A COURSE BY BISHOP SARHAD Y. JAMMO
BETWEEN THE ALTAR AND THE BANQUET
(Wednesday, September 20, 2006; St. Peter Cathedral, El Cajon, California)
I. The Jewish Passover:
As reported in Exodus 12:1-14:”The Lord said to Moses… tell the whole community of Israel…every one of your families must procure for itself a lamb,,, The lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish… the fourteenth day of this month (Nisan), with the whole assembly of Israel present, it shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight… That same night, they should eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs… it is the Passover of the Lord… which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution.”
It is evident that the Passover celebration implies two parts and phases: a) the slaughtering of the paschal lamb in the temple, and b) the eating of that roasted lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs at a family banquet.
a) At the Temple:
At midday (14 Nisan) the trumpet blasts from the pinnacle of the Temple announcing the beginning of the evening sacrifice. Pilgrims gather with their lambs at the Temple gates. Each one would carry on his shoulders his lamb and, in front of the assigned priests, would place his hand upon its head to officially recognize that the offering is his. Then, each one quickly should slice through the neck severing both of the carotid arteries. A priest would catch its blood in a basin, because the “life of the animal” belonged to God. Then, they will proceed to skin the animal, and remove its kidneys with the surrounding fat. The blood with the kidneys and fat will be offered as a sacrifice, immediately after, upon the altar at the Inner Court of the Priests.
b) At the family banquet:
The Pilgrims then, wrapping their lambs in the skins and placing them upon their shoulders, leave the temple and return to each one’s residence. At home, men were charged with the roasting of the lamb, thereafter (15 Nisan’s vigil)), in a family set, they will consume according to a traditional “Seder”, i.e. ceremonial ritual, implying the recitation of blessings and the drinking of several cups of wine, in addition to the consumption of unleavened bread and bitter herbs with the lamb. The greatest obligation to be met before sunset was to be in a state of ritual purity before beginning the supper.
II. Jesus’ Passover and New Covenant:
An exegetical debate remains open regarding which day of the week was Passover day (15 Nisan), was it Friday or Saturday? In the first case, the slaughtering of the lambs should be Thursday, in the latter case, should be Friday. Consequently: which night of the week Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples? Because we know, certainly, that Jesus died on the cross Friday afternoon, we must conclude that he ate the Last Supper on Thursday night (vigil of Friday). But, there is an exegetical problem with John 18, 28 & 19, 31, because according to these texts, on that Friday, Noon time, the Jews/Priests have not yet eaten the Passover!
Consequently, which day of the week was Passover Day of that year? Joseph Stallings (in his book Passover, 1988) offers an interpretation that could be a solution to the apparent conflict between the texts of the Gospels: Jesus ate the last Supper on Thursday evening, the Vigil of Friday 15 Nisan; as to John, when he is talking about the Jews/priests not entering the Court of Pilate to preserve their ritual purity, he is referring to an additional paschal sacrifice, called khaggyga (festive sacrifice, see Nm 28, 16-25) to be offered by the priests the day following the Passover day. Therefore, the death of Jesus on the cross, Friday evening, was concomitant with the offering of khaggyga, the additional priestly sacrifice for Passover.
Anyways, Jesus certainly ate the last supper with his disciples in the context of the Jewish Passover, and in that context he instituted the New Covenant in his blood, being himself “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1, 29 & 36). His body is our New Temple, our new Passover, and our Eucharist. These are the basic features of the new Passover:
- The body of Jesus being broken and then offered to the Father on the cross at Golgotha, Friday evening; thereafter, the same body being resurrected in the third day, leaving behind an empty tomb.
- That body, broken and resurrected for our salvation, is our paschal and Eucharistic meal that we have to celebrate according to the pattern that the Lord showed us: “Do this in memory of me.” The Eucharistic meal is connected theologically and intrinsically to the sacrifice of the Cross and consequential to it. That is: without the altar of Golgotha and the empty tomb, there is no Eucharistic banquet.
Has Jesus eaten with his disciples the paschal roasted lamb with the unleavened bread and bitter herbs?
The exegetical debate remains open in that regard. These are my observations:
a) Jesus did ask his disciples to prepare what was needed for the celebration of Passover. Indeed “…Jesus sent Peter and John, saying ‘Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it’…” (Lk 22,7-13; see also Mk 14,12-21 & Mt 26,17-25 & John 13,1-38).
b) The obvious meaning of “eating Passover” for the Jews must include the roasted lamb and the rest; nothing in the texts directs us to exclude this meaning.
c) Immediately before Passover, “Jesus entered the temple and drove out those engaged in selling and buying there…” (Mt.21,12). For Jesus, the Jewish temple, with its priesthood and sacrifices, was already obsolete; “his body” is the new temple (Jn 2,18-21). Therefore, at the Last Supper, the whole ceremonial of Jewish Passover, celebrating the old covenant, is clearly in the shadow of the New Covenant. In fact, no explicit mention is made in the NT documents of a roasted lamb and the rest at the banquet of Jesus.
III. The Eucharist of the Church:
the Church fulfills the command of the Lord:
a) It renews the offering to the Father of the sacrifice of Lord Jesus, his son and our brother, through the ceremony of the Presentation of the Gifts and the Anaphora.
b) Then, his body is liturgically broken and reunited to his blood, as a preparation to be shared in communion by all his faithful.
The first part is the offering part performed on the altar; the second part is the Eucharistic meal reclaiming the banquet. In between, penitential purification is in order and must be addressed to the Father.
The features of the church building, and the course of the liturgical ceremony, must correspond to this fundamental theological design of the divine worship that the Lord himself has instituted. Therefore, during the Eucharistic service, the first part must be directed to God the Father, the celebrant facing the Cross and the Icon representing the crucified or glorified Jesus. Breaking and Signing is fit to be done facing people, as well as the communion of the faithful obviously.
As far as the didactical part is concerned, the liturgical dynamics are different, therefore we should follow its own flexible movement, which we will explain in due course. Our Chaldean liturgy fulfills this scriptural and theological design marvelously.