The Old Testament is a book filled with rich imagery and many of the seeds of the faith we proclaim as Christians. Our whole study up to this point has been an examination of many of foundation pieces God laid in our story: promises which impacted the immediate and long-term future not only of Israel, but of all humanity. But if the story had ended with the last book of the Old Testament… much of this was not yet fulfilled. While God hadn’t flooded the world again (as promised to Noah), the universal blessing promised to Abraham or the perpetual reign of a descendant of King David were still very much up in the air. In the case of the promise to David, the generations which follow his son, Solomon, were rank with corruption; they saw the kingdom being split in two, invasion, and eventually exile.
But with Jesus comes the fulfillment of these promises and so many more. St. Paul writes that: For in him every one of God’s promises is a “yes” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
In each covenant we’ve studied, there has been a sign which God left to help us understand something about our relationship with God. To Adam & Eve, God gave the Sabbath; to Noah, a Rainbow; to Abraham, Circumcision; to Moses, the Commandments; and to David, the throne and a temple to be built by David’s son, Solomon. Each of these promises have also seen the people of God grow from a couple to a family to a tribe, nation, and Kingdom. Jesus establishes with us a new Covenant, and the sign of this covenant is what the Catechism calls the “Source and Summit” of our Christian faith: the Eucharist. In short: this is a covenant which involves a complete gift of self by God asking for the same in return from us.
To understand this covenant – and the Eucharist – we need to look to the Cross, and consider Jesus’ last words before He gave up His Spirit. In John 19:30, Jesus says: “It is finished.” What is finished? The easy answer is the work of redemption (saving us from our sins – but St. Paul suggests in Romans 4:25 that there’s still more to come (when Jesus would be “raised for our justification.“)
The answer to this question can be found in a few places. If we look first at the Old Testament background to the Last Supper, we see how it takes place during the celebration of the Passover. This is the feast in which the Israelites remembered how a lamb’s sacrifice both saved their ancestor’s firstborn sons from death, and also led them to freedom from slavery in Egypt. This whole sequence of events culminated with God making a covenant with Moses. The Gospel of John hits on many of the themes of the Jewish Passover – Jesus standing before Pilate at the hour the lambs were being slaughtered (John 18:33-37); that none of Jesus’ bones were broken (John 19:33, 36); that Jesus was offered vinegar on a hyssop stick – the same type of branch used to spread the blood of the lamb at the Passover (John 19:29, Exodus 12:22); and the fact that Jesus’ seamless tunic is referred to in the same manner as the tunic worn by the high priest when sacrificing (John 19:23-24, Exodus 28:4).
If we look at the narrative of the Lord’s supper itself, we see more clarity on “what” is finished. The “cup” plays a big part in the Hebrew celebration of the Passover: four cups are passed around. At the moment when the third cup is shared during the last supper, Jesus takes the cup and says: “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). This is the only moment that the New Testament records Jesus using the word “covenant.” Dr. Scott Hahn sees this as an incredibly rich moment:
What an awesome moment: the firstborn Son and Lamb of God fulfilled the Old Covenant Passover in Himself, as a holy sacrifice for our sins.
A reading of John’s Gospel shows that the evangelist is building to this understanding: showing how Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection also mark the hour of His greatest glory. Here, defeat is triumph; humiliation is exaltation; His death brings life to the word. When Jesus declares that “IT is finished,” He is saying that He has both fulfilled the Passover of the Old Covenant, and transformed it into the New Covenant Passover – and we, as Christians, are invited not only to partake in the cup of blessing – the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 10:16)- but also to be consumed in our life and death by the love of Christ. In the Cross, we see Christ’s total self-emptying; in the Eucharist, we are offered all of Jesus: body, blood soul, and divinity. We are invited to respond to this love which knows no limit by making an offering of our whole selves back to Him. It is for this reason that the Christian life begins by ‘taking up our Cross’ (Matthew 16:24).
If we respond, we do so with the assurance of more promises from Jesus Himself. This study has tried to demonstrate how faithfully God keeps all of His promises – and how all of God’s promises can be trusted.
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you” (John 14:18).