Unless you are very familiar with the Jewish celebration of the Passover, you might miss the meaning of today’s second reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
Brothers and sisters:
The cup of blessing that we bless,
is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break,
is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
Because the loaf of bread is one,
we, though many, are one body,
for we all partake of the one loaf.
During the Passover meal, four cups are shared among all of those present. The third of those cups is the “cup of blessing” and the fourth and final cup is the “cup of communion.” The Passover observance is not over until the fourth cup is shared.
In order to understand what Paul wants us to understand, we need to recall the Last Supper. Jesus blesses the bread and gives it to his disciples. He then blesses the cup of wine and gives that to the disciples. That cup is the cup of blessing, the third cup to be shared during the Passover. However, Jesus doesn’t offer the fourth cup, the cup of communion, at the Last Supper. Instead, he goes to the Mount of Olives to pray. As a result, the Passover observance was not completed on Holy Thursday.
Why didn’t Jesus complete the Passover celebration that he “longed to share” with his disciples? The answer is that he did complete it, but not by offering a fourth cup of wine to be shared by all. Instead, he poured out his blood (and water) on the cross. That sacrifice on the cross was the fourth cup, the “cup of communion” shared by all who believe in the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. When you know this, it gives the meaning to Jesus’ words on the cross when he said “It is finished.” It was the Passover that was completed and fulfilled. Death had been destroyed.
This is why Paul tells us that the cup of blessing that we bless and the bread that we break are a participation in the blood and body of Christ.