"This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." Luke 22:19
Read Luke 22:14-23.
What is the greatest sacrifice someone has made for you? If you had to list your top 5 greatest acts of love shown to you by someone else, what would they be?
As you think about yours, I will share a few of mine. First, I don't think anyone can compare to the sacrificial love shown to me by my parents. My husband would come close but we've only been married 4 years. (He has many more years to catch up to my parents in practicing sacrificial love!) Being a parent helps me to realize all the sacrifice they made prior to my cognitive ability to remember: changing diapers, staying up through the night, giving up money and possessions, etc. I owe my life to them. Another more recent example of sacrificial love was shown to me by a family in my church in Birmingham when I was still in divinity school and single. I had one semester of school left, and I was a poor student. My roommate had gotten married just in time for our lease to end. This family took me into their home, charged me nothing, gave me a room and bathroom on the same floor as their daughters, and treated me like another family member. They allowed me to live with them until I got married, which meant I was with them for a year and a half! I was living on their kindness and hospitality, and their sacrificial love moved me deeply. It still does.
An untypical Passover meal
Just like our first two table scenes (here and here) shared a lot in common (reversal of status, dining with sinners, forgiveness of sins), our last table (the feeding of the 5,000) and the Last Supper share a lot in common. In both today's meal and yesterday's meal, Jesus is the host and giver of the meal. Again, Luke uses the same sequence -- took, blessed, broke, gave -- to describe what Jesus does with the bread. Both stories have references to Exodus, and the content of the message of both is the kingdom of God and suffering. (Isn't it exciting to see how the table scenes share common motifs and that they are not completely isolated events?)
Prior to our text, Luke tells us that it was the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed and the Passover meal eaten. Passover is mentioned five times in verses 7-15, so it's important we don't miss that this was a Passover meal. This is very important to understanding how Jesus then interprets the bread and cup.
Passover meals were no longer celebrated hurriedly but had evolved into lengthy banquets. The meal would take place among family or "fictive kin." According to Joel Green, here's how a typical Passover meal would follow.
- The head of the family blesses the first cup and passes the cup among the family members. This is followed by dipping herbs in a sauce.
- After the second cup is prepared, the youngest son asks the head of the family questions such as, why is this night set apart from other nights, why do we eat unleavened bread on this night, etc. The head replies with the story of exodus and gives an account of Deut. 26:5-11. "The meal is interpreted as a present act of remembrance of and thanksgiving for God's past liberation of an oppressed people, a celebration of God's faithfulness leading to hope in the future deliverance of God's people." They would then sing Psalm 113 or 113-114 and drink the second cup.
- The head of the family takes the unleavened bread, blesses, breaks and gives it to the rest of the family. Then they partake in the meal itself.
- Finally two more cups of wine follow with the singing of Psalms 114-118 or 115-118.
Reflections on the passage:
1. Jesus was in control of his death. As God, Jesus is sovereign, and has power over when and how he dies. We first see this exhibited right before our passage when Jesus tells his disciples what to do in preparing the Passover meal. He is very specific about who they are to see, what they are to say and where they are to go. Jesus has taken care of all the details leading up to his death. Then during the meal itself we see Jesus' sovereignty continue. He has "earnestly desired" or "I have desired with desire" to eat this meal. It's safe to assume that this isn't their first Passover meal during their three years together. They were good Jews, remember! But it is at this particular Passover meal that Jesus will interpret what is coming later that night and next day -- his suffering and the crucifixion. Jesus tells his disciples how they are to understand his death. We cannot understand the meaning of the cross without the Last Supper and Jesus' interpretation of it. By including the detail, "when the hour came," Luke is again alerting us that Jesus is in control of even the very hour in which everything had to take place. Why is this important? Later Jesus tells his disciples that his body would be given for them and his blood poured out for them. They needed to know that the Jewish religious leaders could not arrest Jesus, torture or kill him without his consent. Rather, Jesus would allow these things to take place for his disciples. "This is my body, which is given for you." He also tells the disciples that he will be betrayed by one of them, again showing that Jesus knows the events that will take place. He is not a victim of angry religious leaders. Rather, he gave himself willingly for he was the one orchestrating it all (cf. Acts 2:23).
