You will recall that Passover was, and is today, celebrated in the Jewish faith to commemorate that night when God was inflicting the 10th plague on the Egyptians for the way in which they were treating God’s chosen people, the Jews. In the last plague God instructed Jewish families to mark their door posts that the plague might Passover them and they would escape the terrible night of death imposed on the rest of the country. Quite literally, they were passed over and therefore we have Passover as one of the three most important holidays in the Jewish faith. Some of you participated in the symbolic seder meals we held to mark this evening a few years ago which were organized in part by Bev Miller and the late Rita Kent and know more detail about the specifics of the meal.
Jesus was a good Jew. Naturally, he would want to celebrate the Passover meal with his best friends in this their first visit as a group to Jerusalem. The story told us how, somewhat typically, Jesus laid out the plan for the meal in great detail. And the disciples discovered that it all came about just as Jesus had said it would. Jesus was an excellent host. Yet also somewhat typically of Jesus, he was anything but a typical host. His place was at the head of the table and there would have been servants bringing food and drink to Jesus and the disciples for the meal. Yet at some point Jesus washed his disciples’ feet! That was the task for the lowliest of servants and not for the head of the table. Jesus point, as retold in the Scripture reading, is that Jesus saw himself among the people as one who serves. The implication, of course, is that this was to be the model for all of his followers.
For Jesus and his followers it had been a tumultuous week in Jerusalem. Gathering for this most traditional and familiar of meals must have been such a relief. Except once again Jesus knew the meal was itself part of the tumult of the week that would lead to his death on a cross. Jesus knew that one of his disciples would betray him, had already in fact betrayed him. He also knew that his closest friend would deny him not once but three times before the next morning. Then he saw his 12 companions arguing over who among them would be regarded as the greatest. It is as if they had learned nothing on the long journey with Jesus through the Galilean countryside as they witnessed his practice of ministry during their prolonged journey to Jerusalem! We have travelled the same journey as we have spent the last three months with the story of Jesus as told us by the author of Luke.
Our Lenten journey has confronted us with the same realities that faced Jesus and his disciples. We recognize that we are, individually, all too human. We also recognize that there are destructive powers to match the powers of Imperial Rome that would seek to conquer and dominate the world. We have seen that even with all our advancements in science and knowledge that a simple covid virus can bring us to our knees—until we find a vaccine to heal us. Yet the virus has shown us so many other flaws in our society that will not be cured by a vaccine. Strengthened as individuals and even as communities the remaining tasks to recover and build back better are huge; but we know our own future, and the future of succeeding generations, depends on those of us who will emerge from this ongoing pandemic and seek a more God-like world.
Jesus understood that. Through the life and death of Jesus God understands now more than ever our lives and the challenges we face. God also knows what resources must be made available to redress the all that which would oppress God’s people. The cross is not an ancient symbol alone, it is a present reality for so many of God’s people.
So on the night in which he was betrayed Jesus gathered people around a table. On the night in which he was betrayed Jesus spoke of the future, acknowledged the challenges of the present reality, and gave his people the spiritual resources they would need to live faithfully and fully in God’s world. On the night in which he was betrayed Jesus said you will find life—in this bread and in this wine—IF you break it in remembrance of me. On the night in which he was betrayed Jesus instituted a meal which we, like our Jewish cousins, celebrate until now. This meal is not about looking to our history though, it is about remembering our Lord, as Luke has reminded us time and time again, and Saviour. In the remembering we commit ourselves to being the servant he was to his people in their day. We commit ourselves to a future knowing that God’s Spirit will enliven this bread and wine, that God’s Spirit will enliven our lives, and that with God’s Spirit we will enliven the life of the world—for on the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus gave us the very sustenance of life itself. Amen