‘This Is My Blood — Shed For You’ — A Holy Week Reflection

Written by Wes Walker on April 14, 2022

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For Christians who follow the liturgical Church calendar, we are fast approaching Easter Sunday. But before we turn our attention to the celebration of Easter morning, we remind ourselves of the days that led up to it.

Maundy Thursday is the day we remember Jesus sharing the Last Supper with his disciples, not long before His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemene.

It was also the night He spoke those words so central to Christian faith and practice:

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”– Matthew 26:26-29

It is recounted in each of the synoptic gospels with a subtle variation in how each gospel writer frames his account when reframing it in the Greek retelling of events:

Here’s Mark.

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” — Mark 14:22-25

And Luke.

When the hour had come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. —Luke 22:14-20

The obvious inference here is that Jesus was instituting a sacrament that the Church has celebrated ever since, remembering and commemorating the events that would happen in the days that follow.

In making it into a sacrament to be repeated, Christ was explicitly elevating the events that followed to a central place in our thinking of why Jesus came… one even more primary than the many good moral lessons He had delivered to His followers about how one must live.

Because Christ’s intent was never to merely deliver a higher moral code. He was accomplishing a mission. He was doing what we could not. That mission is revealed in the words He used to institute the sacrament that we still follow today.

Mark, true to form, gives us the stripped-down short and sweet version.

Bread is His body, Cup is His blood. Eat and Drink.

Matthew highlights the remission of sins.

Seeing as Matthew’s gospel is written with a Jewish audience in mind, he ties Christ’s work back to the context of the Jewish practices in temple worship.

Remission means the ‘taking away of’. Anyone familiar with the Old Testament, they will notice that this is precisely the same thing that the rituals and ordinances of temple sacrifices instituted under Moses were performed to accomplish.

Luke gives us the deep dive

Luke writes with a predominantly gentile audience in mind, and he fills in the information gaps other authors would have assumed the readers would have already been familiar with.

He specifically invokes the name Passover, so the reader will know that He is not merely having a significant last meal, but it is being placed in the context of an important Jewish religious holiday… the Passover. Jesus plainly lays out what’s coming, ‘before I suffer’, but like all the others, he makes a clear reference to His resurrection (which would only be understood in hindsight) when he said ‘I will drink again’.

Importantly, Luke even includes Jesus’s state of mind at the time. He was actually looking forward to this meal. Why? Because he could finally explain His real mission in simple terms.

Did you catch it, where he explained what was happening in Luke’s account? ‘Desired to eat this Passover … until it is fulfilled’.

He was to BECOME what the Passover Lamb merely symbolized. He was about to become the Lamb of God.

Notice that each of these accounts uses the phrase, ‘New Covenant’ in reference to ‘My blood’. Let’s look at why Jesus saying this particular statement at the Passover meal was so significant.

And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.” — Exodus 24:8

That proclamation, right there, together with the ritual sprinkling of blood was the precise moment at which the Covenant instituted under Moses — The Mosaic Law — took effect.

Under Moses, the blood of animals had been part of sacrifice and ritual consecrating the Jewish nation as a people set apart to God, and just a few verses later, Moses ascended the mountain to receive the tablets of the Law, later to return and deliver that law to the people.

Jesus invoked that exact phrase, with one amendment: this is a New Covenant. The covenant that had been promised; is the one that both fulfills and supersedes what was instituted under Moses.

As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, it’s a better covenant not ratified with the blood of bulls and goats, but a sacrifice made once, and for all. He’s talking about the same New Covenant promised by the prophets. For example, Ezekiel:

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.–Ez36:25-27

To tie in some themes that the disciples would understand:

1) Jesus was about to fulfill the promise made to Abraham that a son would be sacrificed for God… but that God would provide that sacrifice.
2) Jesus was about to become the fulfillment of the divine metaphor of the Passover Lamb, who was killed so that the Children of the Promise could escape their captivity and enter a land of Promise.

Christ was telling His disciples that:

1) He was going to become God’s own Passover Lamb
2) He would suffer.
3) The sin that separates them from God would be removed.
4) He will be reunited with them to drink this cup again.
5) On the other side of the ordeal he described was the same ‘Kingdom of God’ He had spent his ministry preaching about.

No wonder Jesus looked ahead to this day. It was the ‘big reveal’.

He was finally able to explain his purpose in a context they could (eventually) understand.

Why was He ‘looking ahead’ to this? Hebrews gives us an answer to that question, too:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. — Heb 12:1,2

When next we gather together in worship, let’s remember the full significance of what was happening at that moment.

He wasn’t just instituting a tradition.

He was proclaiming victory over the Enemy of our souls and promising to lead us all to freedom from the one captor none of us had the strength to break free from: our sin.

We can now stand before God as beloved sons and daughters with a conscience cleaned, not by some ritual slaughter of an animal, but because the only One who lived the perfection the Law demanded, offered to die in our place and accept our guilt so that we could share in his righteousness.

That is why they call it good news.

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