The Last Supper
12 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
13 So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”
16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”
19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?”
20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
This is Maundy Thursday, which is – or at least ought to be – one of the most important events on the calendar of the church. (‘Maundy,’ by the way is an old word that means ‘holy.’) On the evening of Maundy Thursday, followers of Jesus gather to remember together our Master’s Last Supper with his disciples, and to celebrate the sacrament he established on that night.
The other gospels add a number of details about that night. The Gospel of John gives an especially detailed account, complete with the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. But this account from Mark we’re reflecting on today is understood to have been reported personally by Peter, and also to be the one that was published closest to the time of the events it reports. So it seems important to look at what parts of the story seem most important to Mark and Peter.
First of all, it’s important for us to keep in mind that the Last Supper was a Passover gathering. So it was an observance at which Jesus and his disciples joined other Jews in remembering and celebrating the liberation of their people from slavery in Egypt. As you might be aware, the traditional Passover rituals have a bittersweet quality to them. The people ate bitter herbs to remember the bitterness of their bondage in Egypt. They ate bread without yeast to remember that they had to leave Egypt in a hurry – with no time to let bread rise. In fact, the Passover meal was always to be eaten with shoes on, for the same reason. And they ate lamb – a reminder of the lamb whose blood marked the homes of those who would be set free at the cost of its life.
For Jesus and his disciples, this Last Supper was also a bittersweet event. Not only were they remembering the ancient history of their people and its themes of bitterness and liberation through blood, but also it turned especially sinister when Jesus announced at dinner that one of them would betray him. And as his followers looked back in later years, they would remember these things about their final meal with Jesus before his arrest and trial and horrible death.
For us, nearly 2,000 years later, this sacrament remains a bittersweet event, one that we will celebrate twice in the next three days. Each time we observe the Lord’s Supper, we are reminded that our salvation was bought at the price of Jesus’ death – that his own body was broken and his blood poured out for us.
But three days from now, we will observe the sacrament again, but then with a very different emotional and spiritual tone to the observance. Then, on Easter morning, we will be remembering that by Jesus’ death on the cross, we have been rescued from our sins and made members of God’s own family. As members of that family, we will gather around a table in celebration.
For us, as for the Hebrews, the sacrament is always a bittersweet event – the sweetness of our liberation from slavery to sin and death always calls us to remember the bitter price paid to set us free. The body of Jesus was broken for us, and his blood was shed to establish a new covenant for those who love and follow him.
Let’s pray. Lord, on this Maundy Thursday, we remember with thanks the night when Jesus established the blessed sacrament we share around your table, and we remember also the great promise that sacrament represents: that all who follow him are adopted as members of your own family, and welcomed at your table. In his name we pray. Amen.
Grace and Peace,
(The other readings for today are Psalms 70 and 93; Lamentations 2:10-18; and I Corinthians 10:14-17 and 11:27-32.)