Pesach, in Paul’s Words

I’ve never done this before, but I thought it might be helpful to interject my thoughts into what Paul might be saying in the second half of 1 Corinthians 11.  Most are not taught this, but Paul when Paul mentions “The Lords Supper” he is clearly referring to a Pesach meal—not a Catholic spin-off eventually re-branded “Communion.”  

It’s surely better to do Communion regularly than to not partake at all, but how much richer does the ritual become when it’s done lawfully and in its truest context.  Ironically, the freedom of the flesh that inspires us to ignore YHWHs timing and to make endless modifications to his instructions is exactly what Paul is dealing with at the Church of Corinth.  All of Paul’s words are more powerful when read from a Torah-Observant Christian perspective, as that best describes Paul’s outlook—and Messiah’s, too.  Here’s all of 1 Cor 11:17-33, with Paul’s words in bold. 

“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.  For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you.  And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” 

How I wish today’s Church would recognize how this humble introduction applies to us!  We know that Paul advocated expulsion from the body in the case of clear cut and extreme sin, and Pesach is especially good timing to clean house, however here we see Paul using language like “faction” and “division” as if they are necessary for a functioning body!  He even uses this paragraph as a set up for Chapter 12, which praises the endless varieties of perspective, outlook, gifting, and function within the Body of Messiah.  Plenty of Christians “shun” Torah keepers, misunderstanding our viewpoint as legalism.  Plenty of “Torah Terrorists” out there are quick to condemn and pass sentence on Christians who seem to be lawless and reckless by comparison.  30,000 Christian denominations exist because of this lack of humility and subsequent rejection of the written Holy Law.  Only through dialogue and fellowship, iron sharpening iron, can we find the center of the straight and narrow path. What unites us is the Blood of the Lamb, as we are all redeemed for the same price.  Pesach is about celebrating what makes all YHWH’s faithful E Pluribus Unum.  (That’ll likely be the last Latin I ever quote.)

When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.  For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal.  One goes hungry, another gets drunk.  What!  Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?  Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?  What shall I say to you?  Shall I commend you in this?  No, I will not. 

Pesach is a meal with a purpose.  There is a spirit of thankfulness and humility that needs to be present around the table.  We know, in retrospect, that there is happy ending to both the Exodus and Gospel accounts of this night.  However, we need to focus our hearts on the cost of our freedom, but not celebrate our freedom just yet.  For Yeshua’s disciples especially, they still had three days and nights before they got to experience the joy.  Even if you are around the table, and your timing, menu, and decor is perfect, if the attitude of your heart is not proper, “it’s not the Lord’s supper that you eat.”  We also see evidence here that the meal is indeed a full meal—not just a nibble and a teeny shot-glass.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Yeshua on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  

The expression ‘New Covenant’ is misunderstood.  The only place in the New Testament where the  New Covenant is actually detailed is in Hebrews 8:11-12, and all the author does there is hyperlink to Jerimiah 31:31.  Go there yourself and read the full context.  That section describes a FUTURE event for Israel, and not some specialized event for “the Church” alone.  All redeemed humans play by the same set of rules.  The phrase “New Covenant” specifically describes the perfect Covenant that arrives with Messiah at his second coming.  What Paul is talking about here is a “New” Covenant, in the sense of a “Renewed” Covenant.  The word “new” (Strongs G2537) in Greek doesn’t have to mean unique, it just as often means most recent, or even imply, BETTER.  The point of the law is to give us the tools we need to IMPROVE in our Christ-likeness, and never to remain as-is.  

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

This higher level of renewal is the true spirit of Pesach, and we get that chance for a new start each and every year.  We do it as all life around us renews itself each year in the Spring, and as the full moon restores itself to the fullness of it’s light each month.  This is when we renew the Abrahamic Covenant, the one which focuses on perfect trusting faithfulness.  So Paul’s phrase “we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”, refers to our renewal of that faith, until Messiah returns with the highest, final, and most perfect version of the New Covenant as detailed in Jeremiah 31:31.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.   Remember that there are only two kinds of people: those in the world, and those in the Kingdom.  Pesach is the door that leads from one to the other, and it is possible to turn around and go back through the wrong way.  Most of us don’t do that on purpose, of course, but we need to know the risk remains.

