The Passover Becomes The Body of Christ

Why did Jesus come and what did Jesus do and how does his death affect our salvation?

John 19:28 "After this, Jesus knowing that all was now finished said to fulfill the scripture, 'I thirst.' A bowl full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of sour wine on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, 'It is finished' and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." What did Jesus mean when He said "It is finished." What was finished?

It Can't Mean Christ's Redemptive Death

"If you are thinking that it is Christ's redemption that is finished, you have to realize that the work of redemption was not completed with his death. As St. Paul says, 'He was raised for our justification.' So the resurrection is essential for our redemption every bit as much as the crucifixion. So what did he mean when he said, 'It is finished.'?"

To understand Jesus' words up there on the cross in light of how he had prepared his disciples for this death of his, for his agony and his passion you need to back up a couple of chapters and you discover in John's gospel, but especially Matthew, Mark and Luke, that Jesus' death occurred at the time of the Passover. The Passover was the greatest religious festival celebration of the Jewish calendar because it was the event that happened long ago, back in the time of Moses, that
signaled the birth of Israel -- not only as a nation of twelve tribes, but as God's chosen people.

The Old Covenant

The Mass was foretold in the temple. (Taken from the book "How Christ Said the First Mass, Fr. James L. Meagher, D.D.)

The Catholic Church, its divisions of porch, nave, and sanctuary, its ornaments, vestments, and ceremonial, came from the Jewish Temple and the synagogue of the time of Christ.

The Passover service was modeled on the Temple worship.

The Last Supper combined in one ceremonial the patriarchal worship, the tabernacle, the Temple, the synagogue , all united in one feast the Hebrews called the Passover, which Christ fulfilled and changed into the Mass.

How did God do this?

Words, spoken or printed represent ideas. Images, whether they are in picture or statue form also represent ideas. God used these representative images and words to foretell the future Tragedy of Calvary, to prophesy the Last Supper and the Mass. God made use of mankinds instinctive nature to grasp onto images and told the life of the foretold Christ in the ceremonial of sacrifice, in the rites of the tabernacle and in the ceremonies of the Temple. Here are just a few of the images used to foreshadow the Messiah.

1) The Temple - the very heart and soul of the Jewish Church.

2) The Holy of Holies - The Holy of Holies closed by a veil, represented heaven closed to mankind because of the sin of our first parents. The Holies with its glittering golden altar and walls foretold the church building-especially our sanctuary with its altar on which the Mass is offered.

3) The Veil - which closed the Holy of Holies (heaven) was woven of colored strands - white, representing the waters of baptism; violet - representing penance; red - martyrs’s blood; green - youthful innocence. These colors are now shown in the Church vestments.

4) The Courts - prefigured the Jewish priests who later were to kill the Savior.

5) The Church building - modeled after the Temple.

6) The Ark of the Covenant - represented God’s covenant with the Hebrews. It was
an emblem of Christ in heaven and on earth.

7) Solomon’s Temple - built to replace the Ark represents the Universal Church.

8) The Day of Atonement - on this day, once a year, the high priest, his hands dripping with blood of victims he had sacrificed, entered the Holy of Holies
and sprinkled the blood to foretell Christ entering and opening heaven to mankind.

9) Manna - the miraculous food that fell from heaven for forty years to feed the Hebrews. This manna foretold the Eucharistic nourishment of our souls.

10) This manna was kept preserved in the Ark of the Covenant, in Solomon’s temple and remained until the Temple was destroyed.

11) On the day of Atonement, The High Priest would tear a crimson scarf in half and tie half of the crimson scarf to a goat. (where we get the term scapegoat) The goat was then cast over a cliff, bearing the sins of the Jewish nation. If the sacrifice was accepted by God, the crimson cloth that remained in the temple would turn white. After Jesus Christ was crucified, this cloth did not change to
white. Jewish writers to this day have many reasons to explain this, but if Jesus is really who He says He is, and he did offer himself as the scapegoat for our sins, it makes perfect sense.

12) Hyssop was used to sprinkle the blood on the altar. Hyssop was also used to give Christ his final drink while on the cross.

