A “Why is this night different from all others?” If you had grown up in a Jewish household, you would probably know the significance of this question. Each year, at each Passover, one of the children at the table would have asked this question of the head of the Passover meal.
On the night of His betrayal (Maundy Thursday), as the Lord Jesus celebrated the last Passover with His disciples, that question would take on a new and more important meaning. Sitting at the table with the disciples that night was the Passover Lamb of God. Soon His blood would be shed as He was punished for the sins of the world. Because of His shed blood, God passes over our sins and spares us from the eternal plague of hell that we deserved.
As the Passover meal that night progressed, Jesus instituted a new meal. This new meal, Jesus ordered, was to be done in remembrance of HIM. While this meal would also have reminders in it, so much more is given than just the historical symbols of the Passover meal. In Holy Communion our Lord gives us HIMSELF.
Paul writes, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16) The Greek word for “communion” means a “sharing” or “partnership.” In Holy Communion, the blood of Christ and the body of Christ come into one with the wine and the bread.
During the Passover meal, the bread that Jesus broke would have been large loaves of flat, unleavened bread. Matthew writes, “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ ” (Matthew 26:26) In Holy Communion, Christ’s body is communing with the bread.
During the Passover meal there were typically three or four different cups of watered-down wine that were shared over the course of the meal. The cup that was passed around at the end of the Passover meal was the “cup of blessing.” It is that last cup that Jesus took after supper. Matthew writes, “Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’ ” (Matthew 26:27-28) In Communion, Christ’s blood communes with the contents of the cup—the wine.
What an amazing gift this is to the communicant! This is the Gospel coming to you personally, one-on-one. Christ Himself comes to each communicant personally saying, “This is My body, given for YOU. . . . This is My blood, shed for YOU. . . . Take and eat . . . take and drink.” At that moment it is just you and your Savior as He communes with you personally giving you His very self. What an amazing blessing and comfort as Jesus gives you personally the very body and blood which He gave on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins!
But there is more “communing” going on in Holy Communion. “For we being many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:17) When you commune in Holy Communion, there is also a union taking place with your fellow communicants. You are saying that Christ has made “the many” of us one with one another. As one, we all believe that we are sinners in need of the Shepherd’s forgiveness. As one, we all say we are members of Christ’s flock. As one, we want to be fed by the Good Shepherd Himself for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith.
Why is this night different from all others? If you didn’t know before, you know now. On the night before the Lord died for you, He instituted a meal where He Himself feeds you with Himself, and we express our oneness with each other. Thanks be to our Savior for His gift of grace and fellowship in Holy Communion!
Nathan Pfeiffer is pastor of Berea Lutheran Church in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.