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On Eating Matza

by Tim O'Hearn

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. (John 6:53-57)

Not exactly the passage one would expect to start an article for Passover, is it? Yet it may be appropriate on a couple of levels.

At his final Passover on earth Jesus explained what he meant when he talked about eating his body. "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body." (Matthew 26:26) The bread of the Passover represented his body. As we eat the bread in the Lord's Supper we are eating his body, and have eternal life thereby.

When the unleavened bread is broken during the Passover seder the Rabbis have decreed that each participant break off a minimum of a kezayit in volume. A kezayit is defined as the volume of a medium sized olive. Of course some who are more zealous for the observance may choose to break off more than that minimum. I have found this interesting in the light of what I see every week in many congregations of the churches of Christ. Unlike some other Christian groups who hand out an already prepared amount whenever they observe the Lord's Supper, most churches of Christ pass pieces of matza (unleavened bread) from which each participant breaks a piece. Many even specify that this is the only scriptural way to do it, since "breaking" the bread seems to be an important aspect of the ceremony. What I find interesting, though, is that most participants seem to break off the smallest piece they can; certainly most don't break off anywhere near a kezayit. Rather than eating as much of the flesh of Christ as they can to gain eternal life, many seem to be trying to eat as little of Christ's body as possible. If the amount of eternal life given was dependent on the amount they broke off they might barely get enough to last until the next week. This practice may have originated with the economic desire to save matza, and therefore save money. I am certainly not advocating that we judge others by how much of the unleavened bread they break off. I just find it interesting that many Jews will exceed the minimum during Passover, while many Christians try to reduce the minimum to mere crumbs. Let us hope that, regardless how much of the bread we break off, we never relegate Christ in our lives to mere crumbs.

Another aspect from Passover that relates to the passage we started with has to do with the nature of matza. Leviticus 7:12-15 describes the korban toda, an offering made when one experiences salvation from a crisis (called a peace offering in the King James Version). This is almost the only sacrifice in which leavened bread is allowed along with unleavened bread. Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch, among others, has said that the two types of bread represent man's efforts (leavened bread) and God's efforts (matza) in getting out of the situation. Using this comparison we can see a picture of the Messiah in the unleavened bread of the Lord's Supper. God sent his son to save mankind from its sins. So when we eat the matza we are celebrating God's part, the greater part, of our own salvation. We are celebrating the death of Jesus on the cross, without which we would not have salvation. That is why the unleavened bread is the body of the Messiah; without God's intervention on our behalf we would still be lost in sin.

So during Passover this year (which starts the evening of April 16, 2003), and any time we eat the unleavened bread, we should remember at least these two things. Whoever eats the bread has eternal life, and that eternal life is a gift of salvation from God.