Since the time of Moses there had been nearly 1500 annual Passovers when Jewish people had gathered to remember God’s deliverance and promises. The disciples of Jesus had attended many Passovers throughout their lives. This was as familiar to them as Christmas or Thanksgiving is to us. Year in, year out as they had gathered in families or in groups of friends, they had heard the story of the Exodus retold, they had tasted the bitter herbs, the reminder of the afflictions in captivity, they had eaten the Passover lamb together, remembering how the Angel of Death had passed over the households with the blood on the lintels.
Over the centuries, small changes had crept into the Passover traditions. By the time of Jesus, people no longer stood to eat the meal, as their ancestors had done, but reclined on couches – after the custom of their day. By the time of Jesus it had become customary to sing some of the great psalms of David after the Passover meal, particularly psalms like Psalm 114 celebrating the Exodus. It was also usual to set aside one of the three pieces of unleavened bread and one of the four cups of wine on the table for ‘the Messiah’ or ‘Elijah’ – God’s promised Anointed One, whose coming at a Passover would herald the redemption of God’s people.
For centuries, at every Passover, every year, in every household in Israel, one piece of bread and one cup of wine would remain untouched, waiting for the Promised One. At every Passover each of the disciples had ever attended, they had seen that bread and that wine reverently removed at the end of the meal, for the Messiah had not yet come. For hundreds of years, in hundreds of thousands of households, in millions of Passover gatherings, these elements had been left untouched.
Imagine then, the disciples’ consternation when, at this Passover, after supper, Jesus took the bread – the bread set aside for the Messiah of God – and then, He took the cup, Elijah’s cup. For these Jewish boys, hardly anything Jesus had said or done, in three miraculous years they had spent with Him, could have made the point so dramatically, that the Messiah was now in their midst. After centuries of waiting, He was there, showing Himself at a Passover – at the table prepared in anticipation of His coming. The revelation no doubt shook the disciples to their cores!
For, no matter how long we have followed Jesus, when we catch a glimpse of who He truly is, it turns our comfortable worldview upside down and shatters our complacency. We live most of the time as though the world we see, hear and touch is the only reality: When Jesus breaks into it – we, like the disciples, are stunned. Such tiny glimpses of glory, which we sometimes get at communion, are not given to us simply to stir or entertain us. They are given to inspire and transform us.
For once we see Jesus, we see everything in its true perspective.