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Passover and Last Supper


Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist (Qurbana) while he celebrated the Passover with his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem. So, we need to understand the Last Supper against the background of the Jewish Passover. The Israelites celebrated the Passover, one of the three pilgrim feasts, in Jerusalem (Lev 23:4-14, Deut 16:1-8). They sacrificed a lamb in the Temple and took its meat home to eat as a part of the Passover meal. They followed Seder, which means an “order” for the procedure of the Paschal feast. This procedure has 15 steps with prayers given in a book known as Haggadah, the ‘15’ corresponding with the 15th day of Nissan when the Passover starts or the 15 semi- circular steps from the Court of Women to the Court of Israel in the Temple. Levites sang the fifteen “Psalms of the Steps” (Ps 120-134 of Degrees or Ascents) with musical instruments there.


Step 1- Kadeish (Sanctification): The head of the family who sits in the place of honour would take the first of the four wine cups and fill it with wine mixed with water (grape juice for children) and pronounce a thanksgiving over it. He would taste it first and then pass it to all present. The four cups of wine stand for the four “I will,” in Exodus 6:6-7: “I will free you from the burden of the Egyptians (The Cup of Sanctification) and I will deliver you from their bondage (The Cup of Deliverance); I will redeem you with the blows of my powerful hand and my mighty acts of judgement (The Cup of Redemption). I will take you for my people and I will be your God (The Cup of Restoration); you will realize that I am the LORD your God who delivered you from the burden of the Egyptians” (Ex 6:6-7).

Step 2- Urchatz (Washing of Hands): Participants wash their hands by pouring water on the right hand three times and then the left hand three times to prepare for eating the herbs dipped in saltwater. This was necessary because they were eating without using utensils and cutlery like the spoon and fork.

Step 3 – Karpas or Bitter Herbs (parsley): People eat karpas after dipping it in saltwater. The vegetable is symbolic of the Israelites’ poor background, and the saltwater represents their tears shed in Egypt during slavery and throughout their history. The saltwater also reminds them of the crossing of the Red Sea with God’s providence while leaving Egypt. Then they pour wine into the second cup.

Step 4 – Yachatz (Breaking of middle matzo bread): The family places three loaves of matzo bread in three pockets of matzo cover. Matzo bread is an unleavened flatbread with stripes and piercings on it, symbolic of the scourging and nailing of the Messiah according to the Christian interpretation. These three loaves of bread, according to the Christian interpretation, stand for the Most Holy Trinity. The head of the family breaks the middle bread standing for the Messiah into two pieces, as a reminder of the breaking of the body of Christ for our sins. The leader returns the smaller piece symbolic of the “bread of affliction” to the pocket and keeps the larger one representing Pesach Sacrifice in a hidden place in another cover. For Christians, this stands for the burial of Jesus.

Step 5 – Magid (Storytelling) of Exodus from Egypt as a question-answer session. The youngest son, or the least significant person, would ask four questions about why that night differs from the banquet of other nights. The head of the family would give answers and clarify the significance of the special food items. Participants then drink the second cup of wine. They then recite the first half of the Hallel, Psalm 113-114.

Step 6 – Rachtzah (Second hand-washing): The participants wash their hands a second time with a blessing to prepare for eating the matzah, the unleavened bread. The family then serve the Paschal Lamb, charoseth (a paste of nuts and fruits) with vegetables, and two of the unleavened bread wafers.

Step 7 – Motzi: The blessing for bread holding the remaining matzah bread.

Step 8 – Matzah (Unleavened Bread): Everyone eats a part of the top and the middle matzah. They lean to the left when they eat.

Step 9 – Maror (Bitter Herbs): The participants eat bitter vegetable-like raw horseradish or romaine lettuce after reciting a blessing over it. Bitter Herbs remind them of the bitterness of slavery. They dip the bitter herb in charoset, a sweet dark-coloured paste made from mixing apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine. They signify the mortar Israelites used for the construction work in Egypt during their slavery.

Step 10 – Koresh (Matzah Sandwich): The participants fill two pieces of Matzah with Maror and Romaine lettuce. They recite a special prayer and eat the Koresh while leaning to the left.

Step 11 – Shulchan Orech (Dinner): The head of the family cuts the Pascal lamb into pieces and gives a part to each family member with unleavened bread and bitter herbs dipped in sauce.

Step 12 – Tzafun / Afikoman (Half-piece Matzo bread): The head of the family asks children to find the piece of matzah bread that he hid earlier. Its finding, according to Christian interpretation, represents the resurrection of Jesus. Once recovered, they break that into pieces and eat, saying, “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in Egypt” (Ex 13:3). At this moment, Jesus established the Holy Eucharist using the Afikoman bread. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body’” (Mt 26:26).

Step 13 – Barech (The Cup of Redemption): The head of the family then serves the third cup of wine, saying a blessing over the cup. All the participants share it. Jesus instituted the second part of the Holy Eucharist at this part of the Passover observance. “Then he took a cup and gave thanks, and passed it to them saying, ‘Drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Mt 26:27- 28). Jesus and his apostles left the room at this instant for the Garden of Gethsemane at this instant. The rest of the Passover continued through his sacrifice as the Lamb of God on the Cross. Then the participants pour wine into the fourth cup. They set aside an additional cup for the prophet Elijah, who would announce the Messiah on a Pesach day. Then one of them opens a door to invite the prophet into the house.

Step 14 – Hallel (Praises): The participants recite the rest of the Psalms (Hallel) (Ps 115-118) followed by a blessing over the fourth cup of wine and drink it. Jesus considered the fourth cup as his suffering, and prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is your will, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). However, Jesus accepted and tasted this fourth cup when he was on the cross.

Step 15 – Nirtzah (Closing): The Passover concludes with the utterance of the words, “It is finished” and with the prayer of hope, “Next Year in Jerusalem” in anticipation of celebration the Pesach the following year in Jerusalem with the Messiah. Jesus also said, “It is finished” after tasting the fourth cup on the cross just before his death.


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