Dr. RB McFee
“When the hour came, Jesus and his Disciples reclined at the table. And He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.”
Luke 22: 14 - 16
What would you do if you knew you only had a day left to live?
How often are we asked, or have we asked that of someone else, often after someone we cared about passed away? Let’s face it, we all get reflective when illness or death strikes close to home.
How many times have we wished to have one last kitchen table experience with a loved one who is now gone? To laugh over silly cupcakes made while avoiding disaster with the oven?
If you are like me, some of your happiest memories with family and friends who are no longer living, involved a meal of some kind. Maybe it was at a favorite restaurant, or meals at their home. As someone of Italian heritage, what my relatives taught, lived, was that the kitchen is the ‘homiest’ room of the house. Put differently, most people feel relaxed, and at home – whether new friends or longtime pals – sitting at the kitchen table.
The well worn expression “let’s break bread together,” has symbolically, and in actual practice, done more to help people bury the hatchet, and rebuild bridges of contention than any mere conversation could.
Perhaps that is why meals are an integral part of diplomacy missions. They make for great ice-breakers in conversation, and unify diverse groups onto a common purpose – eating. To be sure something magical happens in the process. It is hard to quarrel with happy carbs flowing through the body! And who wants to be contentious in a nice gathering.
Meals make you mindful of who you are with, and why. And when someone hosts you, they are giving something of themselves in the process – hospitality, time, friendship, fellowship.
Isn’t that why we host church meals, and after worship coffee hour? Isn’t that why we call fellow congregants that we have gotten close to, or ones we’d like to know better, and invite them to hang out over a cup of coffee at a local café, or have tea in your home?
Jesus knew from the moment He started His ministry that it would end on the Cross, and He knew when. Now was the moment, the last moment before the end would begin.
Knowing He had a day left before torture, crucifixion, and the end of his mortal life; a blood sacrifice for you and me, the Disciples, and the world – then, and now, what did He choose to do?
Jesus chose to spend it over a meal with His closest companions. And in so doing gave them, and all a memory that would last a lifetime, as well as a model for us to share holy fellowship.
Moreover it translated for His future followers a form of solemn celebration in His honour, similar to what Jews do every Sabbath – Shabbat - sharing the bread and the cup over prayers, praising God.
From the first moments of God bringing His people out of Egypt, throughout the Old Testament and New Testaments, bread in various forms – from manna from heaven, and unleavened bread, or special cakes for the prophet, to loaves accompanying fish at the Hands of Jesus – this food has been symbolic of life and inextricably intertwined with the Provision of God.
Jesus did four remarkable things during the last meal He hosted for His chosen, His beloved Disciples, and presumably those dearest to Him –
Jesus showed forgiveness.
Jesus knew Peter would deny Him, and Judas had betrayed Him. And yet Jesus invited, served, loved, and forgave each of them. Moreover Jesus knew the other Disciples would scatter, just as He had quoted in scripture. He forgave and loved, hosted, and served them, too.
You can’t have love without forgiveness. The first is an emotion, the second is a choice. Jesus would prove that on His long, pain filled walk along the Via Dolorosa right to the Golgotha and the Cross. As if to put an exclamation point to this lesson, so that we can perhaps put highlighter on the words in our Bibles, amongst Jesus’ last words on the Cross were “Father forgive them.”
How easy would it be to forgive the very people you helped, went out of your way in fact to heal, love, care about, teach, and then see these same folks cry out for your execution? And execution that involved wood piercing your flesh, nails holding you to rough, sharp edged wood?
And we have problems forgiving a difference of opinion that doesn’t even involve a tiny splinter?
Good Friday has the power to humble us into a state of forgiveness. Now when someone betrays or hurts me, I think to myself, well I wasn’t crucified because of it. What would Jesus do? And I try to do the same.
Jesus showed service.
In Matthew 26: 14 – 39, we read Jesus starts the evening by washing His Disciples’ feet – a tradition continued to this day in various Maundy Thursday/Last Supper Worship services.
This act – reserved to servants – was yet another reminder from our Savior what we are supposed to do for each other; fill a need, give comfort, bring chicken soup, offer a coat to one who doesn’t have any, serve one another, serve the least among you.
Jesus has often been referred to as the “Suffering Servant.” Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus going out of His way to help others.
Consider in the story of ‘The Woman at the Well’ where Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman drawing water at noon. Jesus went not for the water, but for the woman. Oh to be sure it was hot and He was thirsty, but there were other places, probably closer places, for Jesus and His Disciples to get refreshment. He went to help her.
