I have a vivid recollection of a conversation with a friend at an Evangelical seminary we attended ten years ago. Walking over, he said, “Scott, I’ve been reading fascinating stuff on the sacraments.”

“Sacraments bore me,” I replied sharply. Little did I know.

I thought of the incident recently as I made my way home from an inspiring hour of Benediction. I got the urge to write about the Scripture study which led me into a Catholic understanding of the Holy Eucharist (and eventually into the Catholic Church) about five years ago.

It all started with a Sunday morning service at the local Evangelical church which my wife and I attended during our last year at seminary. The preacher had just finished an exciting sermon on the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. But something he said stuck with me. In the middle of the message, he raised a simple question: “In John 19:30, what did Jesus mean when he cried, ‘It is finished’? What does the ‘it’ refer to?” Instantly the standard Evangelical answer came to my mind: Jesus’ words signify the completion of our redemption at that moment.

The preacher happened to be a fine Scripture scholar as well as one of my favorite seminary professors, so I was taken aback when he proceeded to show quite convincingly that Jesus could not have meant that. For one thing, Paul teaches that our redemption is not complete without Jesus being “raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). The preacher also showed how the standard Evangelical answer is taken from theology and read into the text (“eisegesis”), instead of being drawn from the text interpreted in context (“exegesis”). To my amazement, he candidly admitted he didn’t have a satisfying answer to his own question.

I couldn’t hear the rest of his sermon. My mind began racing ahead in search of a solution. It only came after graduation, in my first year as a pastor while studying Scripture in preparing a series of sermons on what we Presbyterians called “the Lord’s Supper.”

The first stage of my discovery process came in studying the Old Testament background to Jesus’ Last Supper. The occasion was the Jewish feast of Passover (Mark 14:12-16). This memorial celebrated God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt. During that fateful night, every firstborn son in Egypt perished except those in Israelite families where a lamb without blemish or broken bones (Ex. 12:5, 46) was slain and eaten as a substitutionary sacrifice. Then Moses led Israel out of Egypt to Mount Sinai, where the Law was given and the covenant was sealed between God and his people through sacrifice and communion.

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