Friday, May 19, 2017

The Last Meal

As I reflected on the Last Supper this past Easter season, I imagined myself in the scene and took John's point of view.  Here is his story.

A complicated excitement fills me as Peter and I leave the group to carry out Jesus' instructions to get the Passover feast ready. "Look for a man carrying a water jar", he said. As we ease our way into the crowded street I see myriads of water jars atop shoulders of women.  A man doing this would be a rare sight and should be easy to spot.

"There he is Peter!"  I point to the water carrier heading towards a house close by. We follow him and see him enter the dwelling. As we approach the house I knock on the door.  A well-dressed man opens the door, and we state our mission using the words Jesus asked us to say.  Almost before we are  finished speaking he is heading towards the stairs as though he anticipated our request. I look at Peter knowingly. We shouldn't be surprised anymore by things working out like this; we had seen plenty of miracles since joining up with Jesus, but it still was a thrill to be in the moment.  The man shows us a room, furnished with couches and a table to accommodate all 13 of us.

After checking what supplies are in the room, we jostle our way back into the street and head towards the market to buy food and drink.  We shuffle slowly forward in the midst of a swelling crowd, come for the celebration.  It will take longer than usual to do our errand.   Peter and I will be busy all day, and hopefully ready, when it's time for this evening's meal. [The Bible doesn't mention that anyone else helped prepare the meal, but it seems likely that the women who served and followed Jesus were there to do the cooking]

After the shopping adventure, we work together to make sure things are set up for all the rituals of the supper-enough wine for each guest, and enough water jars for the hand washing ceremony.  We set up a roasting pit and then walk the premises inspecting the property for any trace of leaven.  As we walk, our conversation becomes more intimate. We recount things we have seen and learned in the last three years with Jesus.  Peter shares the same foreboding I have been feeling as we muse over recent events.

"Why didn't Jesus' entry into Jerusalem by donkey earlier this week lead to some grand finale?"

Rather than seeing a bold, confidant King-to-be, Jesus had been sad.

"Did you hear him sobbing as we got close to the entrance?"

"Yes, and he was declaring how disappointed he was for the city he loves."

"It felt like the people were really behind us and that Jesus' approval rating was at an all time high."

"Yes, a perfect time to act, if you ask me", Peter says.

But we both agree that hatred is brewing among the religious leaders. A few days ago Jesus had been staged with some tough questions that even we recognized as political challenges.
"Jesus sure showed them up".  I smile remembering how dumbfounded they appeared at his answers.

"What did you think of his predictions about the future, Peter?"

"It's very unsettling to me, and yet he said we would be given wisdom when we need it, and we would gain life out of the suffering if we stand firm.  And there was something he said about redemption coming."

"There is so much I don't understand", I sigh. "Jesus keeps bringing up suffering and even seems fixated on his death sometimes. My hopes rise in expectation of seeing that Kingdom of God being set up as we always longed for, only to be dashed into confusion when Jesus holds babies, visits tax collectors and spends time with people I was taught not to associate with."

"Yeah, you'd think in order to establish a kingdom he's be making friends with leaders in high places!"

"Yet, Peter, we know how his love has changed us and what he's taught us by example and words has transformed our thinking.  We have no doubts he is God's son, the Messiah. We've seen miracles, we know he is no ordinary man, he's perfect in everything he does."

" But this is all so different from what we expected". Peter shakes his head.

As Jesus and the others arrive for the meal the men are joyous as the holiday warrants. Jesus greets me and I sense he is distracted.  There's something bothering him, even though his eyes are warm with tenderness. Once we are seated, Jesus speaks. "I could hardly wait for this time together alone with you, my friends, before my suffering begins.  It will be the last time I eat a Passover meal with you until it's fulfilled in the Kingdom of God."

I feel confused again. He talks of suffering and yet he makes it sound like the kingdom is very close.
Maybe that's what stirs the quarrel right then. We choose to focus on the Kingdom talk; suffering is depressing and we don't understand what Jesus means by it. We push it from our minds and start to act like competitive school boys, vying to be given top honors by the teacher. I'm drawn into the rivalry.

"Jesus, I know how much you think of me. I can handle being your right hand man in the kingdom. I was picked to prepare the meal today and I've been besides you in all the biggest miracles. I know you love me the best.  See, I've even set my place right next to you tonight.  I come from a good family.  My father is a successful fisherman and my mother is also well known.  She speaks out for the causes she believes in.  She raised James and me to strive for the best. She even spoke to you before about how we are fitted for high positions in your kingdom."