13) The Veil covering the Holy of Holies was ripped in two at the moment of Christ’s death. (Remember that the Holy of Holies represented heaven)

14) To the Hebrew, bread was their staple food. The word bread comes from the Hebrew word ‘barah’ which means "to nourish."

15) The Hebrew’s sacrifice of the lamb began at 3:00 pm

16) Wine was mixed with water at the Passover because it was required that four cups of wine were drunk by each participant. This diluted the wine. The reason that water is mixed with wine during a Catholic mass is to remember the water flowing from the pierced side of Christ.

17) Isaiah saw a vision of Jesus Christ in his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. "The Winepress," when as the Scape-Goat of mankind, the sins of the world were placed on him as though he himself had committed them. And ten thousand times deeper than we do he blushed with shame till his blood flowed out of every pore, covering him with crimson gore, and the prophet thought he had treaded the red grape of the Winepress, Gethsemane.

18) "All manner of leaven-that is in my possession, which I have seen, and which I have not seen, which I removed, and which I have not removed, shall be null and accounted as the dust of the earth. Before the Passover, the Jewish people would search through their homes for all traces of leavened bread and burn it. The leaven bread was the figure of sin.

The First Passover

On that fateful night, every firstborn son in Egypt perished except those in Israelite families that followed Moses' stipulations carefully. God gave to Moses specific instructions regarding how that first Passover was to be observed. For instance, every family had to find an unblemished male lamb and slaughter it. Then they had to take its blood and sprinkle it upon the door posts using a hyssop branch. Then they had to roast that lamb and eat it lamb that evening, standing up, with their loins girded, ready to flee Egyptian bondage in haste. The Israelite families that followed these stipulations experienced the mighty hand of Yahweh redeeming his people.

As we have already covered. The word covenant wasn't simply a contract between two individuals. It was a sacred blood bond between persons involving the exchange of life. "I am yours, you are mine." Even Yahweh declares, "I will be your God and you will be my people." And the Hebrew term he uses there, "am" literally means "my family, my kinsmen, my household, my children."

That's the significance, then, of the Passover. It was the preparation that God laid out to make Israel his family, which he did on Mount Sinai. Then, when he gave them the Ten Commandments, It was God’s way of fathering His people; helping them on the path to salvation. The law of God is inscribed in our hearts and then it's inscribed on those tablets of stone to show Israel the way to life, the way to happiness, the way to power, ultimately, the way home to God the Father.

The Passover Celebration, the Seder Meal, has a Set Liturgical Pattern

The four parts or stages of the Passover liturgy are set up to revolve around four cups of wine, that are consumed by the participants. So, if you look carefully at the structure of a Passover Seder, known as the "Hogadah" the liturgy that Jesus celebrated in the Upper Room with his disciples, you will see these four stages.

The first part was the preliminary course which consisted of the festival blessing, the "kadush," a prayer that was spoken by the celebrant over the first cup of wine. Then a dish of green, bitter herbs was passed along with some fruit sauce and was shared by all the participants.

That preliminary course was complete at that point and then you moved quickly into the second stage which consists of the Passover liturgy, taken from the Book of Exodus, chapter 12. In fact, the narrative of that first Passover in Egypt is read and then questions are asked of the oldest member participating by the youngest one. At this point, Psalm 113, is sung. It's known as the "little Hillel." In Hebrew Hillel means praise. Hallelujah means praise Ya, praise Yahweh. The little Hillel, Psalm 113, is sung and then a second cup of wine is shared by all the participants.

At this point the participants now proceed to the main course. First, grace is spoken over the unleavened bread, and then the meal of roasted lamb is served up along with the unleavened bread and the bitter herbs. At this point in the ancient Passover liturgy, the celebrant would say a prayer. Grace was spoken over a third cup of wine. This cup of wine was known as the "cup of blessing." The cup of blessing was then passed around and shared by all the participants.

