
Jesus takes the symbolism and promises of the Passover meal and ties them to his body. To his death.
‘Take and eat. This is my body broken…’
As the host of his last Passover, Jesus doesn’t just change the script. He adds to it.
According to the Haggadah, after they feast on the meal, Jesus is supposed to pour and bless the third cup of wine, and invite the disciples to drink it. Then, according to the script, they’re supposed to sing from the Book of Psalms before blessing and drinking the fourth cup of wine.
Except, after they feast on the meal, when the time comes, Jesus takes the third cup of wine, the cup symbolizing God’s redemption promise (“I will deliver you from captivity”,) and Jesus says: ‘This is my blood…drink from this all of you…’
Hang on. Drink what? What’s blood doing on our table?
Leonardo DaVinci didn’t quite capture it in his Last Supper but if there was a WTF moment in the upper room it went down right there and then. They’d be better off going back to eating and drinking with hookers and thieves. Blood shouldn’t be anywhere near their table. You didn’t need to be a rabbi like Jesus to know that according to the Law it was verboten to consume blood much less drink it.
The law stipulated that “anyone of the house of Israel who eats any blood, I the Lord will set my face against that person who consumes blood, and will forsake that person as accursed…”
Blood is forbidden. Anyone who consumes it in any way is accursed. That’s why verse 9 in Exodus 12 commands Israel to roast the Passover lamb over a fire not boil it or consume it raw. None of the blood of the lamb can end up on the table.
And this isn’t an arbitrary law designed to bless the world with Jewish delis and kosher hot dogs.
Blood was forbidden because blood symbolized life.
As the Law says: “For the life of every creature—its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be accursed.”
Blood was forbidden because blood symbolized life.
As such, the blood belonged to the Giver of Life alone. The blood belongs to God. Blood can’t be on your menu because it’s not yours to serve.
And because God is the giver of life to every creature the blood of every creature, in fact, represents God’s own life. What makes it a sin to take life, to shed bled, is what makes rabbis give life, sacrifice the blood, back to God.
But now, this rabbi is once again breaking the law of the covenant by inviting them to drink it: “Drink from this all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant poured out for you and for many for deliverance from sins.”
You don’t need to be a rabbi to know.
According to the Law, the blood on the table makes him forsaken. Which is to say, to obey him and drink his blood is to disobey the Law and share in his forsakenness. To share in the curse he will bear.
You don’t need to be a rabbi to know.
He’s offering them what belongs to God alone. He’s offering them his life. Which is to say, he’s offering them his death. He’s offering them a share in his death.
We got a puppy last month. So now we have two Australian Shepherds in the house. If you’re not familiar with Australian Shepherds then just imagine that you’re in the ocean, just barely treading water, drowning really, and then someone hands you a baby.
I’ve been walking the puppy a lot around the neighborhood, which means I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately. I listened to an old episode, a rebroadcast, from the NPR program Snap Judgement recently about a rabbi.
A rabbi named Michael Weisser who moved his family from New York City to a synagogue in Lincoln, Nebraska of all places.
No sooner had the rabbi arrived when he gets an anonymous phone call from a voice that says simply, “You’ll be sorry you ever moved into that house, Jew Boy.”
A couple of few weeks later a package arrived at the rabbi’s house filled with racist tracts and a business card from the KKK (apparently they have business cards) that read, “The KKK is watching you, scum.”
The rabbi called the police who quickly figured the perpetrator was Larry Trapp, a man who was notorious in the Lincoln community as a white supremacist. The police suggested to the rabbi that his daughter not walk the same way home from school every day.
This is where the story gets good, Jesusy good: What the Rabbi did next- he figured it be a good idea to reach out to Larry and see if they could talk.
And so every week, right before he taught Bar Mitzvah lessons, this rabbi, Rabbi Michael, would call Larry and leave what the rabbi called “love notes” on Larry’s answering machine.
This rabbi would call and say things like: “Larry, there’s a lot of love out there and you’re not getting any of it. What’s wrong with you?”
This rabbi kept at it, kept calling for months, and one day Larry finally picked up the phone.
