Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.
When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.”
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.
Matthew 26: 17-35
We know that Peter went on to do just as Jesus said he would, publicly denying him three times. The story of the Last Supper is set amidst Judas' betrayal, Peter's denial, and the disciple's misunderstandings and ultimate desertion. The disciples don't understand what Jesus must do; they thought they must have had it all wrong on that day when Jesus died on the cross.
Today, we too get distracted by the little things, missing the bigger picture just as the disciples did. In his devotion "Lent for Everyone", N. T. Wright shares the following observations:
"Some of the sharpest, most bitter arguments the church has ever had have been about the meaning of the meal which Jesus shared with his friends the night before he died, and of the similar meals his friends have shared ever since...
Perhaps, whenever something truly and massively important is afoot, it becomes the place where attack is concentrated, where Jesus' friends will be distracted by so many immediate muddles and concerns that they risk missing the glorious thing that stands quietly in the centre, the gleaming diamond in the middle of the rubbish-heap.
And diamond it is — with many facets, reflecting light all around. This Passover meal was the way Jesus chose to explain to his followers what his death was all about. They hadn't understood what he'd said to them up to this point, but this meal, and their repeating of it thereafter, would soak it deep down into their imaginations. Jesus wanted them, and us, to know that his death was the true Passover, the time when God acted to rescue his people from slavery once and for all, and that we are not merely spectators but participants and beneficiaries. When we come to the table, we are shaped and formed, together and individually, as Passover-people, as rescued-from-slavery people, as dying-with-Jesus people.
For a community to be formed and shaped in that way is perhaps the most powerful thing that can happen to a group of people. Again, that's why it's so easy to distort it, to allow squabbles and muddles and even betrayals and denials to creep in and spoil it. Sometimes the church has made its sharing of this meal into such a wonderful work of art that everyone is thinking about how clever the art is rather than about how awesome Jesus is. Other Christians have over-reacted to this, and come to the meal, when they have to, almost casually or flippantly, like someone whisking through an art gallery with a cheerful comment about the pretty paintings. We all need, constantly, to find our way back into the heart and meaning of this meal."
With such a variety of methods and understandings of the Holy Eucharist, maybe none of us have this meal quite right. Maybe we should expect it to be so, just as it was with the disciples, blind and deaf people that we can be. But maybe it doesn't matter to Jesus quite as much as we think it does whether we stand or kneel, drink grape juice or wine, pass the elements around or accept them from the hands of a priest or retrieve them ourselves, believe them to be merely symbolic or otherwise, just so long as we truly and sincerely are doing this in memory of Him.
Remember Jesus, friends. Eat the bread, body broken on our behalf. Drink the wine, blood shed for us. A sacrifice not to satisfy wrathful blood-lust, but to lovingly rescue us from slavery to sin and death. If our sins make us less human, less whole, less ourselves, then it is this freedom gained that allows us to begin the journey towards wholeness, a work which He has assured us He will be faithful to complete. We will one day truly be as He created us to be.
But if all we celebrate in this meal was a broken body and spilled blood, then it would be no celebration at all. His death on the cross was only the beginning. It is this day, Easter, when we remember His Resurrection, that we ultimately celebrate: we celebrate His victory over death! He is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed!