When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles 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 fulfilment in the kingdom of God.”
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
Shared meals are special times. I used to think a meal was simply a matter of sitting down, filling up and then moving on. Over time I realised that there is a lot more to it than this, it is a social get together and a slow experience, seeing and listening to the other people around the table, remembering what brings us together. Yes, it does include good food and drink but it is ‘shared’ food and drink.
The COVID-19 lockdown was not a great time for shared meals. Nevertheless my wife, Maureen, and I managed two significant events. The first was my Brother Ray’s 70th birthday party. Fewer than normal attended and we all had our time slots but the celebration of his life made it special. The second was a little garden party to which we invited a couple of old Christian friends and another couple of young ‘searchers after Jesus’ types. Here it was the conversation and spiritual depth, plus Maureen’s baking that created the weight of the afternoon.
Jesus clearly loved the idea of meeting and eating together. The feeding of the five thousand was one such occasion and here the story of the Last Supper is another. This one is small, intimate, almost hidden away as Jesus and the twelve gather. Jesus realises what is unfolding but the disciples do not, although they may have had intimations that this was the last time they would meet before his death.
The tone is set by the first few words, ‘When the hour came’. The meal was a looking back to the Passover when Jews, before escaping from Egypt, daubed the blood of a sacrificial lamb on their doorposts so that death would ‘pass-over’ and not touch their household. However, this will be a Passover like no other. Jesus will be the sacrificial lamb and his blood will be daubed on their lives. So in the silence of that upper room as they sit around a single table and, with the oil lamps burning and the shadows lengthening, these few poetic words become a reality.
“Loaf of bread
Given for you
Poured out for you
In my blood.”
Today we call it the Eucharist, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper, Love Feast or Holy Communion. In effect we have turned what was an intimate coming together with Jesus in the centre into a formal act of worship, a service. However, Jesus is still in the centre, we are still his disciples and it is still a Holy Meal. Whether we do it very formally with a robed priest and special music or informally simply passing the bread and wine to each other it is still what we call a sacrament. A sacrament is an outward physical enactment of a deeply inner spiritual truth. A sacrament is a ‘sacred moment’ and the inner truth is that Jesus is still here and feeding us.
You might like to look ahead to the next time you will celebrate the sacrament. Think also about the others you will be sharing it with. Then visualise Jesus being in the midst and actually offering you the bread and wine.
Do not let me take this meal for granted.
Help me to remember to rededicate, to repeat.
Fill me with your bread,
Forgive me with your wine,
And call me on to your Heavenly Kingdom.