“Why are you calling me? You are hassling me!” Larry griped.
“I just want to talk to you,” said Rabbi Michael.
“What do you want to talk about?”
And this rabbi says: “I hear you’re disabled and you might need a ride to the grocery.”
“I’ve got that covered, don’t call me anymore” Larry snarls and hangs up.
But this rabbi- he kept calling, week after week, month after month. Love notes on Larry’s answering machine.
Then one evening, on the sabbath, Larry Trapp calls the rabbi back.
Larry tells the rabbi he wants out. He tells the rabbi he is done with his life and he wants to escape. He asks the rabbi to come over, to his house.
And Rabbi Michael and his wife do. When Larry opens the door, he’s holding a gun and you can guess what the rabbi’s thinking.
But Larry hands the gun to this rabbi.
And then he tells the rabbi that he wants to take down all the racist crap he has hanging in his home but he can’t do it himself because he’s in a wheelchair.
So this rabbi helps him take it all down and while they do Larry tells the rabbi about his (unsurprising) childhood history of abuse.
Before they finish, Larry weeps and confesses to the rabbi that he doesn’t want to be who he has been.
This is where the story made me cry on Culver with a sack of dog doodie in my hand.
Larry wasn’t just disabled. He was sick, chronically so. His kidneys were failing. So this rabbi and his wife they decide to welcome Larry into their home, to take care of him.
They invited him to sleep in the bed of the daughter he’d once threatened.
Rabbi Michael’s wife, Julie, gave up her job in order to take care of Larry full time.
During the months the rabbi and his wife cared for him, Larry, the former Klansmen, started talking about becoming a Jew. And, eventually, he did right before he died.
In the podcast, this rabbi observed that it wasn’t enough to say that Larry Trapp had changed or improved or repented or become a different person.
The old Larry Trapp had died, the rabbi said.
When Larry’s kidney’s finally failed, Rabbi Michael told NPR that it felt like he had lost a member of his family.
“This is my blood of the new covenant poured out for you and for many for the deliverance from sins.”
Not only should the blood of the lamb not be in the third cup or even on the Passover table at all, what’s left of the lamb’s blood Jesus should’ve smeared across the door to the upper room.
The blood-smeared door will a sign, God promises; so that, when Death- God’s angel of Death- passes over, God’s People will be spared the wages of Pharaoh’s sin.
The blood- it will be a sign, God promises.
But hold up, God doesn’t need a sign!
The Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, doesn’t need an SOS streaked in neon blood. God found Moses in all of Midian and met him in a burning bush.
God doesn’t need a sign like the Bat Signal to find his People.
From God’s side, the blood is superfluous.
From God’s side, the blood is absolutely unnecessary.
God doesn’t need a sign.
Even before he’s delivered them through the Red Sea, even before he’s drowned us in the baptism of Christ’s death and parted the way through Christ’s grave- before we’re freed God makes sure we won’t forget to remember.
He gives us a sign. A love note- the blood: on the door, in the cup.
If God goes to all this trouble before our rescue to make sure we’ll remember, then if the blood is a sign of anything, it’s a sign of our propensity to forget.
When it comes to God’s grace, we can talk a good game.
We can talk about how Jesus Christ has offered his life in your place.
We can talk about how you have died with him and how through him God has redeemed you of all your sins because in him- in his body- all your sins have been nailed to the cross, once-for-all, such that now there is now no condemnation because of Jesus Christ.
No condemnation. The message of grace is the message that God is not in the judgement game.
But we forget.
We talk a good game about what God has done for us, but then we turn around and we act as though our relationship with God depends not on what Christ has done for us but on what we do for God.
We talk about unconditional grace but then we turnaround and we act as though there’s fine print we must meet in order to merit it.
We’ve got to pray. We’ve got to give. We’ve got to serve. We think.
We talk a good game about how God in Christ loves you despite who you are, but then we turnaround and we act like you must become someone other than who you are.
You must become more virtuous. You must become more spiritual. You must become more compassionate and generous and justice-minded. We say.
We talk about grace, but then we act like what makes us right isn’t Christ’s own righteousness but our works.
