I can remember that week so vividly. I remember the crowds that met us at the gates of Jerusalem. Our Teacher riding on a donkey. People all around us, waving palm branches and spreading their cloaks on the road before us, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
If only that mood of joy and celebration had lasted. But our Teacher didn’t come to Jerusalem for a party. He wasn’t there to please the crowds. He was a prophet, and prophets often make enemies…
I remember watching him enter the Temple. In an instant, that mood of joy and celebration evaporated. He started flipping tables and driving out all the merchants and moneychangers, and all the animals. It didn’t take long for him to start making enemies.
All week, we went to the Temple every day. People from all across the city came to hear him teach. But the Pharisees and the priests kept interrupting him and challenging him. They were trying to trap him in his own words. I could feel that sense of tension building and building as the week went on.
Then the day came to celebrate the Passover. That was why we were in Jerusalem in the first place – for the festival! I remember Jesus sending us into the city to get everything prepared for the meal, to find a room, and make all the arrangements. We followed all his instructions to a “T,” and by sundown, everything was ready.
You know, we had shared countless meals with our Teacher before. But this one was different. Our Teacher was always inviting other folks to come to join us for meals. Folks that often made us uncomfortable – tax collectors, and sex workers, and people who lived on the streets – all sorts of folks that many people would avoid. Hmm. He welcomed them all in. And he always made them feel loved and accepted. He told them they were God’s children.
But that night things were different. That night, it was just us. Just the Teacher, and his disciples.
I don’t know how we knew all the things that were about to happen. How he knew that that very night he would be betrayed, and arrested, and put on trial, and handed over to the Romans. That Passover meal would be his last meal.
But he knew. Somehow, he knew.
I remember sitting at the table, with Peter and James and John, and Simon and Thomas and Andrew… All of them. We were all eating together, dipping our bread in the same dish in the middle of the table, talking about the week and everything that had happened. And then he said:
“One of you… one of you dipping your bread in the dish with me will betray me tonight.”
It felt like a punch in the stomach. I remember that bread, which had tasted so good moments before, tasted suddenly bitter.
We were all asking him, “Is it I?”
I still can’t believe it was Judas.
I still can’t believe that, as we were all sitting there together, eating that sacred meal, that he had thirty pieces of silver in his pocket. Thirty pieces of silver…
But who knows? Judas wasn’t the only one who acted dishonourably that night. In the end, we all ran away. Even Peter. Maybe if there was forgiveness enough for us, well, perhaps there is forgiveness enough for Judas too.
I mean in the end, isn’t that what it was all about? Forgiveness?
The moment passed. We sang those familiar hymns. We told that old story, of how God led our ancestors out of Egypt so long ago. And then it came time for our Teacher to say the prayer.
We had all celebrated the Passover with him before, but this time was different. This time, he took the bread. He blessed it. And then he said, “Take this and eat: this is my body, broken for you.”
This is my body… what did he mean by that?
Then he took the cup, and he said, “This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant, poured out for all people, for the forgiveness of sin. Truly I tell you, I will not drink of this wine again, until I drink it in a new way with you, in my Father’s kingdom.”
What did he mean… “This is my blood?”
We ate and we drank, as he told us. But we didn’t understand. Not yet.
Now perhaps you have heard of all the things that happened after that. Perhaps you know the story. I guess it was only after all those things had come to pass that we finally came to understand.
Yes, now I do understand what he was trying to tell us. He was trying to tell us that he was about to give his life – his own body and blood – for us. So that we would be saved. So that we would be forgiven. So that we would know God’s love, and receive God’s promise of life. And that all this – this gift of life, and love and forgiveness and salvation – was not just for a bunch of rag-tag fisherfolk from Galilee, but it was for all people… That he gave his body and blood so that the whole world would know God’s love.
You know, now when I share this meal with my brothers and sisters – when we break bread together, and share wine together, we always tell the story. We remind each other of what he did for us… what he did for everyone.
You know, some people call it “The Last Supper.” I guess perhaps it was, in a sense. But I like to think of it as the first supper. The first supper that we shared together, not just as his disciples, but as his church. And now, every time we share that meal together – every time we share bread and wine, and we tell the story – he’s there with us. Christ is with us, in that meal, in the bread and the wine, in each one of us. He promised us that he would always be with us, and when we share bread and wine together, I know that that’s true.
And you know what? I truly believe that because of what he did for me, what he did for all of us, that one day we’ll all get to share in that cup with Jesus, at that great banquet that he is preparing for all of us.