April 9, 2020
We are blessed to have a number of retired pastors who worship in our congregation. For Holy Week, we asked them to each write a blog post on a different day of Holy Week. Today’s entry comes from Dr. John Haberlin:
The Desired “Last Meal” Jesus Desires to Eat with Us
“Maundy” Thursday … No! Not Monday Thursday! Maundy, another “insider” word (Churchese), puts one of faith’s most vital concepts on the dusty library shelves of historic theology. Hopefully it will come alive as you read. Jesus thought what happened on what we call “Maundy Thursday” was so important it was the focus of the last hours of His life before he was arrested.
Think of our word “mandate”. The Latin version used “mandatum” in translating Jesus’ words “YOU SHALL love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus combined quotes from Exodus and Deuteronomy.
Maundy is also linked to the stories of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet that fateful day. This humbling act of cleansing makes us so uncomfortable that it is seldom part of our experience. Humility is hard.
All four gospels record this Passover, though differently. I encourage you to compare the four gospel views and also Paul’s words in his letter to Corinth (Matt. 16:24-30; Mark 14:10-26; Luke 22:1-22; John 13, 1 Cor. 11:23-28).
The context of the Jesus’ Maundy experience was the Passover. Passover reenacts the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. To avoid the fatality of the tenth plague a spotless lamb was to be sacrificed and be the main course of this memorial meal. The lamb’s blood was to be spread at the top and sides of entry door. The “angel of death” would “Pass-over” each house and the first born male child would die if no blood was there. Even Pharaoh’s son died. Thousands of Hebrews fled crossing the Red Sea safely but the waters engulfed the pursuing Egyptian army. (see Exodus 12)
By God’s commandment, a Passover feast was to be the first thing done after they successfully escaped and it was to be celebrated every year after that … and it continues.
The meal is central to the celebration. Different from our meals, there is symbolic meaning with each prescribed part. The meal was and is to reenact the story of the Exodus. Many details deal with the preparation, specific foods and when and how they are a part of the drama. I will deal with those parts Jesus made central.
The symbolic meal has five essential parts. Four cups of wine are consumed at specific moments in the feast, the cups of: Remembrance, Deliverance, Salvation and fourth, the Cup of the Coming Kingdom. Between the second and third cups, the meal is eaten, lamb is the meat.
Initially, the Israelites were told to “Remember!” specifically to remember the exodus, how God led them from Egypt. Jesus was bold to say “Do this remembering Me!” For those hearing this it must have been disturbing, shocking. This, if you think about it, was heresy. Take time to ponder this. Reread the story of Israel’s escape from Egypt and ponder our escape from slavery of sin.
A dramatic part of the dinner rehearsed the pain from which the children of Israel were delivered. They individually consume bitter herbs, hot horseradish, so with the tears generated every generation would identify with the pain of exile. Could you now stop and take some bitter herb and cry with those of the past that have suffered ultimately for our benefit?
Next a mixture of apple, dates, nuts and wine passed among them. It looked like the mortar their slave ancestors were forced to make into bricks in Egypt. It was and is a sign of the necessary unity of the faith community: “If we don’t work together we will die!” At this point Judas dipped, looked Jesus in the face and left on his journey as a traitor, while the rest of the disciples questioned, “Is it me?” Here we can stop and ponder: have we betrayed Jesus, have we broken the unity of the faith community?
Before the meal, three pieces of “unleavened” bread were presented, the middle piece broken in half and hidden to be revealed after the Sacrificial Lamb had been consumed. It was called “the Hidden. Watch for this later.
Central to the Passover feast, a “sacrificial” lamb was consumed. Remember John the Baptist’s announcement, “Look! The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!” In the exodus, the blood of that Lamb was placed on the door frame so the angel of death would “pass over.” Here is the heart of the Passover and the heart of our faith, Christ’s horrible, sacrificial death in our place. Stop and ponder, I dare say, “Consume Him.”
The hidden bread is then revealed. Jesus retrieved the bread and sent everyone into a spin: “This is MY body, broken for you. Do this in Remembrance of ME!” He gave it to his disciples. Shock! Confusion!
Then Jesus took the third cup, the “cup of salvation.” Paul made it clear that it was the “cup after supper.” He filled it, lifted it and he said, “This is the New Covenant /Testament in MY blood. All of you drink from it.” What spun in the disciples minds? What goes through your mind when you hear these words? Heresy??? Ponder!
The final cup, the cup of the coming kingdom, was consumed. Someone was sent to the door to see if Elijah the prophet was there. No one seen, they would say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Just a thought: Jerusalem means “City of Shalom/Peace.” We too join together watching and waiting for the return of Christ. Our communion concludes with: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you show forth the Lord’s death until He comes again.” Jesus said, “I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.”
This is a time to remember God’s deliverance, to remember people’s pain, to experience God’s salve (salvation) and move into the future trusting God.
Rev. Dr. John Haberlin grew up in West Seattle, attended Seattle Pacific, Fuller Seminary and received his DMin from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. He began at Westminster Presbyterian in Yakima, moved to First Presbyterian in Hayward, California, served as founding pastor of CKPC, was Associate for Church Growth at General Assembly, and finally pastor at Harrison Square Presbyterian in Centralia. He is married to his lifelong friend, Pamela (who painted the Last Supper image above following da Vinci’s). They have three children and six grandchildren.