Today we read Luke’s account of the Last Supper. I love how Jesus begins this episode of his ministry:
14 And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer…
Sometimes this is translated as, “I have longed to eat this Passover with you…”. Imagine the Lord, saying that he has longed to share a meal with you. But as with all things with God and with Scripture there a multiple layers of meaning. By now we have enough context to see another level of meaning when Jesus says he has longed or “earnestly desired” to eat the Passover with you. Look at all the preparation God has made for this meal:
1. Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, meets Melchizedek, a priest of God most high, who offers bread and wine at the founding of the Jewish nation.
2. The Passover is initiated with the sacrifice of a Lamb.
3. The Jews eat unleavened bread because of their hurried exodus out of Egypt.
4. The Jews eat the manna in the desert, a form of bread, as they wander for forty years.
5. The Manna is preserved in the Ark of the Covenant.
6. The “Bread of the Presence” or the “Bread of the face of God” is perpetually maintained in the Temple on a table in front of the Holy of Holies together with a skin of wine.
7. Jesus is born in Bethlehem, “the city of bread”, and placed in manager, where the creatures come to eat.
8. Jesus performs his first public miracle, turning water into wine, at the Wedding feast of Canna.
9. Jesus is called “the bread of life” and the “lamb of God.”
10. Jesus feed thousands by multiplying the loaves of bread and the fishes.
11. On Passover, one year before the Last Supper, Jesus gives the “bread of life” discourse (from John 6, which we will reach in a couple of months), in which he says, “unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you do not have life within you.”
12. At the Last Supper, Jesus takes bread and wine says, “this is my body, this is my blood.”
13. The resurrected Jesus is met on the road to Emmaus, is asked to stay for dinner and is “recognized in the breaking of the bread.”
Do you see the sweep of history? Do you see how God has prepared for this “Last Supper” for 3,000 years leading up to it?
Why would God prepare us for 3,000 years to institute a symbol? For what purpose would be need such a symbol? Doesn’t the Cross, which adorns our churches and jewelry, serve as a sufficient symbol? Doesn’t scripture say it is sufficient to teach us about Jesus? Why then would we need a “memorial meal” to remind us of Jesus deeds?
And if the Old Testament Covenant was filled with ineffective symbols that did not accomplish what they represented, why would Jesus replace them with another simple ineffective symbol at the institution of the New Covenant?
In fact, as far as I can recall (and please correct me if I am wrong), during his life Jesus only tells us to do two specific things. He gives us many general exhortations, like to “take up our cross daily”, to “keep the commandments” and to “leave everything to follow him”, but he only specifically tells us to do two things – to baptize and to “do this in memory of me”.
AND NOTICE, he tells those things to the Apostles. Only the Apostles are present at the Last Supper and the command to Baptize is given to the Apostles, after the resurrection when Jesus says, “… Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20* teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
There is so much more here than just a symbol. Even as the sacrifice begins it is already successful. God spent 3,000 years preparing for this one meal but he doesn’t just leave it in the past for us to look back on. It is really present to us when a priest, properly ordained and authorized by the successors of the Apostles “do this in remembrance of him.” This is how it is made possible to fulfill Jesus’ teaching of “unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you do not have life within you.”