The culmination of this ancient Passover liturgy would occur with the fourth cup of wine. Some scholars believe that back in the 1st Century, it was known as the "cup of consummation." It wasn't passed around immediately, though. First, all the participants would sing a song, a long hymn consisting of Psalms 114, 115, 116, 117 and 118. This was known as the "great Hillel," a very long and beautiful hymn. On the closing note of that hymn, the fourth cup was passed around and shared. This was the climax. This was the culmination. It signaled the communion between God and his people and among the brothers and sisters who are members of God's family.

Traces of the Passover Liturgy in the Gospel Narratives

In the gospel narratives, you discover traces of this liturgy. For instance, in 1st Corinthians 10, Paul referrs to the "cup of blessing, which is a communion in the blood of Christ." This refers to the third cup which Christ blessed and prayed over which Christ then shared.

Mark 14:26, "and when they had sung a hymn" This all fits with the Passover. After the third cup, the great Hillel would be sung. Then the participants would proceed to the fourth cup.

But Jesus and the apostles didn't proceed to drink the fourth cup. Instead, the verse continues, "and when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives."

In other words, the fundamental goal, the purpose of the Passover, seems to have been skipped. In Mark 14:25, right before they sang the great Hillel, here are the words of our Lord, "Truly, truly I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God," Mark 14:25. It's almost as though Jesus meant not to drink what he was expected to drink.

Now the question is, "Why?" Some scholars point to psychological factors: Jesus, knowing what was about to happen, was obviously in great distress. A great burden of anxiety was pressing upon him. Mark 14:34 our Lord says, "My soul is very sorrowful even unto death. He began to be greatly distressed and troubled." If Jesus was so distracted and confused, it seems doubtful that He would interrupt the Passover liturgy after expressly declaring his intention not to taste of the fruit of the vine again, especially when he goes on to sing the great Hillel with the disciples. Why would he declare himself so plainly before acting in such a disorderly manner?

Why did he choose not to drink and leave the Upper Room and go to the Mount of Olives? It was a very deliberate move on our Lord's part. And Peter, James and John accompanied him there. And if we follow our Lord's footsteps, we will understand more clearly his purpose in skipping the Fourth Cup because when he gets there to the Mount of Olives, and especially there in the Garden of Gethsemani, notice what he prays, "And going a little farther he fell on his face and he prayed, 'Abba (Papa), my Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me.
Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt."

Three times altogether, Jesus prays, flat on his face, sweating blood, "Abba, Father, take away this cup, but not as I will but as thou wilt." What did he mean when he said, "Take away this cup?" Remember, in the upper room, Jesus declared very clearly, "I will not taste of the fruit of the vine again until I drink it new with you in the kingdom." If you follow Jesus' footsteps from the Mount of Olives to the trial and to the sentencing and to the carrying of the cross up Calvary, you discover that he followed through on his resolution.

Mark 15:23 "On the way up to Golgatha, they offered him wine mingled with myrrh, but he did not take it." He refused the wine. After all, what did he say? "I'm not going to taste the fruit of the vine again until my kingdom has come, my glory is revealed."

Now, what exactly does that mean? When is it that Christ's kingdom comes? Remember the Parables of the kingdom in Matthew Ch 13. Jesus talks of the weeds growing in the field. Obviously there would be no weeds in Heaven. The Kingdom that Christ is referring to is here on earth. Remember again that Christ gave the keys to His kingdom to Peter in Matthew 16:18. This is where many people get the idea that Peter is sitting at the gates of Heaven and unlocking it to let people in. The keys to the kingdom that Christ gave to Peter are not tangible keys,
but the keys of authority over His kingdom here on earth.

John Gives Clues to Meaning of "It is Finished"

The true nature of Christ's kingdom was unveiled on the cross. It isn't political. It isn't military. It isn't violence. It's truth and it's love and it's mercy, all converging there on the cross when Jesus offers himself as a sacrifice for our sins. And it's John who weaves together these things so skillfully as he recites and narrates Jesus'
passion, death and resurrection. And it's John who gives to us, I think, the clues we need to solve the problem of what Jesus meant when he said, "It is finished."

