We will pick up our pencil sketch of the last supper from an Old Testament (OT) perspective with Abraham. This is not to say that the chapters between Adam / Eve and Abraham add nothing to our painting. It just means that I am focusing on the high points.
In Genesis, God establishes one of many covenants with Abraham. The concept of covenant is an important one if we are to understand what Jesus did at the Last Supper. From a Biblical perspective, a covenant was a legal way of establishing a familial relationship between two unrelated parties. Covenants were terms and conditions that laid out each party’s obligations. They were usually followed by a ceremony or liturgical rite that often ended with a common meal as a way of confirming the familial relationship.1 The process basically brought about a sacred bond; a fictitious blood relationship that made the participants of the same flesh and blood.2
More to the point, the covenants between the Israelites and God required sacrifice and blood. Sacrifice had many purposes. For our purposes, it was a way of restoring the offeror to relationship with God. By sinning, a sinner is guilty to the death, and the animal’s blood is substituted for the blood of the sinner. In this way, the blood, which is the life essence of the animal, atones for the sins of the sinner.3 In other words, the sacrifice of animals was an interim way of restoring the balance of order between God and man that was lost in the fall.
In Genesis chapters 12-22, God selects Abraham as the father of a nation, and instructs him to go to a land that God will show him, and God will make of him a great nation. In fact, God promises to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars. Abraham asks God how he will know that all of this will come to pass. God told Abraham to sacrifice animals. Abraham sacrifices the animals, splits them in half, and lays them out. God passed between the pieces. In this way, Abraham understood God to say – if I fail to live up to my agreement, I will become just like these slain animals. Luckily, God will always be faithful, so the penalty will never be triggered. In this way, these two cut a covenant.
In concluding Abraham’s story, God calls Abraham to sacrifice his son, Issac, through whom God had promised to fulfill the covenant. Abraham was faithful and takes his son to the place God commanded for the sacrifice. Abraham built an altar, bound Isaac, placed him on the altar, and as Abraham was about to sacrifice Issac, an angel of the Lord calls out to him, and orders him to stop. God provides a substitute victim, and Abraham offers it in place of his son. Because of this faithfulness, God reiterates his promise to Abraham. In this endeavor, God begins to more clearly sketch Jesus, the antitype, who will one day be the lamb on that same mount; a lamb that would bring a blessing to all nations.4
1 Jerome Neyrey, The Passion According to Luke: A Redaction Study of Luke’s Soteriology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2007), 10.
2 Devin Roza, Fulfilled in Christ: The Sacraments – A Guide to Symbols and Types in the Bible and Tradition. (Bellingham, WA: Verbum, 2014), 122.
3 S. David Sperling, “Blood,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 761.
4 Thomas Nash, Worthy is the Lamb: The Biblical Roots of the Mass (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2004), 71.
© Debra Weldon, 2019. All Rights Reserved.