A “faithful” Christian must oppose this agenda, we tweet. A “real” Christian must conform to these politics, we comment on Facebook. A “righteous” Christian must stand up for that issue we forward an email to our friends.
We can talk a good game when it comes to grace, but all the time we forget.
We act as though the cross isn’t effective for us until we do something about it: repent, believe, find faith, get saved, go inward.
But grace isn’t all that amazing if it’s just available.
Grace isn’t amazing if it isn’t actual until we act to access it for ourselves.
Not only is that not very amazing, notice- it makes us the way, the truth, and the life instead of Jesus Christ.
It puts faith not in Christ and what Christ has done; it puts faith in what we do; in fact, it puts our faith in the very doing of our faith.
It relies on us to make our way up to God rather than trusting that God has come down to us and by the blood of the lamb delivered us.
Martin Luther put it thus:
“The Law of the Old Covenant says ‘Do this and you will live, but it is never done.’
Grace in the New Covenant says ‘Trust. Everything is already done. Live.’”
Everything is already done. It’s all been done- that’s the New Covenant Christ pours into the cup. That’s the unthwartable promise of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Our memory though is more easily thwarted.
Including my own.
For example, I was tempted to share that Snap Judgement story about Rabbi Michael with you and then to use it to exhort you to go and do likewise: Love your enemy. Forgive your trespassers. Welcome the outcast. Care for the sick.
‘Go and do like that rabbi’ I was tempted to exhort. And it would be good if you went and did like that rabbi. No doubt, the world would be a better place for it but– I forget, I’ve got to remind myself- that’s not the Gospel.
I forget too.
I forget that Jesus Christ is not a new Moses.
Christ does not come to give you a new way to try to become righteous; he comes to give you his own righteousness by his broken body.
He’s not a new Moses. Christ does not bring a new and different Law; Christ brings something new and different.
He brings a promise.
He brings the Gospel- the good news of God’s grace.
The promise that even though you do not love your enemy, despite your failures to forgive your trespassers, whether or not you welcome the outcast or care for the sick, no matter how much or how little you perform your faith like that rabbi in Nebraska, a different rabbi has already forgiven all your trespasses.
A different rabbi has already shown compassion on your sin-sickness.
A different rabbi has already loved you, his enemy.
This rabbi has loved you enough to welcome you into his home, to share his family with you, to adopt you as his sons and daughters.
This rabbi has done it all.
Everything has been done by him. He needs nothing from you.
Well, except your need. He needs nothing from you but your need.
Before the Passover, Jesus gets up from the supper table, he sets aside his robe, and puts on an apron.
Then he pours water into a basin, stoops over onto his knees and one-by-one he begins to wash his friends’ dirty feet.
When he gets to Peter, Peter starts arguing, “You’re not going to wash my feet-ever!” And Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you can’t be part of me or my kingdom.” And Peter replies: “Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head! Wash all of me.”
We forget how the rest of that story goes. We forget how Jesus says to Peter and his disciples “Now, I need only to wash your feet- I will make the rest of you clean forever.”
I’ll make the rest of you forever clean.
We forget how that story goes.
We forget how no sin we do can stain us because, by his broken body, he’s in us and we’re in him and in him, through the waters of baptism, we have died with him.
He’s rescued us from our sin into his own righteousness. Our exodus is over. No matter how far you wander in whatever wilderness you find yourself, you’re never lost and you will never be forsaken.
No matter what you do or do not do it cannot undo what God has done for you.
Everything. Everything has been done.
We can talk a good game when it comes to grace, but we’re so prone to forgetting.
So Jesus gives us a sign. A love note.
And he puts your name on it.
He takes the promise of the Gospel and he gives it a pronoun: ‘Here, take and eat…drink from this…it’s for you.’
The bread on the table. The blood in the cup.
God doesn’t give you these signs as ways for you to earn forgiveness. That’s not the proper application of the pronoun.
God gives these signs for you- for you to remember: God has already forgiven you.
Once. For all.
No sin you do can undo that because you are forever stained by the blood of the lamb.