Summary: The Last Supper was a Passover meal which points us to the future dimension of our celebrations of the Eucharist.
I wonder how many of us will join in with street parties on or around 14th May this year, to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. Celebrations such as birthdays and Christmas and family achievements and national events can be wonderful and meaningful opportunities to get together.
Our reading from Matthew’s Gospel described the Last Supper which was a celebration which we repeat to this day. I propose to explore with you the nature of the celebration, what was celebrated and why, before thinking about how we celebrate nowadays. In other words, it will be exposition followed by application.
1 The Last Supper – Moving on
The Last Supper was a Passover Meal. It commemorated the tenth plague upon the Egyptians as the Hebrew slaves were dramatically delivered and the firstborn of the Egyptians were killed by the hand of God. It was celebrated by the Jews every year as a thanksgiving for this miraculous and powerful event.
One church I used to serve held a Christian re-enactment of the Passover each Maundy Thursday to help us connect with our spiritual inheritance. The church was swept clean and the kitchen scrubbed energetically to make it spotless. The local butcher supplied sufficient lamb whose aroma filled the building as it roasted. We prepared the bitter herbs and salt water to symbolise the suffering and tears in Egypt and made the charoset from apples and cinnamon, which looks like the mud the Hebrews used to make bricks. We invited the younger members of the church to search diligently for leavened bread which we had hidden to be removed. And we invited the youngest members of the church to ask the questions according to the Passover liturgy, which I would try to answer.
It was apparent to me in this celebration that the Passover is about moving on. The blood on the doorposts and lintel marked a decisive break with the past from which the nation was wonderfully delivered and the meal was traditionally eaten in haste in travelling clothes in anticipation of the journey ahead.
The words with Judas at the meal were a brief reminder that, even though his betrayal was predicted, he bore the full responsibility for it. Better that he personally had never been born.
At the Last Supper Jesus reinterpreted the bread and the wine. The broken bread symbolised his body which would be cruelly beaten and nailed to a cross; together in Christ his followers share fellowship with the suffering servant of God. The wine symbolised the blood of the lamb dripping down from the slaughter, which delivers God’s people from the sins of the past and sets them on the road to eternal life.
2 Celebrating Now
Let us now think about how we celebrate.
I suggested that we might celebrate the Queen's 90th birthday with a street party for the sake of example. I am imagining a community celebration in which our friends and neighbours are drawn in to the fun. Together we can look back over the 64 years of her Majesty's reign, and we can look forward to however many more years she will lead us.