(Matthew 26:17-30; 31-57)
- Gethsemane, Gethsemane go to dark Gethsemane. Thursday of Holy Week ends with Jesus being arrested. How did we get there? In one of the holiest weeks of the Jewish calendar, how did the story seem to come so abruptly to an end? And what does it tell us about what kind of king Jesus was? About what kind of kingdom he was ushering in? And what is expected of his subjects?
- Mark begins the story this way: (14.12-13) On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover’? So he sent his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you, follow him…’ Where do you want us to make preparations for the Passover?
- The Passover. Recall that over a thousand years earlier, God had sent Moses to Pharaoh to demand that he set the people of Israel free, “Let my People Go.” but Pharaoh refused. Over and over again he refused. God sent plague after plague, pests, turning the water blood red, hail that destroyed crops and killed livestock. “Let my people go.” But Pharaoh refused. Finally, the tenth plague would convince Pharaoh. It would kill every first born in Egypt. But God instructed the children of Israel to take a lamb for each household and slaughter it at twilight for a meal to be eaten in haste. Then they were to take some of the blood and put it on the doorposts and on the lintel of the house in which they ate the meal. The Angel of Death would then pass over the houses, pass over the houses, where the blood had been placed on the doorposts and lintel. They were to eat their meal in readiness to depart, with their loins girded, sandals on their feet, staff in hand. No time to let the bread rise. They were to eat unleavened bread. Then God instructed the children of Israel that they would observe this meal, this festival on the appointed day in perpetuity to remember the mighty acts of God in delivering the children of Israel from slavery to freedom. Now was the appointed time. Thursday evening, this particular week was the appointed time that all the children of Israel, Jesus and the disciples included, were called to observe the Passover. It just happened to be their last supper together.
- So, what might the Last Supper have looked like? Here’s the traditional Davinci depiction. We don’t think there is much right in the picture. First of all he shows it as daylight. We know that it was night. More important is the seating arrangement. Archeologists have found Mosaics in Galilee depicting what is called a “triclinium,” a common Greek and Roman seating arrangement, also we believe used in better Jewish homes. Here’s a picture of a typical Roman meal being served at a triclinium. Note there are cushions rather than chairs. It was convenient for serving and for talking across the table. It explains a lot of things in the Biblical narrative that can’t be understood if we have Davinci’s picture in mind.
- First, the host does not sit in the middle. This is probably the seating arrangement. We know where Jesus and at least three of his disciples were seated from the Biblical narrative. The host position is position one. Jesus would have sat here resting on his left elbow or hand if the cushion was lower, feet to the rear, eating with his right hand. John, the youngest, and one who might have helped with the meal or to rise and greet guests would have been seated in position 2, and we think Peter would have been here.
- Listen to this exchange in the Gospel of John (13:21-26 RSV) When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, (We believe John called himself, “The disciple whom Jesus loved) was lying close to the breast of Jesus; (do you see how John here, was lying close to the breast of Jesus?) so Simon Peter beckoned to him (do you see how that would work?) beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.” So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” (Now position 3 was the most honored position. It is the position that the host would normally serve. So who was it in the most honored position at the last supper? Judas. Continuing.) When he dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscarot.” (Interesting isn’t it that Jesus has placed Judas in the most honored position at the table. I’ll let you ponder that.)
- So how important is the conversation that took place around this table that night? Well, the Gospel of John spends four and half chapters on it. You may recall the events: Jesus washing the feet of the disciples; Jesus reassuring the disciples by telling them, “In my father’s house are many mansions”; Jesus giving a new commandment “that you love one another”; Jesus telling the parable of the vine and the branches, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them will bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing”; then Jesus says he will ask the Father to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit to be with them forever; and then he ends the conversation around the table with a prayer for his disciples. Interesting, the Gospel of John really doesn’t talk about what we call “the Last Supper.” He has talked about the body and blood of Christ after the feeding of the 5000. We find the institution of the Last Supper in the first three Gospels and in 1 Corinthians.
- So what did he teach us that night? Lots of conversation in John that goes to the heart of Jesus’ love for us.
- The Thursday of Holy Week is called Maunday Thursday. Maunday, from the Latin root of mandate and command. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. Even as I have loved you, that you have love for one another. By this you will be known as my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
- His second teaching took place in the washing of feet. (John 13:12-15) 12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” So the second thing he taught us is to follow his example and serve one another.
- Then Jesus tells them, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Love one another, serve one another, love Christ by keeping his commandments.
- The final teaching comes from the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke tells us that as Jesus prays, he prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Submission, not my will but yours, God’s be done.
- So Jesus teaches us to love one another, to serve one another, to love him by keeping his commandments and to love God by submitting to his will. “Not my will but thine be done.’
- “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And on that night he told us, “Do this, as often as you will, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor 11:25) The command is to remember, to take, eat, drink as often as you will in remembrance of me. To recall the mighty acts of God in Jesus Christ, to proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns.
- On that night as they shared the Passover together, Jesus redefined the meaning of the Passover meal in terms of the New Covenant. He took bread and after blessing it, broke and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body given for you.” Christ presenting himself as the substitute for the Passover lamb. The Passover lamb had been given to redeem the first born. Jesus was now giving himself as the Passover lamb. Redeeming us, the first born in God’s eyes, redeeming all of us.
- And in the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This is my blood of new covenant, poured out for you.” Never again would a death be required for the forgiveness of sins. Christ defining a new covenant of his love for us.
- The Passover feast, the Old Covenant remembrance of God’s mighty acts in delivering the children of Israel from physical slavery to freedom.
- The Passover, now transformed into what we call The Communion, the Eucharist, The Great Thanksgiving, the Last Supper as remembrance of God’s mighty acts in Jesus Christ delivering us from slavery to sin to eternal freedom, life everlasting.
- “Do this in remembrance of me.”
- As Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he follows by asking the Father to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit. God will not leave us alone. It is the Holy Spirit that binds us together as the body of Christ. We are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God (Eph 2:22) Paul told the Corinthians (1 Cor 10:16) “This cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ?”
- The Greek word used here for sharing is koinonia, or fellowship, communion, joining together. Communion is more than an individual act, it is an act of joining with the body of Christ in remembrance of this mighty act of salvation, his body broken for us, his blood poured out for us. It is an act of sharing with the community of believers, all of us coming together with Christ, our Rock, our Redeemer.
- As we come to the table today, let us remember, yes, that Christ died for us, but that it is also the remembrance of the fellowship of believers that are remembering and joining together as Christ’s body on earth, joining together as the heart and hands of Christ bringing eternal hope to others, being obedient to Christ, loving one another, serving the world around us, submitting to the will of God. So may it be in all of our lives. Amen.
D. (At the Table)
- So, what kind of king is this? One who will do anything, go to any lengths to save his subjects.
- What kind of kingdom is he ushering in? One in which we are called to love one another, to join together in fellowship to be his body one earth.
- And what does he expect of his subjects? “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The Table is set.