St. Mary’s Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
Last night, we began the Sacred Triddum of Easter with the Mass of Maundy Thursday. The theme of yesterday’s celebration was Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. The setting of the Last Supper in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is during great Jewish festival of the Passover which celebrates the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt. In the synoptic gospels, the Passion and death of Christ happen after Passover. In the gospel of John, however, the Last Supper is not presented as a Passover meal, and the timeline is moved up a bit. The Last Supper happens on the night before he dies, and Christ’s passion and death are set during the Passover. Scholars debate the precise reason for this apparent chronological discrepancy, but in any case, in St. John’s gospel, Jesus dies during the sacrificing of the lambs in the temple.
As we heard in last night’s reading from the book of Exodus, at Passover, the Hebrews were to slaughter a lamb, smear some of its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses, and then eat the lamb. When God passed through the land to slay the first-born sons of the Egyptians, he would pass by the Israelites’ houses and spare their first-born sons, delivering them from death by the blood of the lamb.
This sacrificing business was a bloody, gruesome affair. Last night, I had the privilege of singing in the choir, and during the reading of that passage from Exodus, when the stuff about the smearing of the blood and the way the lamb was to be roasted and eaten were described in gory detail, several of the choristers developed a slight look of disgust on their faces – well, disgust and maybe a little giggling.
And yet here we are on Good Friday, face to face with the bloody, gruesome death of Our Savior. In his passion narrative, John gives two connections between Jesus’ death and the Passover.
Right before his death on the cross, Our Lord says, “I am thirsty.” His friends put a sponge full of wine on a branch of hyssop and hold it to his mouth. The hyssop branch was readily available because hyssop was used at Passover to smear the blood of the Passover lamb on the lintel and doorposts of the Hebrews’ houses and was used ceremonially in the temple during Jesus’ day. And just after the passage we heard, the solders broke the legs of the other two men crucified next to Jesus to speed up their death. But by the time they got to Jesus, they saw he was already dead and saw no need to break his legs. John explains that this occurred “so that the Scripture might be filled, “None of his bones shall be broken,”” a reference back to the Passover instructions not to break any of the Paschal Lamb’s bones.
The parallel is poignant: Jesus hangs on the cross at the same time that the Paschal lambs are being slaughtered in the temple. Once a meal to connect the Hebrews to their covenant with God, Jesus made the Passover lamb into the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Jesus’ death on the cross would accomplish once and for all what the blood of thousands of lambs could never do. Jesus was the perfect Passover lamb who ended the need for animal sacrifices and changed the meaning of the Passover itself.
While the Passover lamb itself was not for the atoning of sins, the sacrificial system of Judaism included the sin offerings of goats and lambs and bulls and doves. In these rituals, the life of the animal was given as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people.
On that cross, by his blood, Jesus did away with the need for animal sacrifices. Jesus is truly the Lamb of God, the ultimate Passover sacrifice.
The Church talks about the Eucharist as a bloodless sacrifice. Yes, we believe the consecrated wine is Christ’s precious blood, but none of us believe that we are drinking human blood. I think tawny port has a more pleasant taste than blood. But the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross was a bloody, gruesome affair and involved real human flesh and blood.
Why did God send his own son to die for us? Why the need for all this blood? While there are many atonement theories and just as many criticisms of each of them, there is no getting around the fact that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was a sacrificial atonement for our sins.
The first bit of Eucharistic Prayer 1 in our prayer book sums up the whole affair quite nicely. The Celebrant prays,
All glory be to thee, O Lord our God, for that thou didst create heaven and earth, and didst make us in thine own image; and, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to take our nature upon him, and to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption. He made there a full and perfect sacrifice for the whole world;
Just after Jesus received the wine on that branch of hyssop, recalling the blood of the Paschal Lamb on the lintel and doorposts at Passover, Jesus said, ““It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
Dear friend, Jesus is the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world. We sing or say these words at Mass to signify the end of the consecration of the elements and that Christ is truly present in the consecrated bread and wine. In other words, “It is finished.” At every Eucharist, we celebrate the Passover anew in our own day and time, renewing our covenant with God, and continuing a perpetual memory of Jesus’s death on the cross for our sins. As we receive his body and blood into our own bodies, we renew our commitment to Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, who, in the words of our post-communion hymn, “died that we might be forgiven, he died to make us good, that we might go at last to heaven, saved by his precious blood.” Amen.
 NRSV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, 1864.
 Ibid 1869.
 John 19:36.
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St. Mary's is a parish of the Diocese of West Missouri, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion.