7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
1 CORINTHIANS 5:7-8, 10:16-17, 11:23-26
The removal of yeast from the house was a key pre-Passover ritual. Yeast makes bread rise, and Passover bread must be unleavened, like the bread the Israelites ate in Egypt before and after the tenth plague (Exodus 12:8-20, 39). Yeast represents sin, so the home is purged of sin before the meal can commence. There are similarities with the Shrove Tuesday tradition in which unwanted foods are purged from the house by eating or destroying them. Paul therefore uses the same image to encourage the Corinthians to adopt new ways and new beliefs about the hope and glory revealed in Jesus Christ, celebrated at the new paschal festival of Easter.
Then Paul mentions the ‘cup of blessing’: the third of four cups of wine drunk at the Passover. The first cup (‘of sanctification’) starts the meal; the second cup (‘of praise’) comes after questions and answers and teaching about the origins of Passover; the third cup is reminiscent of the blood of the paschal lamb and follows thanksgivings for what has already been consumed. Then the final cup (‘of acceptance’) is blessed and shared. This cup, also sometimes known as ‘the cup of Elijah’, emphasizes the hope of messianic redemption: ‘I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes’ (Malachi 4:5).
At the time of Jesus, the Passover meal began with the dipping of bitter herbs into salty water or vinegar. Then, after the second cup of wine had been drunk, there would have been a ceremonial hand-washing before touching the unleavened bread, which the host broke after having said a prayer of blessing. The first of these blessings would be said over the first cup of wine: ‘Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, who hast created the fruit of the vine.. ,’. The breaking of bread was accompanied by two prayers, one giving thanks for the bread itself and the other giving thanks for the commandment to eat unleavened bread at this time. The fact that it was broken and shared among everyone reminded them that the poor had only broken bread to eat.
This was not the bread of which Jesus said, ‘This is my body’. Later in the meal, ‘after supper’, he took another piece of bread and added a second breaking of bread. The first, prescribed breaking of bread, dipped in bitter herbs, is what was distributed, before Judas left the meal, and was preceded by the first ceremonial washing, when Jesus went so far as to wash not merely his own hands but their feet (see John 13:3). Jesus’ taking of the bread came effectively after the meal was ended, at: the point at which it was traditional to say thanksgiving prayers, rather like a ‘grace’ after a meal.
Jesus therefore pointed the whole event towards himself by adding a second bread breaking, declaring that it was his body, broken for them. While Jesus’ taking of the cup, as Paul calls it, was already part of the Passover meal (it would have been the third cup), the breaking of bread was new. After he had done this, they all sang the traditional final hymn and left (see Matthew 26:30).
Jesus reinvented the Passover by declaring himself the Passover lamb, long-awaited and promised.
Christ our Passover, respond to our poor thanksgivings and offerings of praise with your customary loving kindness, now and always. Amen