From Jewish Passover to Christian Eucharist: The Story of the Todah
Scholars have often wondered how the practice of Christian Eucharist could have arisen from the Lord’s Supper, which occurred in the context of the Jewish Passover. Since Passover occurs only once a year, how is it that the Christians got the notion that they could celebrate Jesus’ sacrificial meal weekly, if not daily?
The Last Supper
The answer is found in the ancient Israelite sacrifice called the todah.
While most people have heard of Old Testament sacrifices such as the holocaust offering or burnt offering, those who have heard of the todah sacrifice are as rare as lotto winners. Today\’s ignorance concerning the todah, however, should not imply that it was unimportant to the Jews. Far from it. The todah was one of the most significant sacrifices of the Jews.
Indeed, an old Rabbinic teaching says: \"In the coming Messianic age all sacrifices will cease, but the thank offering [todah] will never cease.\"(1) What is it about this sacrifice that makes it stand alone in such a way that it would outlast all other sacrifices after the redemption of the Messiah?
A todah sacrifice would be offered by someone whose life had been delivered from great peril, such as disease or the sword. The redeemed person would show his gratitude to God by gathering his closest friends and family for a todah sacrificial meal. The lamb would be sacrificed in the Temple and the bread for the meal would be consecrated the moment the lamb was sacrificed. The bread and meat, along with wine, would constitute the elements of the sacred todah meal, which would be accompanied by prayers and songs of thanksgiving, such as Psalm 116.
What does the word \"todah\" mean? It is Hebrew for \"thanksgiving,\" although it also connotes a confession of praise in addition to gratitude. For example, Leah gave thanks to God when she bore her fourth son, and so she named him yehudah — or Judah — which is the verbal form of todah — to give thanks.
There are many examples in the Old Testament of people offering todah — thanks — to God. Jonah, while in the belly of the whale, vows to offer up a todah sacrifice in the Temple if he is delivered (cf. Jon. 2:3-10). King Hezekiah offers up a todah hymn upon recovering from a life-threatening illness (cf. Is. 38). However, the best example of todah sacrifice and song is found in the life of King David.
This morning I’m thinking about the Church. I love Sundays. I hear the lion’s roar, “and then he cried out in a loud voice as a lion roars.”(Rev. 10:3) The lion thunders out, crying “full-throated and unsparing like a trumpet blast…” “When He roars his sons shall come…” (Hoses 11:10) On Sundays,with tremendous power, the Lion of the tribe of Judah summonses the gathering of the Church from all corners of the earth for a great feast. Even in Lent, the season of fasting, the Church prepares a banquet. The Lion, Himself, provides the meal, prepared Himself of Himself. It is here that the Lion becomes the Little Lamb that was slain, but now lives.