Luke 22:1-23 (click to display NIV text)
March 24, 2013: Palm Sunday / Passion Sunday
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“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.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’ ”
Jesus says we eat the bread and drink the cup “in remembrance of me.” What is involved in our act of remembering Jesus? On Good Friday and then again on the Sunday after Easter, we will gather for the Lord’s Supper. We will remember Jesus. This will include bringing to mind all of his ministry and his death and resurrection, and it will also include our obedience, our imitation of Jesus, doing what he did.
Luke gives a detailed account of the night before Jesus went to the cross. It begins at chapter 22:14, “When the hour came,” and goes to verse 66, “at daybreak.” The first part of that night was the Passover meal, and then Jesus prayed in the garden, and then he was arrested and taken to the house of the High Priest where Peter denied knowing him. Then he was beaten and mocked by his guards until daybreak.
The night began with the Passover dinner, and that required preparations. Peter and John went out and found the place to meet, and they bought the food, including a lamb. They took the lamb to the temple to be sacrificed that evening, and then they found a place to roast the lamb. By nightfall they had completed all the preparations, just as Jesus had instructed them.
The chief priests and scribes, in contrast, were not making preparations for Passover. They were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus. They found a way through the help of Judas. He also was not preparing for Passover. Satan entered into him, influenced him. And when money was offered to him, he took it. This showed a weakness in his character, an unconfessed sin, a love of money that he kept hidden for some time. He had a habit of taking money from the common purse of the disciples. He never dealt honestly with this habit, this weakness. It cost him his life. We cannot let our secret sins lay unconfessed and our habits and addictions go untreated.
Jesus enters this time with a free mind and heart. He knows in detail what will happen. He is in control of events. He is able to interpret his death to his disciples. He says that he eagerly desires to eat the Passover with his disciples before he suffers.
In the Old Testament, detailed rules are given for the observance of the Passover. Exodus 12:5, 6 says, “The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the 14th day of the month, when all members of the Israelite community must slaughter them at twilight.”
So on the night of the Last Supper, all the sheep brought by the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem were sacrificed. The next day at noon Jesus would give his life, the last sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Jesus eats the Passover meal with his disciples. In it he interprets its meaning as referring to his death. He also eats it in anticipation of the Messianic banquet eaten in the Kingdom of God. Joel Green writes, “The feast has a future, it anticipates deliverance, a second Exodus. Jesus practiced table fellowship in anticipation of the completion of God’s purpose. Jesus eats his last meal in anticipation of the Kingdom of God.”
The meal that Jesus shares with his disciples on that night is really about the next meal. It is about hope, gained through the cross. This is not like the last meal given to a convict who is about to undergo the death penalty. There the prisoner selects whatever food he wants for his last meal on earth. A tray is brought into the room, but he is the only one who eats. Members of his family, a few guards, perhaps a chaplain, stand by and watch. The food is not celebrated or enjoyed or shared. He eats and then it is time to die. There is no hope in such a solitary meal, no useful purpose for it.
How different that is from Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, where they eat together, where he reveals the meaning of his suffering, where they read the scripture together and where he demonstrates his nearness to the kingdom of God. At the end of the meal, the custom was to sing the last four Psalms that make up the “Hallel,” Psalms 114-118. So Jesus goes to the cross with the aroma of the perfume that Mary poured on his feet, with the sustaining grace of the meal shared with his disciples, and with the words of the Psalm in his mind,
“The LORD’s right hand is lifted high; the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things! I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done. Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.”
The Passover was served in four courses. Jesus takes the first cup, and speaks of drinking it again in the Kingdom of God. He connects the Last Supper to the Next Supper. The cross is not the defeat of Jesus or of God. It is the victory of God. Then, in the third course of the meal, Jesus takes some bread, bread that has been eaten with the lamb and bitter herbs. He takes a piece and says, “This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” The bread is broken so that it can be shared.
Now the disciples are to remember and live in this way. What are they to remember about Jesus when he was at table? They remember that Jesus is a friend of sinners, and he ate with them. They remember that Jesus acted like a servant at table, even washing the feet of his disciples. He said, “the greatest should be like the youngest and the one who rules like the one who serves.” They remember that Jesus allowed a woman to anoint his feet with tears and perfume when he was at table. They remember that he ate every meal in anticipation of the Kingdom of God. This is how they are to live.
Then after supper he took a cup and spoke of “the New Covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” At the Passover in Egypt, the blood of the Lamb was the protection of God from death. Now the death of Jesus is God’s protection from death for his people. When we drink the cup, we are assured of our protection. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) When the scripture speaks of the New Covenant, it proclaims the promise of forgiveness of sin, the enabling power of God’s spirit in us, and the law of God which is written on the heart.
When we come to the table, we hear the New Covenant spoken to our hearts. In the cross of Jesus there is a new promise of God. God speaks life into our hearts. In the death of Jesus, there is forgiveness of sins. When we receive Jesus in faith, we receive the Great Salvation of God. The cross is our hope. The resurrection is the vindication of God, who does not abandon his son to the grave.
When we come to the cross, we are mindful of the suffering of Jesus, and the cost of our salvation. But the Gospels consistently understate the suffering, so that we can always see in the cross our hope and our salvation.
In our former town, there was a Presbyterian church located a few blocks between our church and the hospital, so I often walked by it when making a visit. In the early spring, often at the time of Holy Week, the trees in front of the church would be covered with light pink blossoms. I often thought of that color of pink as an appropriate color for Holy Week. The bright daffodils and lilies are best saved for Easter Sunday morning. That is indeed a time for celebration. But the soft pink says something about the beauty and hope of salvation found at the cross. There is something in the beauty of the cross that invites us to sit quietly and say “yes” to Jesus. I invite you to say “yes” to Jesus today.