The Last Supper (Was Not a Passover Seder)

Whether we realize it or not, many of the traditions of our faith cannot specifically be found in Scripture.  Most have been added, I believe in good faith, by believers over the centuries.  Some of our non-Biblical traditions are more obvious than others.  Every thoughtful believer has a series of verses cocked-and-loaded to defend why their tradition can be justified. Sometimes they have a case, sometimes they don’t.  There’s an important principle toward the end of the Torah which most ignore at their own peril.  When I say peril, don’t get your feather’s too ruffled—I don’t mean hell-fire peril.  But there are ramifications for breaking Holy commands, even inadvertently, that affect us in the here-and-now. Here’s the verse, Moses speaking Yah’s words:

Deut 13:1, “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.”

It’s this desire to add and subtract from Holy Law that so entices the otherwise faithful, both Jews and Christians. Although conservative believers bemoan the slippery slope of modern reforms to doctrines and practices, Judeo-Christianity has been well on our way down that greased chute for millennia. The physical laws of momentum apply to religious traditions as well. “Did God really say…” are the words of the serpent, and that same question continues to tempt believers each and every day.  Christianity goes to great lengths to divorce themselves from the rule-book.  False strawmen are constructed such as “Jews” vs “Gentiles”, or “Israel” vs “the Church” in order to create plausible deniability to defend our lawlessness.  We cover our tracks with phrases like “the Law of Christ”, as if that was somehow different than the Law of Moses. 

Messiah’s own words: Matthew 5:17-19, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Heaven and earth passing away would be memorable, and it seems to me like a still future event.  Again, if you think I’m preaching damnation or law-based redemption here, that is not my intent.  However, if its the Holy spirit convicting you to repent, don’t let me stand in the way.  The Law itself defines the rules of both redemption and salvation, and it defines them both as occurring through faith alone.  Since our creator loves the Law, and we are made in His image, humans (faithful or not) can’t help but create and enforce our own.  This itself actually not a sin, as long as our “laws”, do not contradict YHWH’s, and as long as we are able to recognize what’s His and what’s ours.  A good parent would hate it when a brat of a child uses their name to get away with petty crime.  The incident of the golden calf shows that YHWH is no different.  Here’s how Messiah addressed that issue:

Mark 7:7-9, “And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.’  And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”

With that preamble established, I want to focus on acceptable traditions. There is no specific Mosaic commandment, for example, to travel to a place of corporate worship on a weekly basis. Yet we learn in Luke 4:16 that Yeshua did. “And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up and read.” Paul never diverged from this tradition (Acts 17:2) and this same custom is advised as wise in Acts 15:21, to teach new Christians the rules of the Torah.

The Last Supper, to me at least, has been a very confusing puzzle to solve. In most respects, it seems like Messiah is simply having his Pesach ritual meal a night early.  Although you can find a dozen commentaries that justify that view, and several translations such as The Tree of Life version, go out of their way to force this into the text.  None of this sits right with me considering the spirit behind Deut 13:1 and  Mark 7.  There are some major clues that this is not Pesach, such as the Greek word artos (Strongs G740) is used for the bread they are eating, instead of azymos (Strongs G106).  There are also some very subtle clues, such as the fact that they are “reclining” at the table, when the standard in Exodus seems to be standing and ready to go. Exodus 12:11, “In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand, and you shall eat it in haste.”  Not exactly the language of a leisurely meal.

So what exactly was the Last Supper?  I keep putting that phrase in capital letters, so it must be important.  Most denominations have transformed this event into the “Lord’s Supper,” by adding various other liturgical rituals and traditions to it. “Do this in remembrance of me.” is the quote from Luke 22:19, echoed verbatim in 1 Corinthians 11.  But, do what, exactly?

Tom Bradford, who leads an excellent ministry called Torah Class, pointed out a tradition, which was specifically a tradition of Galilean Jews.  Here’s an excerpt from a longer article found here

“We find in the Mishna that the Galileans (Yeshua and his disciples were Galileans) adopted a tradition that in Hebrew is called, seudah maphsehket; this translates essentially to “last supper”.  The Galilean Jews (Yeshua and His disciples were Galileans) had established an additional celebration called seudah maphsehket (last supper) that the Judean Jews (the Jews of the Jerusalem area) did not observe.  This last supper was about remembering that it was indeed not ALL Hebrews who were in danger from death at God’s hand in Egypt, but only the firstborn sons.  So, a special nighttime meal was adopted whereby this meal would be eaten and then there would be a 24 hour fast that followed……thus the name “last supper”.  Tom Bradford, “The Passover Problem Solved.”

