The Lasting Supper

It was to be their last meal together before he died. They didn’t know it. They thought they were eating together celebrating great events of the past, unaware that a much greater event was unfolding before them. An event that fulfilled everything the past had pointed to, and much more.

It turned out to be a very strange evening. Something was up, even if they were quite unable to fathom what it was. There was quite a shock at the beginning, and after that Jesus said all kinds of strange and amazing things.

First, he washed their feet. Now, whether their feet were dirty or not, this was breathtakingly astonishing. Sure, Judea was a desperately dry and dusty place outside the rainy seasons. Dust everywhere! And you had to be careful where you stepped when you were walking down the streets of Jerusalem! Transport and haulage was of the four-legged kind, who left their calling cards as they trudged along. And people threw all kinds of rubbish into the streets, too. Open-toed sandals were cool, but could collect unwanted souvenirs of travel.

Now even a really devoted disciple would never conceive of washing his teacher’s feet. Even (especially?) a very pious one. But here was their teacher washing their feet! Peter would have none of it – until Jesus convinced him otherwise.

For a moment, Jesus was visibly upset as he told them he was going to be betrayed. What? By whom? Why? They weren’t sure. Before they could delve further, he said something about now being glorified, and God glorified in him. Then he said he was about to go away. Hhm.

Then he went on, “A new command I give you: Love one another.” Now they knew this was weighty. They knew about loving God with all their heart, and their neighbour as themselves. But this, Jesus said, was new. Peter was often hard to love; John wasn’t called the Son of Thunder for nothing; Thomas questioned everything, even the questions; Judas kept a suspiciously tender eye on the accounts (and had he really been a member of the assassins?); and Philip sometimes seemed to be a conversation behind.

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another”, he said. So our love for one another was intimately connected to his love for us...did he mean they were to love one another with the very same love he had loved them? This seemed to be at the heart of what he was telling them. Yet there was much more, each bit as eye-popping and astounding as the last. He called them his friends, not just his servants, not just his followers.

They were expecting a meal of roast lamb, herbs, and the various toast and prayers of remembrance of God’s great saving acts in history. Sometime during the evening, he stood up and did something entirely unexpected: he broke bread, telling them this was his body broken for them. And he took wine, telling them this was the cup of the New Covenant in his blood. Ah, covenant they knew of – but a new covenant, in the body and blood of Jesus, that was amazing.

“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”, he told Philip. Say that again? Did they hear correctly? “I am the way, the truth and the life”, he continued. Then he told them again he was going to leave them, but not as orphans. He would send “another Comforter”, or Counsellor or Friend to be with them, the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth”. “On that day, you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you”, he said. This was a mystery, taxing for the most poetically inclined fisherman.

“In”, he said. Not just with, or near, or by, or alongside, but “in”. Whatever the full meaning, he was making some startling claims about linking the Spirit’s dwelling within Christians to the fact that the Father and Son are in each other. They were still adjusting to the shock of hearing Jesus call himself God’s Son throughout his ministry; here he was saying that the in the Spirit the disciples share in the relationship with the Son as the Son shares in the relationship with the Father. And this was connected to love.

The metaphor of the vineyard, vine and branches was vividly real. So, they were to “remain”, “abide”, “dwell” (live) in Christ, in the same way the branch remains, lives, in the vine. Jesus isn’t just giving commands, or examples, but offering an intimate relationship – nothing short of dwelling, living, “in” him. So that’s how we can love as he does – by sharing in his life and love with the Father!

And still, there was more. Somehow it seemed to reach its climax when Jesus said that knowing the Father and the Son was eternal life, and went on to pray for the disciples, and all those who would follow them. His prayer centred around unity, “oneness”. This seemed to be the high point, the focus that he had been leading to all night.

He prayed to the Father that “they may be one, as we are one”. This “oneness” was the very oneness shared in the relationship of the Son with the Father. Not just a oneness of purpose, of “being in it together” (although it included that), but a oneness of relationship, fellowship – the very communion of the life of God. Love. Unity. Oneness.

And then it all went sour. That very night, he was indeed betrayed, taken by the a detachment of soldiers and officials, abused, mistreated, subject to a sham trial, and finally handed over to be whipped and crucified. The worst kind of death, reserved for common criminals. The hopes and dreams of the disciples were crushed, annihilated. Completely devastated, they retired to a safe room and locked the doors.

Only the women went to the tomb, crying, heart-broken, early on the Sunday morning. Only to find the tomb empty! And an angel asking them why they were looking for the living among the dead – “Jesus is risen”, he said, alive, resurrected. It was too good to be true. No words could describe it. And the male disciples simply didn’t believe it.

Until he miraculously appeared in their midst, the resurrected Jesus in his glorified body. “Peace” he blessed them. And breathed on them and said “receive the Holy Spirit”. United with humanity through his coming as a human being (incarnation), and taking humanity’s sins upon himself in death, this union with humanity remained in his new resurrected life – making the way open for reconciling, redeeming and taking humanity into his relationship with the Father. The resurrected and ascended Jesus offers the way for all people to share directly in fellowship with the Trinity.

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”, he said. And, in the grace of God and the fellowship of the Spirit, these first disciples did just that. Joyfully, thankfully, prayerfully, they shared the good news of the resurrected, ascended Jesus. As they reflected on that time together, they shared with others the amazing grace of God – of hope, even in the midst of the blackest suffering, of new life, resurrected life. The new life of the New Covenant, the life of dwelling “in” Christ. Of sharing through the Holy Spirit the same relationship that the Son shares with the Father. A life of love, unity, communion. Oneness with God, in fellowship with one another and the Triune God for eternity.

-John McLean