The Hebrews in Egypt were slaves and their lives were painfully difficult. The Pharaoh kept them busy toiling from dawn to dusk and had ordered their male children killed so as to keep their numbers down.
When Moses came on the scene and promised to lead them out of slavery in Egypt they were suspicious. How could he do this? Pharaoh was powerful and no fool – but then, Moses claimed he had been sent by God, there were those miracles, and the way he spoke with confidence and authority. Still, some of them told him to go away and leave them alone.
Week after week the drama unfolded. Moses kept going to the Pharaoh – Let my people go – and Pharaoh kept saying no. The miraculous plagues piled up – frogs, blood, darkness, mosquitoes, gadflies, boils, hail, locusts – and now the hour had come, the showdown. Moses told them it was time to pass over into freedom.
To the Pharaoh he had said: Let my People go or your first-born male children, man and beast, will die. To the people he has said: Take a lamb, one year old, without blemish, male. Sacrifice it and eat it in the evening. Sprinkle its blood on the doorposts and lintels of your houses. The blood of the lamb will save you from death.
What were the people to make of this? Was this to be the end of the Hebrews, or would Moses really lead them to freedom?
Many centuries later, on another Passover night, Jesus gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room. Jesus knew that the showdown had come – the hour for him to pass over from the slavery of this world to the eternal joy of the kingdom of his Father - and like Moses, he was to take the People with him.
I’m sure the night of the first Passover was in his mind as he sat at table with his Apostles. They were restless, anxious, full of a sense of impending crisis, just like the Hebrews of old. There had been miracles and wonderful teaching. There had been this sense that Jesus had been sent by God – they trusted him - even though many had told him to go away.
Jesus would have thought of that ancient lamb, male, spotless, in the prime of its life – sacrificed and eaten. Its body had been given up and its blood poured out to save the People from the wrath of God.
Jesus would have said to himself: I am that lamb. I am to be sacrificed. I am to save my People from their real slavery, their slavery to sin. My body will be given up, my blood will be poured out, so that they might be free. But how am I to be eaten? How can I give them myself to eat so that they will have strength to follow in my footsteps, on the journey that lies ahead of them?
He took the Passover bread into his sacred hands, he blessed God and gave thanks, he broke it into portions and showed it to his disciples and said: This is my Body. Take and eat.
Then he took the cup of wine, blessed it, gave it to his disciples and said: This is my blood. Take and drink.