Sunday, February 15, 2015

What did they do after the crucifixion?

We're at that exciting, but also problematic, moment. A chaburah (Heb., a gathering of friends) is about to become an ekklesia (Gr. assembly) that eventually becomes a church vaguely recognizable to us today.

Yeshua's chaburah consisted of a motley group of associates, Jewish men and women who were inclined to religious observance and prayer, who in some capacity or another had followed the Rabboni (teacher) for one to three years.

Now the Teacher was dead, executed ignominiously by the Romans. In one way or another, they experienced him as risen from the dead and believed that Jesus reigned in a celestial other world on God's good side. From there Jesus would come again to make a final disposition of the world.

What did these people do behind closed doors, safe from Romans or the soldiers of the Sanhedrin, when they met to reassure one another? They gathered to have a meal with the Teacher's two blessings, of wine and of bread, at what we know as the Last Supper.

There are literally hundreds of blessings for almost every activity imaginable into which the strictest Jews ask for God's approval and consent. Washing of hands, food about to be cooked and eaten (not indistinctly for all food, but by kind), for rising, for going to sleep, for nearly everything.

Specialists on the development of worship, or liturgy(1), argue that, at the Last Supper, Jesus added his own words to the two blessings of wine and bread (as noted first in the First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11, and later in the gospels) precisely because blessings over meals were the one thing devout Jews would never forget. See Acts 25:35, in which Paul remembers meal blessings even in the middle of a shipwreck, as an example of punctilious observance that Jews of the time followed.

The Last Supper was not a Passover Seder, as the folklore since the 1960s has had it, since it most likely took place one night before such a meal would take place. Rather its prayers and ritual were already prescribed for a chaburah in the current rabbinical books of berakah (blessings).

The words of the blessing over the bread, by the person presiding the chaburah at the beginning of the formal meal are not cited in the New Testament. Every Jew, and the first Christians were all Jews, would know them in Hebrew: "Blessed be Thou, O Lord our God, eternal King, Who bringest forth bread from the earth."

Paul is the first to record words (I Cor. 11) he believed were a tradition directly from Jesus (remember that Paul had been a rabbinical student and would know the "script" better than most). Jesus added the curious words, "This is my body which is for you. Do this for the re-calling of me." Or, sidestepping the torrents of ink spilled on the subject, words to that effect.

Then came the meal with various foods and servings and blessings, most of them said privately according to the foods chosen to eat.

Finally, came the ritual blessing of wine (the indication being that it was not served with the meal, or else it would be offered privately for each cup) by the presider, in that case, Jesus. Again it is not recorded in the NT, as every Jew knew the words: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, eternal King, who createst the fruit of the vine."

Again, Jesus added his own enigmatic words: "This is the New Covenant in my blood. Do this, whenever you drink it, for the re-calling of me." Or words to that effect.

There is repeated mention in the NT and other Christian writings of believers in the Nazarene who gathered to performed both blessings to recall Jesus, either to remember, to eulogize or to re-call in the sense of invoking his presence. (In the next two centuries there was considerable and unseemly disputation concerning which of these purposes was the most important.)

What we know as the Eucharist was not complete at that point. This was an agape (Gr. love) supper with the two blessings.


(1) What's the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.