The argument stops suddenly as we notice Jesus standing with a towel draped over his shoulder and holding the foot basin of water.  The servant Peter and I hired for the evening feast stands to the side looking confused and nervous. We are speechless as Jesus,  the Teacher and Son of God, kneels down and begins to wash someone's feet.  I've never seen anyone but hired servants do this demeaning job.

 This isn't right! How can we let this be happening?  Shouldn't we stop him?

He's approaching Peter.  "No, Never Jesus! You can't act like this! I won't let you wash my feet."

My thoughts exactly!

"If you don't allow me to serve you this way, you can't identify with me".

"Then, Lord, wash all of me! I want to be all in with you!"

"I know your heart, Peter, and that you have received my cleansing. I wash your feet only as an example of my desire to serve you."

He turns to the rest of us.  "That goes for all of you, except for the one among us who isn't clean inside."

What can he mean? Haven't we each embraced him as the Christ, and followed him loyally for the past 3 years?  We all have our faults and doubts, but none of us are against him.

Tears burn my eyes as his hands gently wash the dirt from my feet.  That he could be in this position, when I should be taking care of him.  He is my Master, he does miracles, he is the Son of God. I can hardly endure this discomfort; the awkwardness.

When we all have been washed, Jesus says, "I've just shown you what greatness looks like.  My servants don't strive for greatness as the world defines it.  It's not position and power over others, but serving others no matter your rank or status. Follow my example and you will know true happiness. And by the way, you will each have a place of judging and reigning in my kingdom and you will eat at my table. For you have stood by me in my trials."

We recline again at the table. Jesus leads us through the order of the Seder.  He lifts the loaf of bread from the table, holds it up and gives thanks. He breaks off pieces and hands one to each of us."Take this and eat it. This is my body broken for you. Do this to remember me."  That certainly isn't in the script. We continue with the traditional prayers and scripture reading. After we've finished the meal he takes the last cup of wine, holds it up and says, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you." I squirm.  Jesus is mentioning his death again.  What does this mean?

"The hand of the one who is going to betray me is with mine at the table. What happens to me has already been planned, but I pity the one who betrays me."

We look suspiciously at each other. I can't image any of us betraying our friend and master. He has brought new life to us and understanding about God the father.  We are all shocked.

"You're not talking about me, are you?, I say, leaning up close to Jesus' chest. "Nor me, right?", someone else says.

"It's the one dipping bread with me right now", Jesus reveals.  Judas Iscariot?! "Why, surely, it's not me, is it?" Judas echoes the others. "Yes, it is you, Judas", Jesus says sadly. "Go and do what you have planned, quickly."

I don't know what just happened.  If Judas is the betrayer, why wouldn't Jesus have rebuked him or forced him out before?  It's more likely Jesus needed him to go buy something or give some money away. 
The End

Several things stood out to me about this event. Jesus was happy and comforted to be with his closest friends on earth as he approached his death.  He loved them to the end.  John 13:1.
As I read and reread all the gospel accounts of the last supper, I was struck by Jesus' love for Judas Iscariot.  Jesus refers to Judas more than once.  He mentions that they aren't all clean when washing their feet. He says that someone will betray him and then specifically says it is someone eating right then with him.  He speaks strongly about and pities the one who will betray him. It would be better if he had never been born. I believe Jesus is still hoping Judas will change his mind and repent, not so Jesus can get out of this trial, but so Judas won't suffer the guilt and eventual death that we know happens to him. How could Judas have taken part in the meal and feel Jesus' tender, humble love for him as Jesus washes his feet unless diabolical hard-hardheartedness had possessed him?  How could he not have buckled under the the stern warning about what would happen to the betrayer?  And that none of the disciples suspect Judas or believe what he is capable of, even after Jesus discloses him as the betrayer, speaks of his acceptance among them and of being a credible follower of Christ up until now.

Jesus' last time with this company in his earthly body is around a table of food.  He shares his goodbyes and gives them words to remember as they eat together. I think of other references in scripture of Divine presence at a table.
-He prepares a table before me (rather than watch me eat, he is feasting beside me, his conversation and presence calming any fear of present enemies)Ps. 23:5
-He knocks at our door wanting to come in to eat with us. Rev. 3:20.
-Many parables are set around an invitation to a banquet or feast, intended to show God's heart of desire to sup with us.
-It was over a meal that Zacchaeus abandons cheating, that a newlywed couple receives the gift of new wine, and while at table, Simon's meal becomes the stage for a woman's extravagant worship. Luke 19, John 2, & Mark 14

-"Then the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!' And he added, 'These are the true words of God.'” Rev 19:9

Until that day, we eagerly take the bread and wine of communion, remembering it ties us to him now and forever.  We stay in practice of eating together with those we love, inviting his presence in these sacred meals.  We are invited to his table always. May nothing keep us from responding.

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