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God’s Word for You

Luke 22:14 spreading the table

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, March 19, 2019

14 And when the hour came, he reclined at the table, and the apostles with him.

Most of us have beautiful memories of wonderful celebrations of Christmas at the various stages of our lives. I love listening to my dad read the Luke 2 Christmas story with the same tone and inflection and cadences he has used since I was a little boy sitting at his feet in Sunday School. I am thankful that this man, who worked on a ladder all day and for all his life was also the spiritual leader and example in our little family, figuratively urging all of us up the ladder of faith to strive for Christ and put our faith in him (1 Timothy 4:9-10).

Passover was the setting for similar memories in Jewish families. The fathers, whatever they did for a living (carpenters, fishermen, and even tax collectors), they were the spiritual leaders of their families, and they would have presided over the telling of the Passover story at this meal. The children would listen to their father reciting the story of the Ten Plagues of Egypt. First came the three “nuisance” plagues: blood, frogs, and gnats (Exodus 7:14-8:19). Then came the three more serious plagues that began to bring pain and suffering: flies, the disease on the livestock, and the boils (Exodus 8:20-9:12). Then came the three plagues that prefigured destruction and death: hail, locusts, and darkness (Exodus 9:13-10:29), and then death itself (Exodus 11:1-10). The liturgy for the meal is virtually the text of Exodus 12, but there are poetic versions in the Bible, such as Psalm 105 or Psalm 106, or (for variety) Psalm 78. Some think that our Book of Hebrews is actually a Christian version of a Passover liturgy or sermon of some kind.

Briefly, this is the order of service for a Passover seder or service:

  1. A blessing is said and a table prayer, and a first cup of wine is drunk.
  2. Everyone undergoes a ceremonial washing of hands.
  3. The first bitter herb (often lettuce or potato) is eaten.
  4. The breaking of the bread. The unleavened (matzah) bread is broken or torn and distributed.
  5. A second cup of wine is poured and the story of the first Passover is told. Children may ask questions and should be given answers. Psalms 113 and 114 are sung or read. The cup of wine is drunk.
  6. Some of the unleavened (matzah) bread is eaten, followed by the eating of more bitter herbs (horseradish or celery).
  7. At this time, the meal is eaten. This is called “spreading the table” (in Hebrew, shulhan orech; this might be reflected in Psalm 23:5).
  8. After a blessing and a third cup of wine, Psalms 115-118 are sung or read, and a fourth cup of wine is drunk.

As they prepared to eat this meal together, Jesus and his disciples reclined. What does that mean? It was the custom in their time to use a reclining couch called a kliné (κλίνη), which is mentioned in the footnote of your Bible in Mark 7:4, a “dining couch.” It was a low bench, cushioned, usually with a curved headrest on one end only. The guests would rest on these couches arranged around the low table, resting on their left elbows so that they could all eat right-handed.

This was a Passover they would always remember: Every detail, every syllable Jesus spoke. In John’s Gospel, five whole chapters unfold at this point, without any references to the meal. For Jesus, this was the moment for him to do something brand new. He was going to institute a sacred act which would offer the forgiveness of sins. He was about to institute the Lord’s Supper.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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