First, John shows us the true meaning of Jesus' kingship. There at the trial, for instance, Pilate responds to him with cynicism, like a typical politician. He dresses Jesus in a purple robe and interrogates him half-heartedly and when Jesus speaks about his kingdom being based on truth, what does Pilate say? "What is truth?" Who cares about truth when you've got a majority behind you, when you've got the  power of Imperial Rome to back you up?

John goes on to say in chapter 19, verse 14, "It was the Day of Preparation of the Passover, about the sixth hour. And Pilate said to the Jews, 'Behold your king.' They cried out, 'Away with him, away with him. Crucify him!'" John is the only evangelist to witness all of this. He was the only one of the twelve who didn't flee, who didn't run away. He is the one who noticed that this occurred at the sixth hour, precisely at the moment when the priests were prescribed to begin laughtering the Passover lamb there in the temple.

Only John mentions that Jesus was stripped, not only of garments in general, but of one garment in particular, a seamless linen tunic, which he calls in the Greek the "kitome". Jesus was wearing this seamless linen tunic, this "kitome" up there on Calvary until the soldiers stripped him of it and then drew lots for it. What is this tunic? It's the same word used for the official tunic worn by the High Priest in sacrifice in Exodus 28 and Leviticus 16. When the High Priest offered a holy sacrifice, this is what he was to wear. He was to take off the beautiful garment of the priesthood and simply wear this linen "kitome" which is what our Lord was wearing moments before he offered himself up as the sacrifice on the cross.

Jesus Christ is both priest and victim. He is the Passover Lamb, even as John the Baptist introduced him to the world, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." He is the one who fulfills and completes every detail of the Old Testament Passover. But he is also the sacrificing priest and John picks up on this for our sake.

Also, John notices a third item that parallels the Passover. John notices that when Jesus died, the soldiers responsible for speeding up the death of the two thieves. The soldiers took mallets and they broke the legs of the thieves to hasten death, because the only way you could sustain life on the cross was to pick yourself up on the spike through your feet to take a breath, and so when you break the legs, you can no longer breathe and they quickly suffocate.

But not Jesus. John is the one who noticed that Jesus' legs were not broken, and hen he quickly adds, "Thus to fulfill the Scripture, 'Not a bone of him shall be broken.'" What does that refer to? It refers to a passage in the Psalms which points back to Exodus 12:46 where you had to take an unblemished male lamb without any broken bones to be your Passover sacrifice.

Once again, "What did Jesus mean when he said, 'It is finished?' "While suffering on the cross, Jesus made a profound gesture that John noticed. "After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished said, " and John adds, "in order to fulfill the Scripture, he said, ‘I thirst.'"

Do you think that it wasn't until this closing moment of life that Jesus noticed his thirst? Obviously not. Jesus was wracked not only with pain, but with hunger and thirst from the very beginning of his sacrifice. They weren't feeding the prisoner well. They weren't providing him all the drink he wanted. He was thirsty long before, but he waited until this moment to say, "I thirst."

I would also suggest to you that when Jesus utters sayings from the cross, these are not to be trivialized. The full weight, meaning and importance of these sayings ought to be considered, because it wasn't easy to breathe on the cross, much less to speak.

Immediately, John records, that a bowl of sour wine stood there. So they put a sponge filled with the sour wine on a hyssop branch. John noticed the specific detail. The branch prescribed in the Passover law, Exodus 12, for sprinkling the lamb's blood, verse 22. "They lifted up the sponge filled with sour wine on a hyssop branch." What did Jesus do before, going up to Calvary? They offered him wine mingled with myrrh and he refused it. After all, what did he say, "I'm not going to taste of the fruit of the vine again until I drink it anew in the kingdom when my glory is manifest." Matthew, Mark and Luke all record how Jesus was offered sour wine, vinegar, on the cross. But the first three evangelists don't tell us whether or not he accepted the offer. Only John does because only John was there at the foot of the cross. At the very end, Jesus was offered sour wine, but only John tells us his response. "When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, 'tel te lestai -- It is consummated. It is finished.' And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."

