This is in fact the second time that Mary anoints Jesus and it is an act of absolute adoration. The gospels recount that she broke open ‘a jar of alabaster, of pure nard’. Nard was extremely expensive perfume. The act is one of overflowing worship in which no expense is barred. Judas questions the expense, arguing it could have been given to the poor but really, he was more concerned about the money that could have gone into the treasury – the one he was sneakily dipping into on the side. On Wednesday night he agrees to betray Jesus for the sum of 30 pieces of silver, a fulfilment of prophecy.
On Thursday morning, 12 Nisan, Jesus gives instructions to the disciples to make preparations for the Passover meal. His words are “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer”
The timing, nature and meaning of this meal has caused much debate. One of the key issues Christians have had is whether we ought to commemorate the Passover. Personally, I have two thoughts on why we should:
Firstly, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:8: “Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”. In my view, the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” is Christ and so in celebrating this feast, I do so in light of the cross, seeing Christ in each aspect of the meal and thus celebrating how he is a fulfilment of the feast.
Secondly, Jesus kept the feasts his whole life, He observed it “as an ordinance to the Lord forever” as required in Exodus. If Jesus did it, so will I.
One of the key arguments for those who don’t celebrate Passover, is that the meal shared by Christ and his disciples was not the Passover meal, because it wasn’t actually Passover and no lambs had been killed. My response to that is this:
Jesus anticipated His eating of the Passover meal to the night before the official eating of Passover because Jesus knew he would suffer death at Passover in order to fulfill the type established by the slaying of lambs in Exodus. As Mathew 26:2 records Jesus says to his disciples “you know that after two days the Passover is coming and the son of man will be delivered up to be crucified”. He knew he could not possibly eat of the Passover lamb on 14 Nisan because he himself would be on the cross, being sacrificed as the true Passover lamb, at the same time the other lambs were being slaughtered. As one commentator put it:
“it was more important that Christ’s death should synchronize with the death of the Passover lambs than that his eating of the Passover meal synchronize with the official time of the Passover meal. In view of this legitimate concern, Jesus anticipated his eating of the Passover with his disciples to the evening before the official Passover so the types of the slaying of the lamb and the offering of the first fruits would be fulfilled, not only as to the event but as to the time”.
Several indicators in the synoptic gospels substantiate that the Last Supper was in fact a Passover meal:
- The return to Jerusalem in the evening for the meal [Mark 14:17; cf. Matt 26:18; Luke 22:10] is significant, for the paschal meal had to be eaten within the city walls
- An ordinary meal was taken in the late afternoon, but a meal which begins in the evening and continues into the night reflects Passover practice (Ex 12:8; Jubilees 49:12).
- The reference to reclining (Mark 14:18) satisfies a first century custom of the Passover that even the poorest man recline for the festive meal
- While a normal meal began with the breaking of bread, on this occasion Jesus broke the bread during the meal and following the serving of a dish (Mark 14:18-20, 22). The Passover meal was the one occasion when the serving of a dish preceded the breaking of bread.
- The use of wine was generally reserved for festive occasions and was characteristic of the Passover.
You will be able to understand these elements in person when we participate in our own Seder meal on Thursday night!