This Hebrew phrase “Seudah Maphsehket” is still used by Jews all over the world today, just usually connected to the large meal that proceeds the required 24-hour fast of Day of Atonement.  Even today, the “Fast of the Firstborn” remains a tradition of Jews worldwide. Like most traditions, there are few solid “rules” that govern precisely who fasts or for how long. What is consistent is that this all occurs the night PRIOR to the actual Pesach meal, just as the meal celebrated by Messiah and the twelve minus one.  As long as we aren’t rescheduling Pesach, removing our focus from Pesach, or God forbid forsaking Pesach, all of these traditions, both Messiah’s and Judaism’s, are legal.  Not only are they legal, like meeting on the Sabbath, it seems advisable!

With this flexibility in mind, we still have plenty of room for our own customs and traditions within the phrase “Do this in remembrance of me.”  We can read “do this” to mean every time we eat any meal together.  We can read “do this” as a regularly scheduled event…once a week, once a month, once a year.  We can limit “do this” to bread and wine, or expand “do this” to include feet washing, and intercessory prayer.  When Paul dives deep into “The Lord’s Supper” in 1 Corinthians 11:17-33, he gives us no more helpful details, other than to keep the spirit of Messiah’s Last Supper intact—remembering Messiah and becoming one with His suffering.  Furthermore, we seem to have the flexibility to NOT do any such ritual, as the Gospel of John spends no less than FIVE chapters describing the Last Supper, and never ONCE refers to any ritual, nor any New Covenant! 

One principle is consistent.  It is nowhere implied that Messiah nor Paul ever intended for Pesach to be replaced with the Last Supper ritual. Paul tells us specifically in this same letter to the Corinthian Church, “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”  (1st Corinthians 5:8)

With all of this flexibility in mind, let me share how we Schminke’s honor The Last Supper in our home.  It’s not common to invite others over, but sometimes we’ll have close friends or extended family.  We try to keep it an intimate event.  Messiah specifically kept his group small for a reason. J ust as giving (financial or otherwise) is best to happen anonymously, and prayer is to be kept short so, as to not draw attention, rituals are most impactful when they are not being done with for an audience.  Witnesses, yes, but it’s fine line between focusing on the eternal vertical relationship and going through the motions just for show. 

This meal takes place before Pesach, toward sundown on the 13th of the first Biblical month (the night before the full moon rises).  We set our table much more formally than usual, the way we would do it if Messiah was coming over for dinner.  Since we usually stand during the Pesach meal, on this night we have all of the chairs set around the table as usual.  We eat leavened bread and have wine at the table.  Any blood of the vine will do, alcohol is not required.  We typically make a somewhat fancier meal, but skip lamb, as that is a centerpiece of Pesach the following night. It’s been my wife’s style to prepare Middle Eastern food—hummus, chicken, olives, garlic.  What’s good for Messiah is good for me! This aspect certainly does not involve self-sacrifice, that much I have to admit.  Since the command to eat in haste is specific to Pesach, we deliberately take our time to eat the Last Supper.  Typically, we play dinner music, acoustic worship appropriate to the night. I have a long playlist of songs related to the Last Supper.

Before we eat, we’ll literally break the loaf of bread and pass it around the table. We’ll personalize Messiah’s words “This is his body, broken for us”.  We’ll share one cup and pass it around the table, while speaking Messiah’s words in that same personal spirit.  “This is his blood, poured out for us for the removal of our sins.”  Finally, I read John 13:34-35.  “I give you this commandment, ‘Love one another. Just as I loved you, so you must love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.’” These words really set the tone for the evening. It’s not meant to be festive, but also not somber.  By eating and drinking Messiah, we are actively becoming one with his suffering. We are trying to connect with the cornerstone of our faith, the one aspect that really matters, and without which all else is loss. Messiah lived before Genesis 1:1 began, and all that did begin, began through him. He saw me, he saw my wife, and called us out of the world while we were still lost and lawless. YHWH sent Yeshua on a suicide mission for the sake of grabbing the attention of the world, but on this night, we remember how successful that plan was. Messiah said “many are called but few choose”, and on this night we remember that we heard that call, and we answered. We don’t respond simply with bread and wine, we respond like Messiah did, with all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength.

It’s striking how few verses there are focused on this meal and Messiah’s words.  I truly don’t believe Messiah nor the earliest church would have allowed Pesach to be diminished or replaced by traditions like “The Lord’s Supper” or “Communion”, as powerful and emotional as it can often be.  Messiah never considered himself equal to YHWH, despite that fact that he is truly one with his Father.  The Last Supper was simply one last chance to prepare his Disciples, which now includes us, for Pesach itself.  This is all setup for the main event.

