The last supper, 14:12-25
It was the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread when Jews traditionally share in the Passover meal of roast lamb, unleavened bread, condiments and wine, to celebrate Israel's escape from their slavery in Egypt. Jesus had made arrangements for the use of an upper room in Jerusalem and he discretely has his disciples make preparations for their meal together. By this stage, the religious authorities were determined to end Jesus' disruptive ministry and so secrecy was essential. This explains the rather strange meeting with the man carrying a water jar. That evening, Jesus and his disciples arrive at the room for the meal. While eating, Jesus points out that one of their number will betray him; "woe to that man ... it would have been better .... if he had not been born." Continuing on with the meal Jesus takes some bread and wine and after giving thanks he distributes it to his disciples as symbols of his body broken and blood poured out "for many." Jesus will not taste the fruit of the vine again until the kingdom comes in glory.
v12. In Mark's timing it is Thursday, the feast of Passover. The disciples want to make arrangements for the Passover meal that evening and so they raise the issue with Jesus. Given that the new day begins at sunset, the meal falls on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened bread. Both festivals celebrate Israel's escape from their slavery in Egypt.
v13-16. Jesus has obviously made prior arrangements for the meal and so he sends his disciples from Bethany, where they are staying, into Jerusalem to prepare for the meal. They meet the man carrying the water jar, just as Jesus said, and are taken to an upstairs room furnished and ready for their meal together.
v17-20. Once the twelve arrive and settle down at the table, Jesus announces that one of their number is going to betray him. The disciples are dismayed at the prospect and join in protest: "certainly not me!"
v21. Jesus affirms his fate, pointing out that scripture makes it clear that the messiah is destined to suffer and die - it is according to divine will. Scripture doesn't say this of the Son of Man, but this title is Jesus' favorite title for the messiah and he uses it to cover all that the scriptures says of the messiah, particularly the role of Isaiah's Suffering Servant. Jesus then goes on to explain the significance of his death.
v22. It was usual, during a Passover meal, to explain the significance of Israel's escape from their slavery in Egypt. Jesus does this, but applies the redemptive significance of the Passover to himself. Taking a loaf of flat bread, Jesus brakes it and passes it around to the disciples. As they eat, Jesus explains that the bread symbolically represents the offering of his body as a sacrifice. The new Israel is saved from the bondage of sin and death through the sacrifice of Christ. Luke adds "do this in remembrance of me", but Mark assumes a repeated celebration of the new Passover meal.
v23-24. Jesus then takes a common cup of wine and passes it around to the disciples. As they drink, Jesus explains that the wine symbolically represents the offering, the pouring out, of his life-blood as a sacrifice. This sacrifice not only renews God's covenant with humanity, his promise of life in all its fullness, but actually realizes it, fulfills it right now.
v25. Although life in all its fullness belongs to Jesus' disciples, there is a sense where it is on hold - a now, not yet, reality. The new wine of heaven will not be shared until the full realization of God's long-promised kingdom. Only then will Jesus share the new wine with his disciples. So, there will always be a sense where the shared bread and wine looks forward to the messianic banquet.
The Holy Communion
Believers come from diverse traditions and yet, whatever tradition we may come from, the celebration of the Lord's Supper takes a significant place in our Christian life. For a time, as a young child, I was sent to the Congregational church Sunday School and I remember the minister taking my class inside the church and telling us about the special service they held once a month after the regular morning service. To attend this service, you had to be a full member of the church. It all sounded very special to me. My mother attended the morning church service from time-to-time, but even she didn't get to attend the special service. We left the church after my mother foolishly cleaned out the earn with sandsoap and flavored the tea for the Prime minister's visit to dedicate the new hall.
The interaction of culture and history has shaped the celebration of the Lord's Supper and produced a rich diversity of traditions. Setting aside the specifics of each tradition, it is possible to find a common focus. So, when we join together to celebrate the Lord's Supper what should we focus on?
When Christians meet they do so in the knowledge that when two or three meet together in Jesus Name, Jesus is spiritually present with them. So, as we gather, recognizing the presence of God in our midst, we bow in confession of our sins, and then, in recognition of God's grace of forgiveness, we respond in adoration. As we continue in worship we consider God's Word, we confess our faith, and we pray. All these elements are usually present in any service of worship, but in the Lord's supper we have an extra special element.
In the Lord's Supper we focus on what Jesus has done for us; we remember calvary, we remember that Jesus gave his very self, his very being, as a sacrifice for our sins. There is no way we can ever understand how Jesus bears in his own body the curse of our corruption. Yet, this he does for us and so we, like the children of Israel bound in slavery in Egypt, are set free, released from our bondage and blessed with eternal life. Just as the Israelites of old celebrated the Passover meal and remembered that they were once slaves, but now set free, so we gather and celebrate the Lord's Supper and remember that we too were once slaves, but are now set free. So, as we eat the bread and drink the wine, or just eat the bread, we remember that Jesus gave his life that we may have life, and in that remembering, that act of faith on our part, the gift of life is confirmed to us. In the knowledge of God's grace extended to us we respond in thanksgiving and look forward to that day when we will share with Jesus the new wine of eternity.
If the church we attend follows a catholic tradition, Roman, Lutheran, Anglican, Episcopalian, Orthodox, then we can easily become complacent in the regularity of the Lord's Supper. Mind you, I'm sure my friends in the Congregational church can become just as complacent in their monthly service of the Lord's Supper. So, I challenge you to break through the complacency nurtured by repetition. Next time you take the bread and wine, remember all that Jesus has done for you. It should bring tears to your eyes.
1. Research the Passover tradition and report.
2. How do you explain the rather strange incident of the man carrying a water jug?
3. Discuss the significance of Jesus' words over the bread and the cup of wine.
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