Continuing our look at the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, today we are going to focus on the bread. But before looking at what Jesus said about the bread, we will first look at the history of Passover traditions. From the time of the first Passover, Rabbi’s began interpreting and applying the different elements of the Passover seder to their own lives. Different traditions were added to the feast that were in addition to what Exodus 12 commanded of the Israelites. According to Jewish scholars, what we will discuss today are traditions that were already in place by the time Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.
Part of the Passover seder is the unleavened bread (matzoh) being presented in a very specific way. Three loaves of unleavened bread are placed in a bag (matzoh tosh), each loaf being in its own compartment. The loaves are discussed symbolically as a sign of unity, but Rabbis are very divided upon where this tradition comes from and what unity the loaves refer to. Some say unity of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) while others say unity of the nation of Israel (Priests, Levites, People of Israel). The exact meaning of this tradition has been lost to history according to Rabbis, but we will attempt to uncover the true meaning.
During the seder, the matzoh tosh is opened and the second (middle) loaf, known as the Bread of Affliction, is removed and broken in half. Rabbis again don’t know why the middle loaf is used, and the other two remain untouched. The broken piece is wrapped in a linen bag called an afikoman which means “it comes later.” The afikoman is taken out of the room of celebration and hidden, symbolically buried somewhere in the house by the leader of the celebration. Towards the end of the meal the participants will search for the afikoman and when it is found it is returned to the table. The leader of the celebration will then take the bread and break off small portions for everyone at the table.
Why is the middle portion broken, buried, and brought back if the unity of the matzoh tosh refers to the patriarchs or the nation of Israel? It doesn’t make any sense. But if the loaves in the matzoh tosh represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the middle loaf being broken, buried for a time, and brought back has incredible symbolism. Not only did this meal point toward the coming of the Messiah, but God even used the traditions added by men to further point toward his Son.
And he took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” – Luke 22:19
Jesus’ body would soon be broken for us, wrapped in linen, buried for a time, and like the afikoman was brought back to us. And just like the Passover lamb, no bones were broken in his body, even though it was the custom of the Roman soldiers to break the legs of the crucified.
The symbolism in the Passover and in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are a reminder that God planned to save us from the beginning. Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t an afterthought of God. It was his plan to show his incredible love for us, even at the cost of his Passover lamb, his Son, Jesus.