Over these past couple months, we’ve been studying Jesus’s final days leading up to his death and resurrection, ever so slowly making our way from Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry where Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, to his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
We’ve journeyed through Monday, then Tuesday, today we skip ahead to Thursday. Not much happened on that Wednesday long ago, or to put it more accurately, very little of it was recorded in the gospels. And so we skip ahead to Thursday. As one writer put it, when Jesus woke up that Thursday morning, he would likely not close his eyes in sleep again until he closed them in death on Friday afternoon. For as we’ll see in the weeks to come, Thursday night is a long, dark night.
And the events of Thursday night begin with the Passover feast, what you and I know as the Last Supper, the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples on the night before he died.
Chances are you may have noticed something peculiar at the beginning of our passage this morning. You get this back and forth conversation between Jesus and two of his disciples, Peter and John, with specific instructions as to how they’ll prepare for the Passover meal. “You’ll find a man carrying water over here, he’ll take you to a house over there, he’ll show you a large room over here, make preparations there.” Oddly enough, we saw a very similar scene when Jesus was preparing to enter into Jerusalem, telling his disciples exactly where to find the donkey he would ride in on.
Now, why are we given all these details? Well, I think, and more importantly, scholars way smarter than me think it’s Luke’s way of showing us that Jesus is not a passive bystander, wandering helplessly towards his crucifixion. Rather, Jesus knew everything that was going to happen, every last detail. He knows exactly what he needs to do and he will see to it that it all takes place, just as it was meant to be.
And so on that Thursday night long ago, the disciples and Jesus found their way to the Upper Room. The table was set. The preparations had been made. Jesus and his disciples now reclined at the table, the meal now ready to eat. A meal that we now know as either the Lord’s Supper or Communion, a meal we’ll all share later this morning. And so for today, as we continue to consider this text, we’ll look at this Communion meal, what it meant then and what it means for us today from four different vantage points, four different outcomes that this meal accomplishes.
And the four are: A meal that remembers, a meal that unites, a meal that models, and a meal that anticipates.
A meal that remembers
Five times early in this passage, Luke tells us that the disciples were getting ready for the Passover meal. And the meal itself was a way in which the Jewish people remembered and gave thanks for that moment in history when God freed and saved his people. A period that takes us all the way back to the book of Exodus, when God’s people were brutally enslaved in Egypt.
Where back in Egypt, God instructed his people to share in the first ever Passover meal. And later that night, God would send a final and deadly plague, where he would kill the firstborn son from every family. It would be the straw that broke the camel’s back and finally demanded that the mighty Pharaoh would let God’s people go.
And in it all, God provided a way for his people. Families were instructed to take the lamb they had prepared and eaten earlier that night, and spread its blood on their doorposts. And those families who had a sacrificial lamb standing in as their substitute, standing in their place, God would “pass over” them and have mercy on them.
That’s what the disciples thought they were remembering, celebrating, commemorating on this night long ago. Until Jesus interrupts the meal, saying:
19 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.” 20 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.”
In doing so, Jesus reinterprets the meal itself and gives it new meaning.
For Jesus, the Lamb of God himself, who is sitting at the table with them, will be sacrificed on a cross the very next day. Jesus, God’s firstborn Son, will stand in as their substitute, dying in our place, so that through faith in Jesus Christ, death would “pass over” us.
Jesus gives us this meal, infused with new meaning and says, “Do this in remembrance of me” and so we’ll do exactly that later this morning. This is a meal that remembers. And not simply Jesus’s death, that singular moment on Calvary. In addition, it’s also given to help us remember what Jesus’s death means for you and me today.
For example, this past year our Middle Schoolers have been studying the New City Catechism and this past week we were talking about idolatry and how sometimes we look to things other than God for our hope and happiness, significance and security. And Marie Hamilton, who co-leads the group with me, asked the students what idols middle school students struggle with today. And I so appreciated just how thoughtful and vulnerable and insightful they were. They said, popularity. Man, I don’t care when you were in middle school, the popularity idol is a tale as old as time … and truth is, we adults struggle with it too, don’t we? I like to give it a slightly more palatable name, the approval idol. Where I often care more about what others think of me, than what God thinks of me.
Now, how might this communion meal help to chop down our popularity or approval idol to its proper size? By remembering what this communion meal points to and what it signifies. That Jesus, out of his great love for you and me, was willing to die for you and me. His body and blood, broken for you, poured out for you. And that our identity and worth is not contingent upon other’s approval of us, but God’s. And so if that’s you, when you take this meal, remember who and whose you are, a beloved child of God sitting at the table with the Lamb of God himself.
A meal that remembers. That’s the first and it’s a long one. The next three will be shorter …
A meal that unites
Meals in general have a way of bringing people together and creating community for all sorts of reasons. Meals level the playing field in a way, where no matter who you are or what you’ve accomplished, everyone has to eat. And we bond over shared experiences, and yes, that includes sharing the same meal, together marveling at a new recipe that you or a friend has tried out. Meals have a way of bonding people together and creating community. Meals bring unity.
