by Father Mike Stubbs
The Gospel of Matthew, like the Gospel of Luke, draws heavily upon the Gospel of Mark as its source, with a few additions of its own.
All three place Jesus’ death on the cross on the day after the first day of Passover, when the Passover lamb would be eaten in the Seder meal. That would make the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples a Seder meal.
On the other hand, the Gospel of John follows a different timetable. It places Jesus’ death on the day of Passover itself, when the Passover lambs would be slaughtered.
It is only a difference of one day, but that difference is full of meaning. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus, the Lamb of God, is killed at the same time that the lambs would be slaughtered in the city for the Seder meal. For John, that connection stands out as most important.
However, the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke wish to link the Last Supper to the Seder meal, which celebrates the liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. Similarly, Jesus will liberate us from slavery to sin.
Sometimes, Christians will attempt to draw a parallel between the current version of the Seder meal and the Last Supper of Jesus.
For example, the current ritual of the Seder meal stipulates that four cups of wine should be consumed, and at what point in the meal they should be consumed. (The whole cup of wine does not need to be consumed each time, but at least a sip.)
Some try to identify which of those four moments is when Jesus takes the cup of wine and says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.”
However, we should not be hasty in making any conclusions. The current ritual used in the Jewish Seder dates back many centuries, but it is not certain that it is exactly the same as the ritual in use at the time of Jesus.
At any rate, it is very possible that the Last Supper of Jesus was a Seder meal. (Unless you follow the timetable of John’s Gospel.)
So, which is correct, John’s Gospel, or the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke?
On the issue of an exact point in time, we cannot say. But we can affirm that all four Gospels have an important message of faith. Their differences in detail offer us valuable theological insights. And those insights are not contradictory but, rather, complementary.
That is why we will hear the Passion account from Matthew’s Gospel this Sunday, and the Passion account from John’s Gospel on Good Friday. Both have an important message for us.