At some point, often before dessert, we’ll move from the table to the living room, where I as the father will prep some warm water and towels in a big bowl or two and wash the feet of my family. Then my wife takes my spot and washes mine. We see this as an object lesson of servant-leadership and humility. I’ll read the words of Messiah in John 13:3-20, avoiding the aspects of the plot relating to Judas (unless of course I’m feeling uneasy about a guest).

This washing ceremony also brings forth the idea of a “Mikvah”, the Levitical ritual washing that is the source of traditional Christian baptism. Although most don’t see it this way, baptism embodies the idea of death by drowning, as Noah’s flood removed all life from the earth. But the moment we come up, it now embodies “born anew”, as Noah’s water diminished, and life was restored anew. We know that those getting their feet washed in Messiah’s day had already been baptized prior to this night. Since this entire night is purely traditional, it would be a perfect night for a baptism, if it was feasible—especially its someone’s first time.  For me and my house, we each got baptized once, early in our lives, but we’ll need our feet washed each and every year. 

Feet washing has a different spirit than baptism. It recognizes that although Hebrews are non-toxic-Teflon when it comes to the slings and arrows of the enemy, we can’t avoid being affected by the battle.  We are not of this world, but our mission is nevertheless to live in it. Foot washing cleans the spot where we make the most contact with it. It also calls to mind the burning bush, where Moses was asked to take off his shoes, in preparation for his Pesach mission.  Preparations for Pesach are Holy ground.

After we clean up and dry off, we’ll go back to the table and eat dessert, while I try to stop thinking about feet.  We’ll all open our bibles to John 13 and we’ll all take turns finishing that chapter, as well as John chapters 14-17.  It’s a lot of reading, but in the context of the night, it’s hard to make it through some verses without tears.  

Page after page the words are in red.  Yeshua was bleeding out of his very pores when he spoke these words, which were only the beginning of his full day of suffering. 

Every word in these chapters could have been spoken that original night in Egypt, in preparation for the original Pesach. The Father’s heart was no different 5000 years ago than it is today, and Messiah’s words express the Father’s heart precisely.  

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” 

“He who has seen me has seen the Father.” 

“Abide in me and I will abide in you.” 

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” 

“You did not choose me, but I chose you.” 

“In the world you will have trouble–but take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

“I pray not on behalf of these only, but also for those who believe in Me through their message, that they all may be one. Just as you, Father, are in Me, and I am in you, so also may they be one in us, so the world may believe that you sent me.”  

If you celebrate the Last Supper yourself, don’t skip these chapters.  Read them prayerfully, and recommit to live these truths in your life going forward.

I am the firstborn in my family, and I too have a firstborn son. As those under threat of the 10th plague in Egypt, this meal also becomes our last supper until we break our fast with the Pesach the following night.  From this point on, Messiah himself ate nothing, and he likely didn’t sleep.  During his lengthy prayer, he asked at least a few of his closest friends to stay awake with him for a few hours.  As a family, we don’t stay up extra late, but it’s because we stay up till sunrise on Pesach itself, and that is coming quickly.   Plus, I am no longer a spring chicken.  Judaism actually has a tradition to stay up and study Scripture all night, which they choose to do on Shavuot (Pentecost).  However, the command seems to be related specifically to Pesach. (Staying up all night on Pesach is also our family’s tradition–it’s implied in Exodus 12:42, where we’ll spend plenty of time in another installment.)  

Two of the Gospel accounts indicate Messiah sang a hymn with the remaining 11 Disciples before heading outside and up to the Mount of Olives. We’re a musical family, so often we’ll enter into worship together. One year we spent time writing down confidential confessions of one sort or another, and then saved them to burn in the Pesach fire the following night. The types of tradition you feel led to add, should match your own family’s culture and style.  It’s up to you.

Several years ago, we were traveling to a Pesach meal several states away. We got delayed in Kansas City, and had to spend the night before Pesach in a very imperfect motel room. Thankfully, we found a restaurant that was still open. That year our Last Supper was done with eight of us in this dingy dive, eating lasagna on the beds, and washing feet in a tiny bathtub. You gotta do what you gotta do.  Our utmost for His highest always applies. We have tweaked and adjusted our approach for over ten years. The important part is to start somewhere.  Do not despise small beginnings.

I’ll continue in the next post to describe what we do on the night of Pesach itself.  Following that, I’ll do a verse-by-verse breakdown of Exodus 12 where we’ll slowly inspect every element of the original Pesach.  The more we understand and embrace the truth behind the ritual, the more it will have the desired effect of transforming and empowering our lives. 

HalleluYah!  I hope this has been both a blessing and an encouragement to read.

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