This week all around the world evangelical churches will participate in a Sadr feast that conflatesthe Jewish Feast of Passover with Christian Communion. Many will invite representatives of Hebrew Christian ministries to conduct a "CHRIST IN THE SADR," or "CHRIST IN THE PASSOVER" service during Holy Week. They will conduct a Sadr as part of a Maunday Thursday celebration representing the original Lord's Supper as if it was conducted as part of the Passover Sadr.
For several years I pastored a church that had an annual Maunday Thursday service in lieu of a Good Friday service during Holy Week. It was a wonderfully blessed event. Maunday Thursday of Holy Week, celebrates Jesus last meal, which included his instituting the practice of the Lord's Supper. Celebrating it reminds us of deep connection with the Thursday events have with the Covenants. The New Covenant, which the Lord Supper initiates replaces the Old, and the Lord's Supper replaces the Passover with Jesus words, "This is the New Covenant in my blood." Our little Church's reflections and considerations in its Maunday Thursday service was always very moving. It was an important part of the Church's traditions. Like most Church traditions, though, it had some very positive elements that reflected positive values and beliefs, but some of the practices were disconnected from the Biblical account of events that took place in the Upper Room.
A close look at the Biblical account belies any conflation between Communion and the Passover event. The latter replaces the former, rather than adding to it, or completing it. What Christ ate on the Thursday before his death could not have been a Passover Meal. Conflating the two in one event is pouring "new wine into old wine skins." (Mark 2:21 & 22) While I appreciate the passion some Hebrew Christian's have for restoring a respect for our faith's Old Testament and Jewish roots trying to combine the Lord's Supper and the Sadr meal diminishes both.
Many Messianic Jews, especially in the United States, read first century Jewish practicesinto the Upper Room accounts of the gospel, ignoring the way the events were practiced at the time and what the historical account in gospels actually say. Focusing on the Passion accounts in the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke),they assume that the disciples, all Jews, and Jesus, sharing their final meal would have been compelled to eat the Passover meal together before he died.
Yet John's account of the events in the upper room makes no mention of the Lord's Supper. John repeats three times that crucifixion took place on The Day of Preparation, prior to the Passover, (John 19:14, 31, 42).which would have occurred on Saturday following the crucifixion. The Passover did not occur on Maunday Thursday. The disciples, who were not anticipating Jesus death would have been objected to practicing the event on the wrong day. The Jewish authorities did not allow for execution on the high holidays, and insisted that Jesus crucifixion be completed prior to the high holy daily (John 19:31 and 42). The high holy day John references must be Passover. The Synoptics place the Last Supper events on Thursday prior to the Jewish Passover. Upon close examination of the accounts we will see that Communion Jesus served was dissimilar to Passover meal.
A more thorough examination of the 4 gospel accounts as well as the historical record of the way the communion was served in the early church makes clear that the Communion Service was separate and distinct from Passover; it is a new ordinance given by Jesus:
“Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.” (John19: 31) ESV
The Passover is the first feast of a 7 day series of the celebratory feast of the Unleavened Bread, which is actually preceded by a series of preparatory events culminating in the Passover Sadr. Jesus was crucified on Friday,on of the days of Preparation, the next day, the Sabbath (a high day), was Passover. The Upper Room events including the Last Supper had been served the day prior to the crucifixion. The Sadr is the Passover meal eaten on the Sabbath, Saturday, not on Thursday when the Lord's Supper was served. When Jesus serves the Communion he institutes the New Covenant (Matthew 26:26-29), which is a replacement of something old with something new (Mark 2: 22). The Eucharistic Event celebrates the fulfillment of the Law and the completion of the work of the Passover promise (1 Cor 5:7), it replaces the Sadr.
Many Hebrew Christians Congregations and other Hebrew Christian organizations promote the integration of Communion and Passover elements. They believe the Sadr meal has similarities to the meal that took place in the Upper Room on Passover week. Some even publish a Haggadah (Passover liturgical guide) that includes the Communion elements for use in Christian Maunday Thursday services. The church I served used one of these on its annual Maunday Thursday Sadr service. Yet when we observe the chronology of the events that took place in that first Communion, it seems unlikely that the first Lord's Supper was the Passover meal. We can determine from the biblical record when the First Lord's Supper was instituted and when the Passover occurred and what the nature of the meal was that the disciples ate together was. There are more disconnects and dissimilarities then there are points of connection.
The account in the Gospel of Mark (14:12-16) says that on the first day of the Feast his disciples inquired of him where to go "to prepare for him to eat the Passover." (Notice there request concerned preaparing for the Passover). The Lord tells them to go to a street and follow a man with a water jar and to say to him, "The Teacher says, 'Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover.' " The Feast of the Unleavened Bread is a Seven Day event that follows the Passover. The feast days referred to as the Unleavened Bread or Passover were proceeded by several formal days of preparation prior to the final Passover Sadr. Mark's account says they sought a place to participate in these preparatory events. Following these instructions they go to the room for to prepare for the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread.
