The Chronological Place of the Lord’s Supper in Connection with the Passover Seder: A Liturgical Argument


Bedikat Chametz

Bedikat Chametz

Some messianic congregations have the custom to commemorate the institution of the Lord’s Supper, which is also called Eucharist (i.e. thanksgiving), on the evening of Bedikat Chametz, which starts on 14 Nisan — or 13 Nisan, if the 14th falls on a Shabbat. This is the evening prior to the Seder. Others celebrate the institution of this Supper at the Passover Seder. Although choosing between these two liturgical and calendrical options may seem complicated, because there’s an ongoing scholarly debate on the question whether the Last Supper was a Passover Seder or not, yet I think that the problem of the commemoration of its institution can be easily solved if one considers the liturgical context of Passover, the feast of the Unleavened Bread (Chag HaMazot) and the Omer count.

While the custom to celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper isn’t based on a direct commandment of Yeshua or the Apostles, it well fits in the entire observance of Passover, and the memorial of our Lord’s death and resurrection which is closely connected to it. On the 10th of Nisan — or the 11th if the 10th happens to be a Shabbat  — we remember Yeshua’s entry into Jerusalem by waiving palm branches during Shacharit. A few days later follows the evening of Bedikat Chametz, which is full of deep messianic symbolism.

At the beginning of halachic ‘night’, we search for chametz by the light of a candle (symbol of the Torah or the word of G’d). We wipe the last crumbs with a dove’s feather (symbol of the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh)) on a wooden spoon (symbol of the Cross), binding them together in a linen cloth (symbolizing Yeshua’s priesthood) and set it aside for the ceremonial burning of chametz (Biur Chametz), the next morning. It seems thus very fitting and reasonable to celebrate the institution of the Supper of Yeshua during or after the Maariv service of this evening.

The next morning, after Shacharit, the collected chametz from the previous night is burned (Biur Chametz, symbol of the crucifixion). The commemoration of Yeshua’s passion, death and burial are concluded with the Minchah service of that same day. Shortly thereafter the solemn celebration of Passover starts with Kabbalat Yom Tov and the Maariv service, which anticipate the Seder.

During the Seder Messiah’s death and passion are mainly considered or remembered for their redemptive results or effects.

This short outline shows that the celebration of the institution of Yeshua’s Supper fits entirely into the observances immediately preceding and anticipating the Passover Seder.

The remembrance of Yeshua’s resurrection is closely connected to this liturgical schedule and starts with an extended Havdalah ceremony after the weekly Shabbat of the Passover week. The day of the resurrection thus always falls on the first Sunday after the 14th of Nisan. That day is the starting point of the Omer count, which lasts until the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) and marks a festive period of fifty consecutive days.

By reason of these considerations the commemoration of the Last Supper should be properly distinguished from the Seder. It simply doesn’t fit liturgically to celebrate its institution during the Seder night, and this is an important indication that it wasn’t instituted in that night, but probably in the night preceding. This in accordance with the chronology of the Gospel of John, which says that Yeshua was crucified on the Preparation Day of the Passover, the day the Passover lambs were slaughtered.

Congregations which celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper at the Passover Seder face the awkward consequence that they have to commemorate Yeshua’s passion and death on 15 Nisan, the feast day of the Unleavened Bread. Doing so, however, heavily conflicts with the mood of this day, which celebrates the Exodus from Egypt and thus the end of Israel’s sufferings. This is an important reason why it should also liturgically mark the end of Messiah’s sufferings. It should be considered incompatible with its atmosphere to commemorate Yeshua’s suffering and death during the Shacharit and Minchah services of the feast day itself. A feast day is not a proper occasion to display a mood of mourning or affliction (cf. Nehemiah 8:9).


1 Response to “The Chronological Place of the Lord’s Supper in Connection with the Passover Seder: A Liturgical Argument”

  1. 1 Preparation for Passover – Belgian Ecclesia Brussel – Leuven Trackback on March 22, 2017 at 5:25 pm

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