When Jesus instituted Holy Communion in the Upper Room was He drawing on received tradition or inventing something new? Is the Passover the only pattern whereby we understand Jesus' self-sacrifice or are there other threads in Scripture which shed light on the sacrament?
In John 6:51, we read these words concerning Jesus: "I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world."
Note that the bread comes down from heaven. Such was the case with the manna in the wilderness and probably John 6 refers to to the wilderness experience. However, Holy Communion involves flesh and blood so we do well to look for other antecedents that involve being fed with both elements. We find one antecedent in the book of Job, one of the oldest books of the Bible. Here the mother vulture nourishes her young with flesh and blood. Consider Job 39:27-30:
Does the vulture (nesher) mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high? She dwells and abides on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place.
From there she seeks the prey, and her eyes behold afar off.
Her young ones also suck-up blood: and where the slain are, there is she.
This is an image of a mother nourishing her young with bloody bits of flesh from the carcasses of the fallen. In Exodus19:4, we read: Ye have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and, how I bare you on vulture's (nesherim) wings, and brought you unto myself.
The Hebrews living in Egypt would have understood the force of this metaphor since the Vulture was one of the emblems of Egyptian power. Images of the vulture mother of Nekhbet of Elkab are shown with outspread wings on the grand monuments and temples of ancient Egypt. Its counterpart is the mother scorpion of Hierakonpolis.The scorpion, like the vulture, represented Hat-hor's devoted care of Horus, who was called the son of God. He is the pattern by which some of Abraham's Jewish descendants recognized Jesus as the promised Son. Only the Son of God can nourish us with his own eternal Person. Only His eternal Person can bring us eternal life.
C.S. Lewis, who knew languages and mythologies, saw that even the pagans of Europe had dreams of the god who dies and rises again as this idea appears in their literature. In Mere Christianity, Lewis writes that God "sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean ... about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men." It is the life that comes from receiving into ourselves the body and blood of the Eternal Son.
Related reading: "The Ostrich in Biblical Symbolism"