--- While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks he
broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said, "Take, eat, this is my
body." And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them,
saying, "Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of
the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I
tell you, from now on I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until
that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." [Matthew,
Today is the commemoration of the Last Supper, the final day before
Jesus began his Passion. The Last Supper was a Passover dinner, of the
sort enjoyed by Jews worldwide during the Passover season today. The
Passover itself commemorates the last of the "plagues" God sent upon the
Egyptians as indications that they were to release the Jews from
bondage: the angelic execution of the firstborn son of every non-Jewish
family in Egypt. The Jews were instructed by Moses to slaughter a lamb
and splash some of the lamb's blood upon their front doors, as a sign to
the angel to "pass over" their household.
Jesus Himself is spoken of as the Paschal Lamb: the ritual sacrifice, in
parallel to older, pre-Christian "scapegoat" practices, for the
expiation of the sins of Mankind. The comparison has points upon which
few commentators bother to touch, in our time.
The first and most obvious is that Jesus, like the lamb sacrificed at
Passover and all the animals ever used as "scapegoats," was entirely
innocent. Throughout His life, He harmed no one. He instructed others in
the ways of truth and righteousness. Never did He condemn any man, not
even those whose sins were obvious and grievous.
The second connects to the practice of sacrifice itself. Human sacrifice
was forbidden by God; this is obvious from Abraham onward, if not from
the story of Cain and Abel. But the unpleasantness of the proposition
that one cannot be absolved of one's sins without bodily suffering --
"No remission without the shedding of blood" -- gave rise to the conceit
that one could delegate one's sufferings to a non-human substitute. All
animal sacrifice as practiced by the Jews had that as its object: the
propitiation of God in the hope that He would refrain from striking the
penitent directly. It was a holdover from earlier, pagan creeds that
believed that the more destructive phenomena of Nature were directed by
a divinity or divinities, out of wrath at those upon whom they were
But God does not coerce. Neither does He punish us in our temporal
lives. Indeed, according to one conception, even our damnation is
self-willed: were we to repent in our moment before Him at the
Particular Judgment, He would accept us with open arms.
The Passion was not "necessary," in Divine terms. "Necessity" does not
apply to God, Who stands outside time. But at the time of Jesus's
ministry on Earth, the minds of men were barely mature enough to grasp
the identity between natural law, as reflected in the nature of Man, and
Divine law, as pronounced to Moses on Mount Sinai and reinforced by
Jesus centuries later. For that reason, the congruence of pattern
between "traditional" blood sacrifices and Jesus's Passion was supremely
useful; the pattern itself, and the expiation associated with it,
resonated irresistibly in the minds of those who learned of it.
Human records describe nothing to compare with the Passion and
Resurrection of Christ. It was, at once, the most terrible and most
glorious time in Mankind's history. And for believing Christians, the
terror and the glory both come alive as we pass from today, through the
horrors of the Crucifixion, the fears of Jesus's disciples as He lay in
the tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea, and the sense of fulfillment
and deliverance His followers knew upon His Resurrection.
May God bless and keep you all.