Monday, December 1, 2014

The Last Supper - Seder or Not?

Life of Christ 163

          It is Tuesday evening. Jesus will die tomorrow afternoon. The morning had already seen the unveiling of the dead fig tree and the verbal confrontations with Israel's religious leadership in the Temple. The afternoon had seen the Olivet discourse with its solemn pronouncements of a second coming and Judas Iscariot's secret arrangements to betray Christ. We come now at sundown to the evening of Tuesday. To the Jews this would be the beginning of Wednesday. This was the day of preparation in which the Jewish households made their arrangements to observe Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
          There is some disagreement over whether the Last Supper was a seder or not. Whether one holds the Wednesday or Friday view of the crucifixion does not change the fact that Scripture repeatedly says that Jesus died on the day of preparation. In other words, since Jesus died a day before Passover began then the Last Supper took place 24 hours prior to the accepted observance of the seder.
          Those against the Lord's Supper being considered a seder point out that Jesus as an observing Jew would not have celebrated Passover an entire day early. They point out that it would have been impossible to get the lamb properly sacrificed since these were not sacrificed until the afternoon immediately prior to the evening seder. How do you get a proper Passover lamb on Tuesday night when all the lambs were not sacrificed prior to Wednesday afternoon? At the same time, we must accept that Scripture repeatedly calls the Last Supper a Passover (Matthew 26.18-19; Mark 14.14, 16; Luke 22.8, 11, and 15).
          How do we reconcile these two contradictory positions? I choose to believe simply that Jesus celebrated Passover a day early with His disciples. If He claimed emphatically to be Lord even of the Sabbath day (Matthew 12.8) why could He not choose when and how to celebrate Passover? And if He could feed thousands with a simple lunch could He not furnish the necessary sacrificial lamb? Of course He could.
           Sometime earlier in the afternoon Jesus had sent Peter and John back into Jerusalem to ensure that everything necessary for the seder had been arranged. This was no small task. Cunningham Geike, a nineteenth century Scottish Presbyterian sets the scene for us in his 1893 book The Life and Words of Christ:

The head of each family, as evening closed, began the household purification with the prayer - "Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who hast sanctified us with Thy commandments, and requirest us to remove the leaven," and then proceeded, in rigorous silence, to search every room, gathering every crumb that could be found, and finally tying all up till the following morning. A further search, which must end before noon, was then made for any liquid or solid product of fermented grain, and for all dishes or vessels that had held it. All were taken out of the house, and the crumbs and dough carefully burned, with a repetition of prescribed prayers. The house itself was then cleansed in every part, and no one could enter the unpurified house of a heathen, henceforth, during the feast, without being defiled. Nothing leavened could be eaten or permitted in the house during the next seven days, - for defilement, bringing with it unfitness to eat the Passover, would follow in either case.
This purification of the house, however, was by no means all. Vessels of any kind, to be used at the feast, were cleansed with prescribed rites, in a settled mode. Metal dishes &c., after being scoured, must be first dipped in boiling water - in a pot used for no other purpose - and then into cold. Iron vessels must be made red-hot; then washed in the same way. Iron mortars, for crushing grain for baking, were filled with red coals, till a thread, tied outside, was burned through. Wooden vessels, after being wetted, were rubbed with a red-hot stone. No clay dish would be used at all if not quite new, and it had to be first dipped thrice in running water, and consecrated by a special prayer. Personal purity was as strictly enforced. Every one had to cut his hair and nails, and to take a bath.

         The slaughter of the lambs, which took place around 3 PM on the day of preparation, likewise was a complex undertaking. Josephus tells us that approximately 265,000 lambs were sacrificed during Christ's day and all of this took place at the Temple. Thousands and thousands of priests would form long lines throughout the Temple. These lines culminated at the Brazen Altar. Each individual Jew would bring his sanctioned lamb to the Temple. Using a ceremonial knife or short sword they would cut the animal's throat while a priest in front of him held a bowl to catch the blood. Those bowls full of blood, hundreds of thousands of them, were then passed hand over hand to the Brazen Altar where they were poured out before the Lord. (Herod's Temple renovation included an elaborate drainage system under the Brazen Altar.) The animal carcass was then tied for roasting on two skewers of pomegranate wood (in the shape of a cross, no less) and carried home. It was then placed immediately on the fire to roast with Passover being celebrated as the sun set and the stars became visible.
          Somehow, on the day prior to the day of preparation, most of these accommodations were already provided for and thus in the evening of that day Jesus and His Apostles came to the Upper Room.

Mark 14:13–17
13 And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him.
14 And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?
15 And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us.
16 And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover.

17 And in the evening he cometh with the twelve.

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