20 See further O’Collins, Jesus Our Redeemer, 169 71, as well as what John writes about the role of Caiaphas in Jesus’ death.

The Last Supper a Sacrificial Meal?

It is one thing to join Hebrews in holding that the death and exaltation of Christ was a unique, once-and-for-all sacrifice. It is another to maintain the sacrificial nature of what Christ did and said at the Last Supper—not least because any position here will shape one’s understanding of the Eucharist. Let us begin with a more general consideration.

(1) It is hardly controversial to speak either of the self-sacrificing nature of Christ’s life or of his accepting for others, through the words and gestures he used, a last, deadly confrontation with those in power. In that sense, the Last Supper integrated into his mission a final act of service. In death, as in life, he served and sacrificed himself for others and for the kingdom of God (Mark 14: 25 parr.).

(2) Then, as we noted, by the time of Jesus the festival of the Passover had long been given a sacrificial significance. In Philo’s view of universal priesthood, the whole nation functioned as priests when celebrating the Passover. To claim that Jesus (and his companions at the Last Supper) did something sacrificial would not have appeared strange talk in first-century Judaism. What happened at the Last Supper was, of course, no normal celebration of the Passover: it maintained, strengthened, and personalized the sacrificial significance. Jesus went beyond the normal ritual to introduce gestures and sayings that revealed his priestly intention to offer himself as a self-sacrificing victim. He wanted the breaking of the bread, identified as his body, and the pouring out of his blood to image forth the sacrificial surrender of his life, the priestly action of total self-giving that was about to take place in his violent death. Through the words and gestures of the ‘institution narrative’ (Mark 14: 22–4 parr.; 1 Cor. 11: 23–5), Jesus offered a covenant sacrifice—a cultic, priestly act that he wished to be continued as a central practice in the community which he had gathered.