There is an integral correspondence between the Christian Lord’s Supper and the Israelite Passover. Like the Passover, the Lord’s Supper is a joyful reaffirmation of the covenant. And like Passover, it recalls the Lord’s great act in the deliverance of a people. But the Lord’s Supper also points ahead to the ultimate destiny of Christians: freedom in the presence of God.
The Lord’s Supper, as instituted by Jesus Christ and elaborated in the Epistles, has its roots in the ancient rite of covenant, a practice that predates Abraham. Indeed, the covenant forms the basic structure of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel and is, for this reason, the underlying motif for the establishment of Christ’s relationship with the new people of God.
Protestants commonly use the term Lord’s Supper for the act of worship that centers on the table of the Lord. The Lord’s Supper originated with Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, in the context of the Passover, and shares with the Passover the theme of the Lord’s deliverance of Israel. As interpreted in the Gospels and by Paul, the Lord’s Supper is symbolic of Christ’s death, a memorial that places the worshiper at the Cross. It is the ratification of the covenant between the Lord and the people of God, an emblem of the communion or mutual participation of all members of the body of Christ. The Supper is a proclamation of the gospel and a symbol of faith in Christ.
Emerging from its Judaic background, the Christian church did not continue the observance of the festivals of Israelite worship but developed a liturgical calendar of its own, based principally on major events in the life of Christ.
The three major Jewish feasts are associated with three annual harvests; historically each involved the return of a portion of the harvest to the Lord. These offerings symbolized the reasons for the feast itself: God is the source of the fruits of the earth; God’s gifts of produce are for the sustenance and comfort of the people; and because God gives freely, the worshipers must do the same, sharing their benefits with the needy.
Three national festivals were celebrated yearly in the temple: Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths.
Though the New Testament does not give any detailed information on the structure of the first Christian services, it leaves little room for doubt concerning the basic elements of primitive worship: prayer, praise, confession of sin, confession of faith, Scripture reading and preaching, the Lord’s Supper, and the collection. Early descriptions of Christian worship, such as that in Justin’s Apology, reveal a close similarity to the practice of the synagogue. Even without the synagogue model, however, the fundamental elements would surely have found a place, and distinctive Christian features would have their own origin.
Biblical men and women experienced the Lord as a dynamic God known through his interaction with them in the course of history. It is fitting, therefore, that much of the symbolism of biblical worship consists of physical actions that direct people beyond themselves to spiritual realities.
The New Testament records a number of occasions on which Jesus, the apostles, or the early Christians are found taking part in Jewish festivals or other acts of worship. The accounts of these events involve terminology descriptive of Jewish worship.
The way Christians keep time is a way of remembering. In communal worship, we remember and celebrate the events that make us who we are. Consequently, the celebration of the Christian year forms us into Christ’s body in the world.