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Rotation.org Writing Team
Last Supper ~ Lord Supper
Bible Background and Lesson Objectives
Primary Bible Story: Matthew 26:17-30
Exodus 12:1-42 The Passover
John 13:1-30 Jesus washes the disciple's feet.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 Paul repeats Jesus' "words of institution."
“Do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19d (NRSV)
"Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Matthew 26: 26-28 (NRSV)
How's your memory?
All four Gospels include the story of the Last Supper, but there are interesting differences which if you're not aware of, may surprise you and some of your older students. We have chosen Matthew's version as the "go-to" text, but it isn't the only one that the lessons will reference. Check out this website for a side-by-side comparison.
More about the Gospel differences
Jesus' "words of institution" about the cup and bread are some of the most quoted words in Christian worship, yet none of the four Gospels have exactly the same words. In Matthew 26:26 and Mark 14:22, Jesus says, "Take, eat: this is my body." Luke 22:19 adds the familiar words, "which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me." Luke also adds some other words which complicate the reading for children, and John adds an entire speech(!) — which is why neither of those two Gospels has been chosen as the primary text for this lesson set.
About the cup, Mark writes that Jesus said, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many" (14:24). To which Matthew adds (in 26:28) "for the remission of sins." (You can always count on Matthew to add explanation.) Whereas, Luke writes, "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you" (22:20, KJV).
Complicating our scripture choice and likely confounding a few memories, are the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, what are considered the EARLIEST version of the words of institution: "...and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Notice Paul doesn't use the words "take, eat" as the Gospels do.) In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Paul wrote these words some 25 years before Mark and Matthew wrote their accounts, and Luke seems to echo them.
People have spent their lives divining the differences. The differences tell us that, thankfully, the early Church was not obsessed with harmonization, and saw the teaching merit in each account. These differences also serve to remind us that the Gospel is a LIVING thing, and not merely words on a page, or tied to a particular way of doing or saying something. Jesus is remembered and revealed to us like sunlight bursting through a crystal. Every time we celebrate Jesus' words with bread and cup, we can experience a living presence and new insights.
Like the cross itself, the Last Supper stands between two worlds. It roots us in a past event that was boldly telling us what to look for in the future: God's Messiah. And then it reveals that Messiah to be Jesus. Then repeated, the Last Supper becomes the First of Many Suppers in his Kingdom come.
After completing this Rotation of lessons, participants will be able to:
- Retell the story in their own words: how Jesus celebrated a special last meal, a Passover Seder, with his disciples before his crucifixion.
- Discover that during this meal, now known as the “Last Supper,” Jesus gave new meaning to bread and wine and instituted what we today know as “Communion” or, "The Eucharist."
- Recognize that we celebrate Communion to remember what Jesus did for us, and what Jesus wants us to do in response.
This set includes a Passover Seder Workshop which helps connect the meaning of the Lord's Supper to the ritual meaning of the Passover meal which Jesus was celebrating with his disciples. The Computer Workshop also reinforces this connection.
This set also includes "suggestions" for a Communion Workshop to help your student learn more about your denomination and church's understanding and practice of the Lord's Supper.
More Bible Background for Your Teaching
Remember What? The Last Supper is a New Testament story based on an Old Testament event that God commanded the Israelites to remember. In Exodus 12, Numbers 9, Leviticus 23 (among other places) God tells Moses, "Let the children of Israel celebrate the passover at its set time."
But as Jesus often did, he took the "old" and gave it new meaning.
Our story begins with “the day of Unleavened Bread,” also known as Passover. Jesus and his disciples were devout Jews who celebrated all of the Jewish customs and feasts. Passover was one of the most important, as well as one of the oldest, Jewish festivals.
The first Passover began when God hearing the cries of his people who were suffering as slaves in Egypt. God sends Moses to Pharaoh with the words, “Let my people go,” and as expected, Pharaoh said no, until a series of plagues convinced him otherwise. The final plague was especially terrible. All first-born sons in Egypt would die, except those who's doorposts were marked with the Blood of the Lamb.
God’s instructs Moses and the people to remember this "Passover" every year. "This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord" (Exodus 12:14). Over the next thousand years, the festival became codified by rules and rituals,
...and then along came Jesus, AUDACIOUSLY re-directing the meaning of 1000 year old Old Testament feast.
Jesus' Last Supper words were rooted in the ritual meal of the Passover, but given new meaning by Jesus on the eve of his atoning death. Post-resurrection, his words and action rose and revealed their significance and meaning to his disciples -becoming the central act of their worship together.
- The lamb's body (offering) became his body. This is me. I'm am the offering.
- The lamb's blood (taking away sin) became his blood. This is my blood, a new covenant, a new promise of salvation.
- This time, God's response to the people's cry was a child in the manger. Jesus would become the lamb's blood that saves, the bread that sustains in the wilderness.
- Take, eat, I am with you. I will sustain you. I am your Bread of Life.
- The Passover Cup of Passover, ---the Elijah's Cup which also symbolized the coming of the Messiah, became not only a sign of blessing "for the forgiveness of sins," according to Matthew 26:28, but a Cup of Joy shared with the resurrected Christ.
This is my body, my blood,
This is my grace, my joy, ...for you.
The Gospels record Jesus celebrating many meals and banquets during his life, at his resurrection (Emmaus, for example), and after his resurrection. Those meal stories began to help shape our understanding of the Lord's Supper celebration which grew out of the Last Supper event.
More than just a Passover or "Last" Supper, the early church experienced "communion" with Christ's spirit and with each other. The meal became a manifestation of Christ's presence and a source of comfort and strength for his followers, especially those being persecuted for giving their allegiance to Christ.
The word "Sacrament" comes from the Latin (Roman) "sacramentum" — which is most often used to describe an oath of loyalty. And indeed, taking part in the Lord's Supper became one of the prime ways believers expressed their identity, ...which wasn't always a safe thing to do in the Roman Empire. The Lord's Supper was also a way to evangelize new Christians — inviting them into the mystery of Communion with a God who cared deeply and personally for them.
The Sacrament is known by several names, each name revealing something about Church history and different understandings of the Lord's Supper.
- Eucharist: from the Greek word eucharisteo meaning “to thank.” Reminds us that giving thanks to God for his mercies and grace is part of the meal.
- The breaking of bread (Acts 2:42): We receive strength to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. Our faith is nourished and strengthened every time we partake of Communion.
- Communion: From the Greek word koinonia meaning "fellowship" with an emphasis on community. Everyone partaking of Communion is united by the Holy Spirit.
- The Lord’s Supper: Reminding us that Jesus is the one who initiated the sacrament and he does the inviting to the table, offering us forgiveness of our sins. We experience his presence with us as we meet him at this holy meal.
Your denominational view on Communion
The Christian Church has long held differing views on how Christ is present in the sacrament of Communion, and can you blame them? The scriptures are diverse, and the meanings deep, though today we are in closer agreement than ever before. A Roman Catholic understanding (called "transubstantiation") teaches that, while the outward appearance of the bread and wine do not change, the internal reality does; the bread and wine are actually transformed into the body and blood of Christ. Most Protestants believe the change is symbolic. Still others, look past the relics of Old Testament language, towards the Wedding Feast and Great Banquet as interpreters of Jesus' intentions and vision.
United Methodist Theologian J.B. Phillips notes the truth that humbles every honest discussion about the Lord's Supper: "We affirm the reality of Christ’s presence, although we do not claim to be able to explain it fully.”
We encourage all teachers to become familiar with your church's viewpoint on Communion.
Written by Rotation.org Writing Team
Jaymie Derden, Carol Hulbert, and Neil MacQueen