All through the Gospels we see Jesus going to great lengths – from walking on water in a storm to calm the seas and His Disciples, traveling to heal the sick, even touching a leper, not because He needed to, but because the man long inflicted with leprosy needed to feel a human touch.
During Holy Week Jesus reminded His followers that helping others, which is to say serving the needs of others, or others in need, as told in Matthew 25, is what we are called to do if we want to affirm our love for Jesus.
Jesus showed love
The sacrament of Holy Communion – the recreation of the Last Supper – is often referred to as an “Agape Meal.” This is a powerful word. It means we in fact are committing to each other a form of Divine, sacrificial love, in the spirit, intent, and fellowship of Christ.
Recall from an earlier blog the discussion between Jesus and Peter, when our Lord asked His Disciple “do you love Me?”
Jesus asked Peter do you “agape” Me? This Koine Greek word means Divine, sacrificial, devoted love. Peter answered I “phileo” (some texts use phileostorge”) You. The contraction of phileo (authentic soul mate, close friendship, a type of “brotherly love”) and storge (family love) was used by Peter.
Clearly there was a difference between what Jesus is asking of Peter and what Peter seemed capable of doing, or understanding at that time. But as we saw, the transformative Love of Christ and the Holy Spirit empowered Peter to become the agape man Jesus invited, serving the Lord all the way to his own crucifixion.
Through the Last Supper, or the ultimate ‘Agape Meal ‘ Jesus is both telling us about His Divine, sacrificial, devotional love for us, and inviting us to do the same towards others whenever entering into this covenantal sacrament.
Jesus invites all to His hospitality
Can we do any less?
Jesus never put an asterisk into the guest list for posterity when He modeled the Last Supper and invited us to experience the meal with Him. He invites us to do it often with each other, and to remember the sacrifice He made on our behalf.
Recall the religious leaders chastising Jesus for dining with tax collectors, and those deemed unworthy to hang out with. Jesus unabashedly shared a meal and His Divine sacrificial love with any and all manner of people – the rich and the poor, high born and those most would walk by. All mattered, and all were welcome at His table.
It is one of the things I am proud of in my church – the recognition that Jesus is the Host of any and all communion services we prepare, and that all are truly welcome who have a heart willing to let the Lord enter.
We are not the gatekeepers to the human soul; that is way above our pay grade. Nor are we gatekeepers to the meal Jesus invited us to assemble in His honor.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry – whether Jew or Samaritan, or Gentile, He engaged with and gave love, acceptance and a sense of hospitality.
When He fed the multitudes Jesus didn’t ask for their bona fides. He saw hungry people and wanted to dine with them. It is unimaginable that Jesus wouldn’t have wandered through their midst and engaged as many as possible.
Recall His healing the ten lepers in Luke 17. One was a Samaritan – folks Jews don’t consider as Jewish enough to interact with (the two groups had a falling out centuries before, long story!). But Jesus, Rabbi Jesus, didn’t make the distinction, and there’s no doubt He didn’t know one was from Samaria.
In the same way, The Last Supper is Jesus’ invitation to break bread with Him wherever we are, whatever stage of life we are in, how far or how early our journey of faith is, and with those in our midst. It is Divine hospitality, agape love, sacrificial in service – and a sacrament we can, and should share with each other, in celebration of a Life that was given up for us.
Can we do any less than open our hearts and our table to others, in exchange for the unfathomable sacrifice Jesus gave for us? To do any less would be to dishonor the great Gift He gave.
And just perhaps, the Last Supper can be the meal that changes the world. Maybe little by little we can invite people to what I’m going to call the Table of Divine, Sacrificial, All Welcoming Love.”
Maybe breaking bread more frequently is a good start.
Maybe places beyond the formal church setting, like our homes, or ‘the church of the neighborhood café that some Methodist churches have started, or other denominations have done in public locations, with quiet fellowship can start bringing people together. Not to convert, but to converse and let God do the rest.
This Holy Week we are invited to share in a two thousand year old story of love, sacrifice, hospitality, and forgiveness, and challenged to reflect these Gifts Jesus gave to us, to those we meet. It won’t be easy; anything that endures is never achieved without blood, sweat and tears. Jesus knew that, and in spite of what awaited Him, chose to spend the last day readying for a meal with his loved ones.
He gave us one Passover, one Maundy Thursday oh so long ago, The Last Supper: A meal that can change the world.
God bless you and yours this wondrous Easter Season