And what’s true of your average meal is true of this Communion meal too. It’s a meal that unites. During these final days, every act of Jesus is a deliberate one, an intentional one, and that’s true of this communion meal too. Jesus wants to gather his disciples one last time, and over a meal of all things. Saying to them,
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” It’s a galvanizing moment for the disciples, one that will equip them and empower them for life after Jesus, and it’s a meal that will draw them all the closer together as a community. Except for Judas, that is, the disciple who will betray Jesus. More on Judas in a couple weeks.
This communion meal reminds us that our faith, though personal, is public, not private. Jesus wants to use this meal not only to bring us closer to him, but also closer to one another. And so maybe during communion today, you look around the sanctuary and say to yourself, “You know, I wasn’t very kind to Amy the other day, I should go over and apologize.” or “I was really hurt by what Mark said to me last week. I should be honest and tell him how I’m feeling.” Or maybe you say, “Gosh, I haven’t seen so and so for a while. I should reach out and give them a call.”
And speaking of those who aren’t here with us today. I’m excited to share with you that we’ll be starting, or I should probably say, likely re-starting our Homebound Communion this month. Where a few of us, as pastors, elders, and pastoral care shepherds will be going around to our members and friends, who due to limited mobility or otherwise are simply unable to share communion with us here, and so we’ll share communion with them there, in their homes.
It’s a simple way in which we can practically reinforce that this is a meal that unites. A meal that creates community. And so we’ll extend the Lord’s table as far as we can. A meal that unites.
A meal that models
This one will take a bit of explaining … a meal that models, what do I mean by that? Well, you may have noticed this strange conversation near the end of our passage today that seems so very out of place.
Where shortly after Jesus has introduced the Lord’s Supper, this beautiful, powerful imagery of Jesus’s sacrifice and death on the cross. It says, “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.”
My goodness, fellas, read the room here! Yet the latest in a series of episodes for the disciples titled, “Adventures in missing the point.”
The disciples were teenagers after all, and that popularity idol, that approval idol was likely getting the best of them too. And Jesus, middle school and high school teacher that he is, seizes the teachable moment.
“The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” And later he’ll say, “I am among you as one who serves.”
This is a call to sacrificial service for every follower of Jesus, no matter their age, position, status, or calling. And when you connect the dots between the Lord’s Supper and Jesus’s message here, he’s showing us that Jesus’s life and death on the cross is a model for how we should live too. That just as Jesus lived the life of a servant, and died a sacrificial death, we too should model our lives after him, but putting to death our sinful self-centeredness and living from a place of sacrificial service.
And so when Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me,” he’s saying far, far more than take this communion meal in remembrance of me. He’s saying model your entire life, live your entire life in remembrance of me. Be a servant, live sacrificially for the good of those around you, in remembrance of me.
This could not be more applicable for me today. As you might have guessed, Callie and the boys are home this morning. They boys came down with something last night and aren’t feeling well. We had a pretty great record breaking streak of good health going there for a while, but records are made to be broken I suppose.
Anyway, if I “do this” and partake in this communion meal, and then fail to “do that” by loving and serving my family later today, then I, too, have found myself in an episode of adventures of missing the point. If I “do this” and fail to “do that” and walk home today saying, “You know, I think I’m going to put my feet up and do whatever I want to today” then I have profoundly, deeply, tragically missed how Jesus wants to shape me through this communion meal.
Friends, this is a meal that models how we should live. Live a life of radical, sacrificial service. Friends, how might you “do this” and how might you “do that” in remembrance of Jesus today and in the week ahead?
A meal that remembers, a meal that unites, a meal that models, and finally, a meal that anticipates.
A meal that anticipates
Years ago when I was attending seminary on the East Coast, I would often celebrate Thanksgiving with other students as it never seemed to make much practical or financial sense to travel all the way back to Seattle for a couple days when I knew I would be home for Christmas just a few short weeks later.
I remember at one of those Thanksgiving meals a friend of mine (who was hosting us all that day and is now a pastor herself) was sharing how Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday because the meal itself is a glimpse of what heaven will be like.
And as she shared more about her love for Thanksgiving, I began to understand what she meant. She reminded me of how scripture describes what heaven will look like in the Book of Revelation and elsewhere. How followers of Jesus from every tongue, tribe and nation will come together and enjoy a great feast with one another, in what is known as the marriage supper of the Lamb.
And that, in many ways, is what Jesus is alluding to here.
6 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
In other words, this is a meal that anticipates, that is designed to get us looking ahead to what will be.
Are you weary of more than just the snow this morning, are you in need of some rest? Take heart, there’s a greater communion coming.
Are you mourning the recent loss of a loved one, are you in need of some comfort? Take heart, there’s a greater communion coming.
Have you failed someone this week, your co-workers, your family, your friends, are you in need of strength to keep going? Take heart, there’s a greater communion coming.
Is your sin overwhelming you, wreaking havoc over your life? Our Savior, Jesus, his body and blood broken and shed for you, welcomes you to this table. Come as you are, and take heart, for there’s a greater communion coming.