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.
I think that birthdays are for saying "How good it is to have you around!" I wish that all the cards in the supermarket had this message. My nephew celebrated his 18th birthday three weeks ago; he is planning to be a doctor and this significant birthday is like a stepping stone into his career in adult life.
Of course, Christmas is the celebration of Christ's birthday. We are so glad to have him around! The world would have been such a different place but for our saviour's birth, his life, his suffering, death and resurrection. A bit like the Passover we celebrate at Christmas the new era that began with the birth of the Messiah.
How do we celebrate birthdays? Parties! These are occasions for feasting and being joyful. I hope you can carry this dimension into a weekly Eucharist!
We also celebrate achievements. We have a video at home called, "a day to remember." It commemorates when my wife’s son passed out of the Navy training course. We recollect his smartness and the values he held in her Majesty's service.
When my children graduated from university each time the family filled the upstairs room of a local pub/restaurant for a celebration meal. We took pride in their achievement and they were days to remember.
My parents told me of the enormous national celebrations associated with VE Day, when many lives were dramatically changed from that day, and I guess not a few new ones were conceived!
At our weekly Eucharist may we not celebrate the glorious achievements of our Saviour Jesus Christ, his glorious victory over sin and suffering and death.
And, as after the last war, we can aim to create a country and a community worth fighting for, fit for heroes. We treasure the victory by making it worthwhile and working to advance the kingdom of God.