24:00 – The Last Supper (March 10, 2019; first Sunday in Lent)
Luke 22: 7-8, 14-20
24:00 – The Last Supper
We’re beginning a series for Lent on 24 Hours that Changed the World, alluding to the show 24. In that show each season would contain one plot, extending over all the episodes of the season; 24 hours of one continuous story building to a dramatic climax.
Like the show we will be looking at the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life, counting down to the climactic events of the cross. The events of these hours are dramatic events, containing twists and turns that would rival any season of the famous show. They are events that are exciting and important, and would ultimately change the way we worship, the way God interacts with His people, and would change the world forever.
These events would also prove to be a test for his disciples; a test which all of them would ultimately fail (except for maybe John, but only if you believe his account over the others). They would also test the love God has for the world; and the distance that God would go to save it. Thankfully God doesn’t fail the test.
The events begin with Peter and John preparing to celebrate the Passover with Jesus. As part of the preparation, they would have gone with thousands of others to the Temple and sacrificed a Passover lamb, which would then be prepared for the meal later in the evening. The lamb was to be sacrificed around 3pm on what would come to be known as Maundy Thursday. This marks the beginning of the 24 hours. The next day, the day that would become known as Good Friday, in John’s Gospel Jesus dies at 3pm. And so we mark our time from sacrifice to Sacrifice: the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
We’re going to focus today upon the Last Supper. But I want to start by looking at how much God does to prepare for the meal, and what we can learn from that. First, we have to begin with the very holiday they were celebrating. The holiday was the Passover Seder, a meal commemorating the Exodus story; specifically the story of the 10th plague.
For those who do not remember, the story begins with the Hebrew people enslaved in Egypt. A boy named Moses was born among them, but would be raised in the Royal palace as an adopted member of the royal family; a son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He would grow up in this privilege until he saw an Egyptian strike one of his countryman in punishment; and in anger he would kill the Egyptian. Believing that he could never be redeemed, and could never return to his home, he fled into the wilderness, where he would wander for 40 years.
He would ultimately encounter a burning bush, through which God would instruct him to return to Egypt. That God had heard the cry of the people and was moved. That it was time for the Hebrew people to be freed. And that God had chosen Moses as the one to free them and bring them out from their oppression and into the promised future.
And so Moses went back to Egypt and demanded Pharoah release his slaves; which went about as well as you’d expect. And thus began the plagues: acts of God designed to help convince Pharoah to let the Hebrews go. And the one that is pertinent to this story was the last one; where God went through the land and killed the first born males of every household in the land.
However, the Jews were to be spared. In order to be spared they were to take a lamb, kill it, and spread the blood over their doorposts. When the Angel of Death came, he would see the blood and “passover” their house, sparing their firstborn. The holiday of passover was a celebration that occurred on what they believed was the anniversary of this event, and served as a reminder of that day; the day when the people had been saved from death. The sacrifice of the lamb was to remind the people of that event and what God had done for them.
It’s also worth noting that the lamb was to be cooked by the people and eaten that night and thus provided a last supper for the people in Egypt that would prepare them for their journey.
All that is not to say that the Passover and Exodus event was all ultimately about pointing to Jesus, or that it has no value on its own. This didn’t happen solely for Jesus to use and discard. But it is to say that Jesus intentionally used and called upon the meaning of the holiday and what they were doing during the holiday to put what he was doing and what he was explaining in a context. He called upon the meaning of the Passover to express the meaning in his own actions. He was the Lamb of God; and just as the people were saved by the blood of a lamb in Egypt, so we would be saved by his blood now.
Jesus also prepared for this specific eating of the Passover Seder with his disciples. Two disciples are sent into the city to prepare the meal. By this point in the week we have left the “hosannas” of Palm Sunday behind long ago. Now it is clear that the religious leadership in the temple is so angry with Jesus that they are seeking to kill him. And so he cannot go into the city, and into the Temple, himself without risking capture. So he sends in two of his disciples to get everything ready for him. Some of the Gospels identify them as Peter and John.
