Two thousand years ago a man sat down with his friends and ate a meal.It could be argued that no meal has echoed down the centuries quite like this one. That meal is the Last Supper and this moment is remembered by churches around the world by eating bread and wine in memory of the man who first did it, Jesus.
If you haven’t read the account of the Last Supper before, or would like a refresher, then you might like to turn to the gospel of Mark in the New Testament and have a read of chapter 14 verses 12 to 26.Theories about the Last Supper, and how we should practice our remembrance of it in the church today, are widespread and numerous. It seems there are as many opinions as there are grains of sand on the seashore! But perhaps there is more to draw from the accounts of the last supper than a simple set of rules of how we should or shouldn’t conduct our church services.
Picture the scene: The tension is rising in this group of 12 friends. Their leader, friend and spiritual teacher Jesus has been confronted by the authorities many times.They are aware that Jerusalem is not a safe place for him to be yet he insists on going there to celebrate the Passover, an important festival in the Jewish calendar (see Exodus 12 for its origins).Two of the disciples head into the city early to prepare a space for the celebratory meal, the others follow.The meal starts off well. They sit back in their chairs, enjoy each others company and then suddenly the man who called this motley crew together changes the atmosphere. “One of you will betray me,” he says.
The reaction of these friends and disciples of Jesus is fascinating. They immediately ask the question ‘Is it me?’ I think this, and Jesus’ response, says something big about us and God.
The disciples loved Jesus, they had given up their homes and livelihoods to follow him and yet they still thought to themselves and said out loud, “Could it be me that betrays him?” I think we universally know this potential in ourselves.Words slip out of our mouths that we wish hadn’t. We make wrong choices out of anger, sadness and disappointment. We wish we could take things back, daily sometimes.
But what is really interesting is Jesus’ response to this rag tag bunch, none of whom is confident that they are not his betrayer.He picks up a loaf of bread and says ‘Take it, this is my body,” and a cup of wine saying “This is my blood which is poured out for many.”
Jesus sees their inability to be what even they want to be, to even know if it is they who would betray the one they love.Later that evening he tells them they will be scattered like sheep when he is taken from them, a prediction that comes true alarmingly quickly after this cosy meal among friends.And to Peter, one of his closest friends he says, “Tonight, you yourself will deny me three times.”
It is with this full knowledge that Jesus performs these powerful symbols of what is to come, his death within days on the cross–An act to unite people ever falling short with God who desires to give them a fresh start as many times as they need it. This offering of bread and wine at the last supper is the gospel in a moment. In this act Jesus says, I know you fail, that you can’t even be sure of yourself, but here is the solution: “Take, eat – it is given for you.”
Sometimes Christian life can feel like you are ever striving. Striving for a perfection that even you know you cannot reach.This story shows us that God knows full well our struggles and our inabilities. It is into this reality that he offers himself, going to die knowing that the closest people to him will run from him at the time he needs them most.
And to this he says, I have the answer. The answer is me.
This post originally appeared on the Underground Blog in 2010. I recently rediscovered it and now that the Underground has closed down it seemed like a good idea to give it a new, permanent home. Thanks for reading.