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Passover the Evolution of Eucharist

What has come to be known as the "Last Supper" was actually the celebration of a Hebrew Feast over a meal. As a Torah observant Hebrew, Yeshua was celebrating the Hebrew Feast of Pesach (changed to the English, Passover). The use of the unleavened bread (Hebrew matzah) and wine did not originate with the Messiah at the Last Supper. Hebrews have been celebrating Passover in this manner for thousands of years. It is called a Seder and is a full course meal. Accompanying and on the heels of Pesach is the Feast of Unleavened Bread, in which no food with leaven is permitted. Leavening is a fermenting process in which yeast turns the food sour. The rules of leavening apply to food prepared out of any of the five kinds of grain; barley, wheat, rye, oats, and spelt. Although wine is fermented, it doesn't enter into the category of leaven because it is not made from one of these five types.

The unleavened bread, "striped and pierced" is called the "bread of affliction" and is used to call to remembrance the redemption, the salvation, of the children of Israel by YHVH out of the bondage of slavery to Egypt. When the bread is eaten during the Passover meal, the host breaks the bread and says effectually, "This is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in want come and celebrate Pesach with us. May it be the will of Elohim to redeem us from all evil and from all bondage." It was at the serving of this bread to His disciples that Yeshua gave a new significance to the broken unleavened bread when He said, "this is my body broken for you" (speaking of what was to result from His Resurrection) with the admonition that as often as they partake of it (His Body), to do so remembering how He did it with them. This is what the apostle Sha'ul (Paul) was referring to in ridding ourselves (the members of His Body) of the leaven of sin in their life because it only takes a little leaven to corrupt the whole loaf, the whole Body (1Corinthians 5:6-8, Galatians 5:9, 1Corinthians 10:15-17).

During the Seder (the meal itself), each participant drinks four cups of wine to recall the four expressions of redemption mentioned in (Exodus 6:6-7). Elohim instructs Moshe to tell the people of Israel, "I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians and I will rid you from under their bondage, I will redeem you with a stretched out arm and with great judgments: and I will take you to Me for a people and I will be to you Elohim." The four cups at the Seder represent these four expressions of redemption - bring, deliver, redeem and take. The first cup is called the cup of sanctification; the second, the cup of judgment; the third, the cup of redemption; and the fourth, the cup of the kingdom. We know Yeshua took the third cup because the gospels say "after supper He took the cup" and the cup of redemption (or salvation) is the one served after supper. At this point the people celebrating Pesach say (in part), "I will take the chalice of salvation, and I will call upon the Name of YaHoVeH." It was at the serving of this cup that Yeshua said "this is my blood shed for you." At the fourth cup He said He would not drink of it again until He was together with them at the coming of the Father's Kingdom. The Kingdom of Romans 14:17 fulfilled by the indwelling of ruach hakodesh (the spirit of holiness) in the hearts of His Body of Believers.

How communion became what is practiced today was a slow process, evolving over thousands of years. A rather dominant part of original apostolic teaching that few believers would think of today is that it centered around a meal. That's right, as a natural continuation of the Last Pesach Seder - it was a meal! Yet, within a century or so after the Resurrection, this important part of apostolic teaching totally disappeared. There is a well-known reference in Jude, where he refers to those who are "spots in your 'love feasts', while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves" (Jude 1:12-13). Here Jude uses the Greek word agape to refer to what is commonly known today as the "love feast" What is rather amazing is that nearly all biblical and patristic scholars, catholic and Protestant, liberal and conservative alike, are agreed on this singular matter - that the early church expression of Communion consisted of the "love feast" (2Peter 2:13). Even after the death of the apostles, the pre-Nicene Body of Believers continued to practice the Agape or love feast.