These two were given rather specific instructions: find a man carrying a jug of water, what was typically a woman’s job and therefore a man doing it would stand out. Approach him and say “the Teacher asks where he can eat the meal.” And then the man would show them an upper room where they were to prepare the meal. Now, did Jesus know to instruct them to do this by clairvoyance and supernatural knowledge? Or did he pre-plan with the man and set up this specific set of signals? We don’t know. But we do know that either way Jesus thought it important to set up the meal in this kind of setting. Because he could have set up the meal near where he was in a small town just beyond the valley outside the city. But instead he sets up the meal in this intimate setting where they would likely not be disturbed where he would be free to preview what was about to happen and provide meaning and context to the beginning moments of the church. It was clear having this intimate moment was important to Jesus.
And that brings us to the actual meal. First it is clear that Jesus intended for us to repeat this meal. It was to be a new Passover-like celebration for us that would remind us of these 24 hours. The Passover celebration was designed to remind the Israelites about their defining story in the Exodus. The Eucharist is likewise designed to remind us of our defining story. And our defining story is this sacrifice. We often celebrate Christmas and Easter more than the cross; and those certainly help define our story. But the story that is the centerpiece of the Church’s story is the cross. And that is the story we remember in this celebration.
During the course of the meal Jesus outlines for the disciples a new covenant being forged through his actions. That covenant contains three main promises. First, Jesus states that he will not eat of this meal again until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom. This is a promise that he will accomplish what he is called to do, and that he won’t rest until he does. An assurance that Jesus will indeed save them and perhaps that he will come back to fulfill the promises of the second coming as well. This is the first promise that is involved in the New Covenant.
The second promise is actually one Jesus asks us to make: that we would remember him each and every time we eat and drink of this meal. That when the church celebrated the Passover Seder, which would still be done at least yearly and quickly would be done weekly in the early church, they would remember Jesus and the actions he did. Not that they would remember Moses and the Exodus, but that they would remember him. He was redefining the meal for the disciples and changing what they were to think about. In so doing he was changing their very identity.
Yet he was using this meal to define their new identity for a reason. We were to remember Jesus, yes, but we were to tbe thinking of being saved from death as well. Just saved by him; not by a lamb either long ago or sacrificed more recently in the Temple. Interestingly, this is the only part of the New Covenant that we are called to do: remember. Yet all too often we fail to do this.
The third promise outlined is that Jesus is following the plan of God; and that one of them would betray him as a part of that plan. It is the plan of God, not of a human. Therefore what he has outlined and will endure over these 24 hours will work and will save us as he had said. That is a promise.
But it also set in motion and continued to the end through human actions: the betrayal of Judas, the persecution of Caiaphas and the High Council, the trial and ultimate surrender of Pilate, the violence of the Roman soldiers at the cross. And Jesus states that the betrayer is with them. But he also states that he goes to die for all that share the cup with him; and that includes Judas. If Jesus died for all present then he died for Judas as well. There is no sin too large to be forgiven if they “remember Jesus” and why he did what he did: that we might be restored to how we were at the beginning and be the beings we were always meant to be.
In the aftermath of the meal they began to ask among themselves whether or not they could be the one who would betray Jesus. That is the right response. It should be so unthinkable to us, so unsettling to us, that one would betray Jesus that we would immediately seek to reassure ourselves that it’s not us. But the reality was that they would all betray him in their own ways. Yes Judas was the only that would sell him to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver. But another would deny knowing him 3 times. And the rest would abandon him in the face of the Romans, leaving him alone to suffer.
And we all betray Jesus at moments in our lives if we’re honest with ourselves. But in those moments I remember that Judas was at the table. Jesus’ Grace is offered to us even in our worst moments. We are forgiven as well, no matter what we have done, if we remember him and the love he displayed on the cross. This meal helps us to remember that love and that he died that we might live; that we might become what we were meant to be. Let us do so. Amen.