The First Supper
“While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said ‘Take eat; this is my body.’ Then as he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins…”
Walking through the Upper Room in Jerusalem was a distinct moment in my pilgrimage to Israel. I remember trying to reconstruct in my head the scene by the genius, and personal favorite, da Vinci. This scene captivates Christians of all denominations, just as it did me on that day in Jerusalem. Catholics and Protestants alike feel a sense of awe by this precursor to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, which established the eternal covenant between Christ and his people for the forgiveness of sins
For centuries, Christians have argued whether the bread and wine are the actual body and blood of Christ or a merely a symbolic gesture. These are two vastly different understandings of the phrase “do this in memory of me.” It seems that we are obligated to admit that the Last Supper holds significant weight for all Christians. Scott Hahn highlights this importance in The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth when he says that, “To hear the Word of God. To receive the Bread of Life. These are profound mysteries; they are incredible gifts; yet they are also mighty commandments. In the Mass, we receive divine life, divine power, more mighty than the greatest forces on the earth.”
This force is the gift of God’s grace. Grace is like electricity, as Hahn describes—use it in the right way, it gives you Truth and Life. It is ultimately up to us to choose life or death; renewal or corrosion—and in the end, it is our own free will that will be judged. For those that believe in this literal meaning of the Last Supper, it is difficult to understand how this is possible, but this is the Beauty of the mystery of faith. We are not meant to understand everything as finite beings—we are meant instead to obey and live with eyes open to God. It is not enough, however, to use this as an excuse for not aiming towards the fullness of understanding, even if we are bound not to get things right, or to not understand things fully. Waiting patiently for his return, we humbly come before Christ’s presence, with all our imperfections, in obedience and reverence. We must be open to his promises and Truth, while being obedient to his commands. One action without the other lacks the full picture of God’s nature and love story to his people.
Partaking in the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist, we unite ourselves to Christ’s death and resurrection in the literal blood and body of Christ. Every time the Mass is performed, those that partake are being brought back to the cross where God has given his life—a renewal of our covenant with him. This covenant is the promise Christ made with us. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31: 31–33). Christ takes on this new responsibility when he is crucified at the Cross. For Catholics, the Catechism calls the memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ the “sum and summary of our faith” (§1327). During communion, partakers are literally united with Christ, while also reflecting on his death and sacrifice on the Cross, his resurrection, and the anticipation of reuniting with him in Heaven.
The symbolic understanding of the bread and wine should not be ignored however. These are indeed fruits of the earth and of human hands. This idea traces back to the Old Covenant gesture of offering these gifts as a sign of recognition to the Creator. We recognize that we are nothing without him--that we are not our own. Further, the bread of the Passover is consumed in remembrance of their freedom from Egypt—a reminder of the covenant God had with his people. At its core, the bread and wine of the Eucharist symbolize the fulfilling of the Old Covenant and the New, establishing a new relationship with all of humanity.
Easter is not just a day, but a season, and as such, it is vital to continuously meditate on the meaning of Christ’s covenant and commandment with a deep-rooted sense of renewal and reverence for Christ’s grace and mercy. Until Christ comes again, we are called to take part in this eternal covenant and listen with our hearts and minds to recognize his eager yearning to be reunited with his people in love.
Cover Photo Taken by Author