I started to study the story of the Last Supper, but I found that I couldn’t get past the first verse. Matthew tells us that this event happened on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. Before I got into this study, I had to figure out what the significance of this festival was. What exactly is the Festival of Unleavened Bread? How does it relate to the Last Supper and the first Holy Communion? Here’s what I found.
The Festival of Unleavened Bread was a weeklong holiday commissioned by God in Exodus on the first Passover. He carefully instructed the Israelites how to prepare for their departure from Egypt, and to bake bread with no leaven (aka yeast) because there was no time to wait for the bread to rise, and in remembrance, to do the same thing every year. Get all the yeast out of the house, whatever leftover leavened bread was to be burned up outside the house, and banished for 7 days. (The number 7 in the bible is the number of completion and perfection.)
Traditional Jewish Matzo (Unleavened Bread)
Why was it so important to banish yeast from the house for 7 whole days, and even destroy perfectly good bread? For one thing, it represents sacrifice, and paying respect and thanksgiving to God for rescuing them from slavery. But more importantly, I think, is that yeast in the bible usually symbolizes sin.
“In the Bible, leaven is almost always symbolic of sin. Like leaven which permeates the whole lump of dough, sin will spread in a person, a church or a nation, eventually overwhelming and bringing its participants into its bondage and eventually to death. Romans 6:23 tell us that “the wages of sin is death,” which is God’s judgment for sin, and this is the reason that Christ died—to provide a way out of this judgment for sin if man will repent of his sins, accept Christ as his Passover sacrifice, and have his heart changed so that he can conform his life to what God commands.”
Another mention of yeast is from Jesus’ shortest recorded parable in the book of Matthew.
He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Here Jesus paints the picture that yeast is contagious. Just a small amount of yeast will spread to all the dough. You can’t remove yeast or repair its effects after it has been added to dough. It’s effects are irreparable. Such is sin to our own spirits. Our spirits from birth have been infected with sin, and only God can renew it for us, when we are born again.
As the night goes on, Jesus administers the first communion, telling the disciples to eat the bread, for it is his body which is given up for us. Traditional Jewish matzo (unleavened bread), is beaten and pierced during preparation, in the same way that Jesus was beaten and pierced during the crucifixion.
He goes on to offer also the wine, for it is his blood which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Of course in Exodus, when the plagues came upon Egypt, the blood of the perfect first-born lambs is what saved the Israelite children from death. This blood of salvation is the same blood Jesus offers us as a free gift through faith.
Worth mentioning also, is that unleavened bread was sweeter than leavened bread, because yeast eats up all the sugar, leaving a bitter or sour flavor. Manna, the life-sustaining food that God sent to the wandering Israelites in the desert in Exodus, similarly, was sweet bread. Unleavened bread. The bread of life. Jesus!
The bible never ceases to amaze me. I do plan on studying more about the whole story of the Last Supper. Not sure about you, but the first verse is enough for me to chew on for now! 🙂