When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.
Of the four Gospels, Luke offers us the most serene account of the Last Supper. In contrast, the others place Jesus’ foresight of His betrayal before the meal, which gave rise to emotional upset between the Disciples and probably indigestion! In Luke, the discord follows the meal.
As Christians, we have probably attended countless Communion services: for some, it is weekly; for others, less frequently. The ways in which this Sacrament is administered in our denomination, and across the Christian world, are many and varied.
As familiar and comfortable as we may be with how Communion is administered in our churches, let us remember that Jesus’ words and actions on that evening were momentous: He departed from the centuries-old Passover tradition.
A few years ago, I participated in an inter-faith radio project, during which I spent time with an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi. During one of our conversations, he described to me how Jesus’ words about the bread being His body, and the wine being His blood would have been received by Jewish believers with shock – putting it mildly!
By the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, some 20 years after the events – the very text recited at our Communion services – had lost the raw emotion which those present at the Last Supper would have felt. Yet during Holy Week, we allow ourselves to revisit what we, euphemistically, call ‘The Passion’.
Although not to everyone’s taste, two films evoke ‘The Passion’ for me: the Rice/Lloyd-Webber musical “Jesus Christ, Superstar” and Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of The Christ”. The musical explores individuals’ profound and life-changing responses to Jesus; and the film exposes us to the sheer horror of His sacrifice.
As we journey together through Holy Week, may God grant us the grace to experience ‘The Passion’ afresh.
O, Lamb of God, You set us free: You take our sins away from us. For all we have, and all we are: We give you thanks, and praise Your name.
O, Lamb of God, You set us free: Your grace abounds in Love to all. You died for us, and our response Demands our souls, our lives, our all.
(Can be sung to the tune “Rockingham” [When I Survey…])
Walt Johnson, Elder; Wilbraham St Ninian’s, Chorlton, Manchester
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