Read Luke 22:7-62
[long reading alert!]
What would you have to eat if you knew it was your last meal? How fitting that the Passover meal would be Jesus’ last meal! As we continue to journey with Jesus to the cross, today we read about Jesus’ final meal with his followers, also celebrated as the “Last Supper.” You can imagine the aromas of roasted lamb, herbs, and wine mixed with the smoke of the oil lamps lighting the space. Remembering this intimate time Jesus spent with his friends is referred to as “Maundy Thursday” in the Lutheran tradition I’ve known since childhood.
The verses that precede the ones you just read in Luke’s gospel reveal how Satan entered Judas Iscariot to be the one who works with the chief priests to plan Jesus’ arrest. We’ve already seen how those religious leaders have been obsessed with ridding themselves of Jesus. You can imagine how thrilled they were to have one of Jesus’ own followers come forward offering to help…for a price.
But the focus of our reading takes us to the events of that fateful meal. How did the Holy Spirit speak to you as you read this familiar story? It’s always good to remember the events of that night. Each time we take Holy Communion we are transported in time back to that night Jesus told us to remember.
Jesus starts by saying, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” Now that’s a statement! Being “eager” is almost bittersweet, knowing this would be the last time. What do you think his disciples were thinking? Were they sensing the end of Jesus’ earthly life was so near?
Jesus reverently goes through the motions of leading the Passover meal. If you’ve never experienced a Seder meal, I would recommend it highly. You’ll gain a deeper perspective of how Jesus is our sacrificial lamb, shedding the only blood that saves us. Those Jewish remembrances and traditions of Passover take on such a powerful meaning when we think of what Jesus did for us.
Everything was going along pretty normal until Jesus told them one of them would betray him. Of course, Judas had to know, didn’t he? He had approached the priests earlier! Other gospels speak of how Judas gets up and leaves the group. Luke is silent about that, but instead goes into a likely discussion of “Who is Greatest?” and Jesus took this opportunity to teach some more.
We can surely see Jesus’ deep desire to pour into his disciples up until the very last moment. I had forgotten the high honor Jesus gave his followers that night when he said, “And you will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” We all have a place in the Kingdom of God, but these chosen twelve have been given a great purpose, indeed!
Can you even imagine what Peter was thinking when Jesus singled him out? I’ve always appreciated Peter’s bold confidence. He’s the one who walked on water with Jesus, remember? Little did Peter know what would transpire that night. How ridiculous Jesus’ prediction would have sounded!
I remember that Jesus had said prophecy would be fulfilled if he “was counted among the rebels.” But I had forgotten that Jesus had all but told his disciples to get their “go-bags” because tonight they’d be on the run. They would be rebels for a cause–the cause of Jesus. Tonight would be a dangerous night for them, and Jesus wanted them to be prepared.
The scene in the garden always pierces my soul. I can’t say that I would have done any better at staying awake after a big meal. But, I’d like to think I’d have made the effort if I realized even a tiny bit that Jesus ‘needed’ me to pray. Jesus modeled for us so brilliantly that going to the Father is what you do before a big event, when your heart is heavy, or when you’re just plain scared. How poignant the line of Jesus is here about his arrest, “But this is your moment, the time when the power of darkness reigns.”
Jesus wanted them to pray like this. “Pray that you will not give in to temptation.” Again, Jesus knew the perfect prayer for us because he knew the human tendency was to sin and accept the lure of the evil one. Temptation is all around us. It’s even wrapped up in opportunities that look “good.” The disciples were even tempted to fight when the crowd came to take Jesus.
When you read about Peter’s denial, what did you think of Peter? Have you ever denied your faith in Jesus? Maybe you haven’t denied it, per se, but you haven’t necessarily been overly visible about it. Maybe even visible at all! We can always work on being more transparent about our faith. In our last reading, Jesus told us he’d give us the words we needed when the time comes to proclaim our faith. I can tell you from experience that those words do come. Sometimes like a waterfall of more words than you even say.
Remember, too, what Jesus wanted Peter to do when he came to his senses and acknowledged Jesus again with his trust. “So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” Strengthen your brothers. Jesus knew that for his followers to succeed in their mission, they would need to encourage each other. Jesus called out Peter to be the head encourager!
What transpired that night was so much more than the last meal. While it’s painful to remember and walk through the events of this fateful night, it does us good. We should never take what Jesus did for granted. Getting real, up close and personal, with this story helps ground us and remind us “whose” we are, and the price he paid for us.
Let’s pray …
What a night you endured for me, Lord! My heart is overflowing with emotion. The gratitude I feel just seems to bubble up and out. Thank you for what you did for me. I am so sorry for all of the times that I have stepped out of bounds and been lost in the world. Forgive me for those times I will slip. I never want to be out of your presence. In Jesus’ name. Amen.