Hebrews 10:26-31, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.  How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” 

Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 

Pesach requires this honest self-examination, and also often requires the sincerest form of repentance. This is what “circumcision of the heart” means. The original lamb blood was a sign to separate those with no faith, from redeemed Israel.  Remember, however, who slew the Lamb of God in the gospels—fake believers conspiring with worldly powers, both concerned only with themselves and their own survival. When we don’t choose to separate from the world, we become part of the world, and will share the same judgement as those who are on the outside. 

That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have fallen asleep.  But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

Exodus 15:26, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of YHWH your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statues, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am YHWH, your healer.”  This verse originally occurs the moment after the sea crashes down on Pharaoh, and the Israelites were truly freed.  The type of healing that can occur when we truly allow Messiah to free us of unforgiveness, bitterness, and fear (just to name a few of our Egyptian mindsets) can seem miraculous.  But, it works the other way, too.  If we slip back into Egypt, don’t be surprised if our health suffers as well.  Miriam was our first example of a backslider. When she wanted to usurp her deliver, her hidden sin manifested through directly through her skin.  After she was put outside the camp to reflect and repent, she renewed her covenant, was healed, and only then allowed back into the family.     

So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another and share. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment.  The original Pesach instructions tell us to invite a neighbor if we have enough food.  After over a decade of guests at the my Pesach table, and being part of several Seders with hundreds of people, I know exactly what Paul is talking about here. Unless you invest time in preparing for Pesach, both in home and heart, and setting clear expectations for your guests, it’s very easy for the wrong spirit to enter and run amok.  Apparently, the last time Pesach was held in Corinth was a train-wreck, and Paul was being asked for his advice.  This is consistent with the purpose of all of 1 Corinthians. This letter is simply Paul addressing a long list of concerns about this fledgling group of believers who lived in one of the worldly cities in the region.   

About the other things I will give directions when I come. 

Doesn’t the context of this letter suddenly change when you realize that Pesach is an annual event, and “The Lord’s Supper” was originally not done on any other schedule?  Paul was giving these instructions, while at the same time accepting their invitation to join them for Pesach.  When we see that acceptance as the context of the entire letter, we can go back and read it from the beginning—not just this chapter—the whole book.  It opens with talk of Messiah’s death, then in chapter 5 Paul begins to talk about getting rid of leaven in preparation for the Feast, and even judging and expelling immoral believers before Pesach, so as to not eat it with them (1 Cor 5:13).  All of this matches the spirit of Pesach, as only those who are circumcised may eat of it (Exodus 12:44).  For that same reason, Messiah kicked Judas out before he ate the Pesach.  Then, of course, Paul gets to the section we just read.  Just before Paul’s conclusion he shifts focus to the Resurrection, which of course also happens during this same feast week, right on schedule, each and every year.   A better name for 1 Corinthians would have been “Becoming One on Pesach”.  The cover page must have gotten lost along the way. 

In Judaism, it’s tradition to say “Next year in Jerusalem” as the last scripted line in their Haggadah.  A reasonable argument could be made that Jerusalem was the only authorized place to kill and eat the Pesach.  If so, then Paul would have to have met the Corinthian assembly there.  We know that Paul continued to travel to Jerusalem for years after coming to Messiah, and even offered sacrifices at the temple years later, mostly to prove his detractors that he remained faithful to the spirit of the Torah.  

It seems more likely, however, that once Messiah exposed the Temple leadership as frauds, and once the temple curtain was torn, that it became clear that Jerusalem was no longer an “authorized” central location.  Although Jews technically lived in the Promised Land, they were still essentially in exile.  Their king was not of the line of David, the High-Priest not of the line of Aaron, and the entire nation had degenerated into a weak province of the Roman empire.  Also, since Messiah came as the highest example of sacrifice, YHWH allowed the temple to be razed by Rome only 40 years after Yeshua’s ministry.  Many extremist groups at the time, such as the Essenes who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, rejected the entire Temple system long before Messiah came to endorse their rebuke.  We don’t know exactly what year Paul actually wrote his letter, but each of these reasons are why we don’t travel to Jerusalem once a year.   

I hope this has been a blessing!

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