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Historic Jesus
Passover Meal

By the time of the first century, rabbinic traditions had modified the ritual for the celebration of the family Passover meal from that set forth in Exodus 12. People gathered for the meal in the evening before sundown, and reclined on couches or mats around a low table. The head of the household, or chief celebrant, blessed the cup and the wine, which he and the others drank. Then they all washed their hands, again reciting a special blessing. The table was set out with the lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and Haroseth (a special sauce made of dates, figs, raisins, and vinegar, reminiscent of the mortar used in building with mud bricks in Egypt)

The head of the table dipped some of the bitter herbs in the Haroseth and ate them; then all the others did the same. The dishes were taken off the table and a cup of wine filled. After traditional questions about the meaning of the meal were asked and answered, the cup of wine was passed and drunk by all. The dishes were then returned to the table and the head of the household spoke a blessing over the meal; group singing of Psalms 113 and 114, part of the Hallel, followed. Then the celebrants washed their hands a second time with another blessing, and, saying a prayer of thanksgiving the head of the table broke one of the two loaves of unleavened bread and passed pieces around to all assembled. They dipped the pieces of bread in the Haroseth ("sop") and ate them. Then they ate the lamb with the rest of the bread, and passed a third cup of wine called the "cup of blessing." When this was drunk, a fourth cup of wine was passed, and the group sang Psalms 115-118, the remainder of the Hallel, and recited some prayers. The fourth cup of wine was called the "cup of Hallel."

In comparing this traditional first-century Passover meal with the meal Jesus had in the upper room with his disciples, one can identify the first distribution of the cup (Luke 22.17), dipping the sop John 13.26), a period of time between distributing the bread and passing the cup (Luke 22.19, 20), and singing a hymn at the close of the meal (Matt. 26.30).

Jesus, a devout Jew, used the traditional elements of the Passover meal to show his disciples how he was himself the fulfillment of the Passover. His disciples recorded those elements that he filled with new meaning; they have become the essential elements of the Christian celebration of the Lord's Supper, or communion.