Passover In the early assemblies, communion (the meal) was presided over by the apostles, and later by people trained by the apostles (called "bishops" or "deacons" meaning "shepherds" or "servants", not "church hierarchy"). Also in the early assemblies, the people met in private homes. Buildings dedicated exclusively to worship were non-existent until the political conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 300s AD. The Agape began as a meal at which not only bread and wine but all kinds of foods were brought from individual's homes, spread out communally as a meal which had the double purpose of satisfying hunger and thirst but, also giving expression to the sense of being One as Yeshua had spoken of at the Last Pesach Seder. Over the centuries, it evolved into a separate event where, at the end of this feast, bread and wine were taken in strict accordance to the Messiah's words and after thanksgiving to Elohim were eaten and drunk in remembrance of "Christ" as a special means of communion with the Lord Himself and through Him with one another. The Eucharist thus became related to the Agape as a Christian rite grafted upon it. The Agape then began to precede and lead up to the Eucharist, eventually becoming quite distinct from it.

It has been strongly argued by scholars that in the early age the Lord's Supper was not distinguished from the Agape, but that the Agape itself from beginning to end was the Lord's Supper. While Paul makes it quite evident that bread and wine were the only elements of the memorial rite used by Yeshua (1Corinthians 11:23-29), the abuses which had come to prevail at the gatherings of the Corinthian church would have been impossible in the case of a meal consisting only of bread and wine (compare 1Corinthians 11:21, 1Corinthians 11:33). Moreover, unless the Eucharist had been discriminated from the common meal at the beginning, it would be difficult to explain how at a later period the two could be found diverging from each other so completely. Thus, the Eucharist ritual became an event unto itself.

Once meeting in church buildings began, communion moved to the church buildings as well - but by the 300's AD many generations had come and gone and something like the hierarchy of the Catholic Church was beginning to emerge. The words of the mass as we know it was also pretty much in place by then. (Note it wasn't "Roman Catholic" - at this point the "Catholic" church still meant "worldwide" and there were five large churches that were sort of the "leaders of the pack": Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Hippo. Hippo was overrun by invaders as its last bishop, the great theologian Augustine, lay dying, and its church is no more. The other four still survive to this day: the Jerusalem Church, the Coptic Catholic Church (Alexandria), the Eastern Orthodox Church (Constantinople) and the Roman Catholic Church. All four have essentially the same communion service, with only slight variations (although they do not consider them slight).

In the early gatherings, the apostles gave themselves to prayer and the deacons were chosen to help serve. The idea was that these folks were "the servants of the servants of God" (which is now one of the Pope"s titles). Over time, humanity being what it is, these became treated as positions of authority rather than servitude, then positions of power, then positions of state (!) and by the Middle Ages these posts were actually being bought and sold. The priests and bishops became keepers of what had now become called "the sacraments", and if you didn't behave like they deemed appropriate, you would be excommunicated, that is, prevented from taking the sacraments, and yes they actually believed this meant "cut off from God". (What a thing to hold over somebody's head!).

At some point, the doctrine of transubstantiation comes into play. This is a doctrine that evolved over time, and was not universally taught for at least the first 5 centuries or so. If you believe that the bread and wine actually become the physical body and blood of Jesus, it is necessary to have a priest to say the proper words and perform the proper actions. This meant that communion had to be "guarded and set apart" thus further reinforcing the necessity of the ritual becoming elite.

After the Protestant reformation, these last two points no longer become huge issues for Protestants, but you still have 1400 years of church tradition to deal with plus the Reformers took the scriptures quite seriously when they say that anyone who eats and drinks the sacrament unworthily eats and drinks judgment on themselves. So in all but the most "free" of Protestant denominations, only ordained clergy may do communion - sort of a spiritual safety net. Most Protestant churches, in some fashion or another, allow lay people to serve communion that has been blessed by ordained clergy.

Finally, the early believers, taking their cue from "This is the bread of affliction" which was broken by Yeshua, saw communion as a celebration. It was a time to remember that YHVH through Yeshua broke the chains of our affliction, and brought us redemption and freedom. It was not, as so many assemblies today teach, a somber time to remember our sins and His death. While not ever wanting to forget His sacrifice, it would serve us well to recapture the early believer's approach to Communion.