First Meal, Last Meal

Mark 14: 12-26

Dr. Chris White  Jan 5,  2014

     We’ve just completed a season of meaningful holidays, “holy days” actually, and those days were made more holy because of meals. The food is deep within the traditions. And what adds a special layer to the eating of the food is the people attending those meal. Not every meal is private, but some meals are family-only, and that makes them unique—a special invitation meal, in fact.

I think this privilege of being at a meal with Jesus on the Passover adds a layer of celebration to the story in Mark 14:12-26. As we’re about to see, friends and disciples of Jesus prepare a meal for him. It is not just any meal. It was the last supper before the crucifixion of Jesus. It was also a supper closely linked to the Jewish Passover. There was little anyone could do to make that Passover season greater than it was, especially with the rising favor of the people toward Jesus. But to be the handful of men invited to the meal and preparing the meal would make it more than a meal. It would make it a milestone.

     Keep this in mind as we read Mark 14: 12-17: On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ he will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus told them. So they prepared the Passover. When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve.

     No one is named here, not the man with the water, not the man with the guest room, not the disciples who prepared the meal. But it should not be lost on us that there is a real sense of value to be at the table with Jesus—whether you prepared it or simply were invited to it. This is a great supper for the disciples. They are eating at a table they put together, all for Jesus, and that is a great part of the story of the meal. They also provided the bread and the wine that is about to play a role in this story and our involvement with this story. With the rising tide of expectation of a coming Messiah, spirits would be high.

     This is why they would not expect what comes next. In verse 18 we find this: While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?” “It is one of the Twelve,“ he replied, “one who dips bread in the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” The mood changes. They who had been faithful to Jesus in the preparation of a meal find reason to doubt their faithfulness with the warning of betrayal. Note that no one says “Who is it?” as if they are certain it is someone else. In the “Surely not I?” each disciple confesses his fear that Jesus might be speaking to him. Suddenly the room doesn’t feel like a celebration of the faithfulness of Jesus’ followers. The food on the table suddenly looks like food, not faithfulness, and all the men in the room feel their own doubts.

     In this void Jesus makes his great offer. Read with me at verse 22: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many, “he said to them. “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

     The very bread and wine the disciples brought to the table is taken in hand by Jesus and offered back to them as something more than a space-filler for their stomachs. He offers them bread and wind, but he speaks of body and blood. They eat literal bread and drink literal wine, but he asks them to see beyond what’s in their hands and consider him in a new way. This is a way for Jesus to point to the cross and the body and blood he’ll leave there. He is inviting them to this new covenant, the grace of God’s forgiveness through a death they still do not see coming. He is inviting them to accept food that is more important than the food they put on the table.
     He is asking them in the “Take this” and the offer of the cup what he asks of us at the Lord’s Table: accept the invitation to know me, to trust me, and to live with me at the level of hunger and thirst. As they and we take the elements into our body, we also are called to take Christ into our hearts.

     Just as we eat and drink today and receive the bread and the cup into the deepest places in our bodies, we are invited to accept Jesus into the deepest recesses of our hearts. We are invited to welcome him into the difficult spaces of life: our secrets, our disappointments, our desperate concerns, our relations with enemies, and even the valley of the shadow of death. The only way Jesus enters those private grounds, however, is by telling the truth. We rarely tell one another the real truth of the matter—what we want, what we feel, how we’re disappointed or worried—because we don’t feel that we can trust one another with that kind of information. There is a lot of shame when the truth is public. But we can trust God with this truth. In fact, if we never bother to tell him the whole truth about what we experience in this world, we cannot expect to have any real experience of Him and with Him. While we may not be able to stand without shame in our confessions, Jesus stands there as Lord and Shepherd. He can do a great deal with the truth. And so the “Take this” of the table is actually a “Take me” from Jesus. We are called to receive.

     But we would remember something else. I read an anecdote about the American artist, James Whistler (of Whistler’s Mother fame), who was told by an interested buyer that he couldn’t buy a painting because it would not fit in his room. Whistler’s reply was this: “Man, you cannot make the picture fit the room. You must make the room fit the picture.” In like manner, we cannot change this crucified, resurrected Jesus to fit our space, our schedule, our sensibilities; we must change to make room for him. The only way we truly make room is by removing things. You’d be surprised what happens when bad ideas and bad habits are removed—there is suddenly space for something fresh and needed. God can move into all spaces where He is made welcome.

     God has set a table before us. It is up to use whether we eat or do not eat. The Lord’s Table is a time of receiving. More, every day is a time of receiving. Are you hungry enough to eat? Thirsty enough to drink?

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