"It is Finished" Refers to the Passover

What did Jesus mean when he said, "It is finished?" What was he referring to? What was finished? What was finished was the Passover. Not just the Passover, but Jesus' fulfillment of an Old Covenant Passover. He was the Lamb of God, slain for the families of Israel, but he was also the firstborn son slain in Egypt, because Jesus' death covers Israel and all the Egypts of this world.

He was both victim and priest; priest and king. He was God's firstborn son. He was the lamb slain for the sins of the world. So what was finished? The fulfillment of the Old Covenant Passover. When Jesus had been celebrating, he had temporarily interrupted it. He had suspended it. Why? Because he was not only celebrating the Old Testament Passover, he was fulfilling it and in himself, he was transforming it into the New Covenant Passover.

Jesus only used that all-important word "covenant" on one occasion in the gospels -- in the Upper Room, celebrating the Passover, instituting the Eucharist with the unleavened bread and with that third cup, the cup of blessing, the cup which is the blood of the New Covenant, this new family. Jesus took the Old Testament Passover and in himself, he fulfilled it and through his sacrifice, he transformed it
into the New Covenant Passover, which we call the Holy Eucharist.

The Bread of Life Discourse

In John 6, Jesus multiplied the loaves and gave the famous Bread of Life discourse. He multiplied the loaves and spoke of himself as being the Bread of Life.

What was the season of the year when that occurred? John 6, verse 4, tells us, "It was at the time of the Passover." Jesus knew at that early Passover what he was to do at a later Passover, so he began to prepare his disciples to understand the full nature and the true meaning of his sacrificial death before it was to occur.

At the end, as the climax of this discourse, he announces to the multitudes, he says, "This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. I am the manna; I am the unleavened bread. I am the food for your souls, to lead you out of the spiritual Egypt, to deliver you in the true Passover, and the ultimate exodus -- not just from Egypt into Caanan, but out of this world and across the Jordan River of death into the Promised Land of heaven.

"If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever ... and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. The Jews then disputed among themselves saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' So Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you,'" -- I'm simply using a metaphor, a figure of speech? -- No, he says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you have no life in you." Now, first he says, "The bread which I give to you is my flesh," and the Jews are offended because that sounds like cannibalism. It sounds like a forbidden practice according to the laws of Leviticus and so they protest, and what does Jesus say? If Jesus had meant his words to be taken exclusively in a figurative sense, as a teacher, he would have been morally obligated to clarify that point. And it would have been simple to do. He could have simply said, "Gentlemen, I simply mean receive me in faith."

But no. In fact what he does is intensifies the scandalous nature of his remark. He says, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh," -- and the Greek is very graphic, it's he who "chews" -- "my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. As the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died. For he who eats this bread will live forever."

He doesn't just say it once. He doesn't just say it twice. Not even three times. Four times altogether, he tells the multitudes, "You have to eat my flesh and drink my blood." Back then, the disciples were really perplexed. Many of his disciples, when they heard it said, "This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?" They don't say, "Who can understand?" They say, "Who can even stand by and listen to it? It's so offensive." But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, what? "Do you take offense at this?" No. Our Lord does not compromise the truth for crowds.

In verse 66, "After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him."

Earlier in the chapter the multitudes were going to take Jesus by force and make him King. Here are people proclaiming the Lordship and the Kingship of Jesus who are shocked and horrified and offended at his language when it comes to preparing his disciples for the Eucharist The people who are announcing his Kingship a few hours ago now turn away. Many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. He didn't say, "Hey, go out there. Catch them. Stop them. Bring them back. Tell them I only meant it metaphorically."

"He said to the twelve, 'Do you also wish to go away?'" Jesus is so committed to the truth which sets us free, to the truth which gives us life, that he would not compromise it when the numbers had dwindled down to twelve. And Simon Peter speaks up on behalf of the twelve, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and have come to know that you are the holy one of God."

"Do you wish to go away?" Christ says to us, because this saying is so hard to beleive.

"Do you wish to go away?" because you do not want to believe in the true pressence of Christ in the Eucharist?

"Do you wish to go away?" because you do not want to beleive that Christ died to create the Eucharist, and that His death and the Eucharist are one and the same thing - the Sacraficial Lamb of God.


                                                                Kelly A. Salbato