2. With anticipation of his death is also anticipation of life. Twice Jesus tells his disciples that he will not eat of the meal or drink of the cup again "until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." As we have already noted, the kingdom of God was inaugurated with the coming of Jesus Christ. The kingdom is here on earth present among Jesus' disciples with the giving of the Holy Spirit. But the kingdom won't be finalized or completed until the second coming of Jesus when sin is no more, the old earth has passed away and the new earth is in place. The kingdom of God has a past, present and future reality. It is to this future reality that Jesus now speaks of. Although he will suffer and die, he will come back to life and will take this meal again. This continues to give us hope as Jesus' disciples that just like he fulfilled his word concerning his death, he will fulfill his word about life after death. We look forward to that great banquet with Jesus where we will eat and drink with him commemorating what he did to liberate us from sin (cf. Revelation 19).
3. We are the recipients of the cross. The bread and cup, which had once found its significance within the context of the exodus, has newfound significance in Jesus Christ. Notice, however, that Jesus does not compare himself with the Passover lamb, which he very well could have done (and which Paul does later in 1 Cor. 5:7). Notice also he doesn't make a comparison between the breaking of the bread and breaking of his body, which is a fair comparison as well. Rather, he emphasizes the giving of the bread or the distribution. "'Giving one's body' is potent as an image for giving one's life (in battle) for the sake of one's people." (Joel Green). "Blood poured out" is a cue for a violent death. "The cup" is reference to both divine judgment and participation in salvation. This deliverance of God's people from sin is going to cost Jesus his life. It will be violent. It will come at a great cost. But the emphasis is on he is doing it "for you." Here's where the use of "apostles" comes into play. As apostles, these men are to be messengers of the gospel and leaders of the new Israel. Therefore, this new covenant is extended beyond the table to all who believe. Through faith, you and I sit as recipients of the bread and cup and much more, his death on a cross.
4. As followers of Jesus, we are to continue the practice of both the Lord's Supper and table fellowship. After the giving of the bread, Jesus says, "Do this in remembrance of me." Jews had been taking the Passover meal as an act of remembrance of the exodus, but now Jesus says to take this meal as an act of remembrance of him and his death on a cross. The act of remembering as a motif in Scripture is not limited to cognitive recalling. Rather, remembrance was recalling of the past for a present or future benefit (see also Joel Green). Remembrance is often used in conjunction with present obedience and faith. When the people "forget" in Scripture it thus follows that they have forgotten God and are living in disobedience to his Law. In taking the Lord's Supper we recall a past event that has present and future implications for our lives. Not only are we are to continually take the Lord's Supper, but also we are to make table fellowship an important part of our lives and ministry. Just like Jesus, we emulate his table ministry: openness to the poor, outsiders, and sinners; willingness to become a servant (see John 13:1-20), having an "indifference to status, honor and the like." Just like Jesus and his disciples, we are to bring the good news of forgiveness of sins, the kingdom of God and the death of Jesus.
I asked you at the beginning to think of a great act of sacrificial love shown to you by someone. These acts of love, though great, fail in comparison to the greatest act of love and self denial shown to you by Jesus Christ. As Paul later writes in Romans 5:7, "For one will scarcely die for a righteous person -- though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die -- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Perhaps someone will die for a righteous person and perhaps someone might even dare to die for a good person. But we were neither good nor righteous and yet Christ died for us. Who would give their lives for someone as undeserving as us? No one but Christ himself.
As we approach Maundy Thursday, the celebration of the Last Supper, in just a few days, may we think on these things and may the power of Christ on high work in our hearts, convict us of sin, and draw us closer into relationship with Him.