The disciples had no idea expected to eat the preparatory feast to culminate in their celebrating Passover with the newly inaugurated King of Israel at the beginning of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. The gospel of Matthew records, "The Teacher says, 'My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.' Some of my Hebrew Christian friends point to verse to indicate that Jesus would in fact eat the Sadr meal instead of the e feast of Preparation ahead of the Passover as an announcement of its fulfillment to come, but the language does not require that interpretation.
.The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ (Mark 14:14 ESV). Does the Lord's request to use the house for the Passover imply that he intended to eat the Sadr their? Do his words contradict the view of Luke that Jesus will refrain from the Passover until the Marriage Supper of the Lamb?
When interpreting scripture, especially the record of dialog we have to take into consideration the normal understanding of words at the time the text was written.
The New Testament is written in Koine Greek, the common language. Common language is fluid, when people speak colloquiallthey are often imprecise in their references. Even todayiIn many Christian traditions Christmas is the entire period from the Advent (which begins 4 Sundays prior to Christmas Eve) through Epiphany on January6.When someone says, “I am coming to your house for Christmas," they may use the word "Christmas" to mean anytime during the season. Passover was the most important celebration in the Jewish year. They often spoke of the Passover, generically referencing the entire period through the days of preparation and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. It is possible that this is how Jesus was using the term Passover as recorded by Mark and Matthew. Only a colloquial use of the term makes Jesus' statement consistent with all the gospel materia.
The disciples were commanded to continue thepractice of the Lord's Supper until Jesus returned (when he would eat the Passover with them). The original Lord's Supper was eaten on the day preparation when the lamb was slain in preparation for the passover. The final Lord's supper will be eaten on the day theMarriage Supper of the Lamb when the work of the Lamb is completed, the King is inaugurated to reign forever.
The early church clearly saw a distinction between the Lord's Supper and thePassover. First Century church took the Lord's Supper, on the first day of week, rather than on the Sabbath. There is no historical record either in the New Testament or the centuries following of the Lord's Supper being taken along with the Passover meal either by the Jewish Christiansor the Gentile converts. The way the Supper was practiced in the first congregations appears to be very different from the Sadr meal, or any Jewish meal that was practiced for that matter. There is no historical of theological connection between the Passover and the Lord's Supper outside the gospels. Luke's account of the Lord's supper in both his gospel and acts separate the Lord's Supper from the Sadr.
Matthew and Luke agree that the meal in the Upper Room takes place on “the day of Preparation.” All three synoptics put it prior to the"Feast of the Unleavened Bread.” The Feast of the Unleavened Bread is a seven day long celebration following the Passover Meal (Ex 13:3-6; Leviticus 23: 6-8; Deuteronomy 16:8). The Day of Preparation reminds the celebrants that the Jews did not allow their bread to rise and that they cleaned their houses on the day before the Death Angel passed over their houses. On this day the lamb was slain for preparation at the Sadr on the Sabbath. The Day of Preparation was a feast that occurred one day in advance of the Passover. This appears to be what Jesus instructs his disciples to arrange with the owner of the house," While some still insist that he ate the Sadr meal two days early. It is unlikely.since Jesus said the next time he ate thePassover Sadr, would be athis return.
According to the best understanding of each of the Bible text this is how and when the first communion took place.
1. Matthew and Mark say the supper was during the preparatory feasts prior to the Unleavened Bread. Mark refers to the “first day" of the feast of Preparation for the Passover, while Matthew calls it “the Passover. The Thursday before the "Passover Lamb was slain in the temple court,"which occurred before the Passover Sadr. This Day of Preparation is a separate feast day. It is all part to the holiday season Jews refer to as “Passover.”
2. Luke says the meal occurred on the day "they prepared [for] the Passover," and that Jesus would not eat the Passover meal, the Sadr, until his return to be inaugurated as King over Israel at the marriage supper of the lamb. So it is clear when all three accounts are taken together that the meal in the upper room was the “Day of Preparation" rather than on the Passover.
3. Luke 22: 15 & 16 Jesus explains that while he would like to eat the Sadr with them his redemptive work requires that he suffer before eating the Passover. He says, "I tell you I will not eat it [the Passover meal until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God,” at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. The Passover and the Communion find their fulfillment in the final Marriage Supper of the Lamb only then will they be conflated. (Revelation 19).
The simplest reading of the New Testament record belies the belief that the Lord's Supper was a new form of the Sadr meal. Those Hebrew Christians who claim otherwise often reference Joachim Jeremias book “THE EUCHARISTIC WORDS OF JESUS” where he identifies 14 distinct parallels in the gospel account of The Last Supper with the Sadr. Yet more recent scholarship has shown that the Upper Room meal bore more similarities to common practices of any formal first century Jewish meal. The Sadr Haggadah that he compares to the Upper Room events to are from a Haggadah that was never used before 70AD.It is not a Haggadah that would have been used contemporaneously to Christ.
The early church seemed to intentionally institute a new ordinance entirely. Biblical History Daily, the web-site of the Biblical Archeology Society finds more similarities between the Upper Room Meal and Graeco-Roman mystery rites than with the Jewish Passover as practiced in the First Century.
So the weight of evidence appears to favor that the Lord served the firsts communion on The Day of Preparation, since he was unable to celebrate the Passover Sadr until his suffering was complete, rather than on Passover . The Lord's institution of the Supper distinguishes it from Passover. The Passover represents the age of the Law; the communion instituted the New Covenant, the age of grace. The Lord's Supper is new wine that is not to be poured in oldwine skins, The Passover is the old, shadow of things to come. Jesus is the Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7). So should we conduct a Sadr's to celebrate Maunday Thursday in Holy Week?
Since the themes of Maunday Thursday are similar to those of the Passover; since the Lord's Supper took place in preparation for the Feast of Unleavened Bread the Sadr shares some common theology with Holy Week themes. However, if the event is hosted as an accurate depiction of what the twelve did at the Last Supper, as a Sadr(Lk 16:16), it confuses the relation between law and grace, between the end of the Old Testament and the coming of the New. Combining the Passover and the Communion on a regular annual event diminishes the full rich experience of both events.
The Passover looks back to God's redemption of Israel and his preservation of the nation through the Old Covenant. The Communion recognizes that Jesus fulfills the Passover, and looks forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb where Jesus will eat the Passover and Communion together in celebration of the completed redemptive work of the True Lamb.
Should Christian's celebrate the Passover? Absolutely. The Old Testament is part of our tradition, and we can celebrate any of the Jewish Feasts, celebrating how each one points to the Messiah. (Col 2:16 &17). The Passover is a reflective time of waiting. The communion celebrates a redemption that had been completed but still awaits full consummation. One looks back to the law, the other forward to grace. "Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us." We are no longer prohibited from eating unleavened bread. Jesus fills our hearts and lives with the power of the Passover (John 7: 37- 39). We have no need to wait every year for the occasion of the Passover to know the reality of redemption. He is with us always, so we can celebrate the Lord's Supper at anytime.
So any church Sadr meal presented as a reflection on what God did for his people at the Passover and of his promise of redemption through the Lamb of God is appropriate. One of the reasons to celebrate the Lord's Supper is to regularly recognize that the Passover event is completed, never to be done again (1 Cor5:7). We get rid of the leaven. We are no longer under the obligations of the Law. We engage personally in what the Lamb did for us, and participate in his redemptive work with our brothers and sisters, and at the final feast on the last day the two will be brought together in celebration of the consummated kingdom and fulfilled promise of both Old and New covenants. It is an event the Lord's Supper anticipates. The two celebrations while having similar themes are quite different and I for one would prefer they be kept separate.
But what difference does it make? Loving Christ richly involves understanding doctrine correctly (2 Timothy 1: 13 & 14). Small errors eventually lead to larger ones. It only takes a small hole for the dam to breech fully. The church in the book of Acts and in the early centuries of the faith never combined the Sadr with the Lord's supper. They served it daily and combined it with the Greek love feast. Paul acknowledged the Communion was served after the supper known then as the agape feast (1 Cor 11:20 - 34). Communion celebrates the fact that one covenant had replace another (Hebrews 8:13). What the Old Covenant anticipated in the Sadr, the New covenant initiated. That initiation is celebrated in the Communion (Hebrews 9:11-22). The New Testament is clear: the age of "Law and Prophets" ended with John the Baptist (Luke 16: 14 & 15).
A modern celebration of the Sadr is the equivalent of Thanksgiving Dinner or a Fourth of July barbecue it reminds us of our heritage, but nothing more. The Lord's supper is so much more it call us to repentance and faith and anticipation of his coming. Blending them diminishes the significance of both, which is why the Lord chose not to celebrate Passover with his disciple, until he returns.
In the community where I live several Hebrew Christian ministries sponsor an annual local Sadr. Held in a local High School they serve the Sadr and engage the Communion service with it, teaching people that the combined service is what Jesus and the early church celebrated. While there is much to learn from the Passover, it is not to be conflated with communion. If invited I will politely decline.
Most Christian believe that Jesus rose early Sunday Morning, after Passover, which he had pronounce finished. On that very day he met his followers in the Upper Room (John 20:19- 23). Would there have been any better time of place for Jesus to have set the standard that the two events are to be celebrated together than on that appearance? Jesus does have a post-resurrection meal with his disciples (John 21:9-14), but it appears to have been for fellowship and to have no lasting liturgical significance. On the contrary Jesus was careful to serve the communion on the Day of Preparation prior to his death rather than on the Passover. It is clear that Jesus intentionally kept the Lord's Supper separate from the Sadr meal, and told us the two would not be combined until the marriage Supper of the Lamb. So then why do we combine the two in direct contradiction of Jesus' example, the practice of the early church, and his teaching? The first Lord's Supper could not have been a Sadr meal.