5 April 2012Mark 14:12-25
"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." (vv. 24-25)
Today is Maundy Thursday, when Christians recall the last supper
that Jesus ate with his disciples before his arrest. The events of
the evening became the basis of the Christian service of the
Eucharist or Holy Communion.
Just as Jesus seems to have made secret prearrangements about his entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-3), so he apparently booked a private place for himself and his disciples to eat the Passover meal together. His instructions about preparing the meal include spotting a man who is carrying a pitcher of water as a signal (men didn't usually do this chore). At the meal itself, his announcements were also clearly purposeful and pre-planned.
The Passover meal recalls the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12), and to this day includes symbolic foods which are interpreted during the course of the meal. This story of deliverance is a crucial part of how the covenant with God was understood. What Jesus seems to have done is chosen, during this ritual meal about freedom, to introduce some new interpretations over the bread and wine and apply them to himself and his message about the kingdom of God. His forthcoming death is "my blood of the covenant". The claim is an enormous one to make. It presents Jesus as the essence and culmination of all the promises of God through Jewish history, and the means by which human deliverance happens.
It is no wonder that such a purposeful, ritually enacted last message to his disciples became the heart of subsequent Christian worship - and that we are brought closest to the gift and intentions of Jesus through the bodily acts of eating and drinking, not through 'over-thinking' about our faith.
It is worth noticing though that this profound moment was shared not just by Jesus' friends but by the one who was about to betray him (verse 18), and in full knowledge of his imminent mortal danger. We should not think of communion as something that can only happen when all is harmony and peace. It is a gift we can celebrate in the midst of life at its hardest, and even in the company of those we do not trust.
Think about a Holy Communion service which you have attended, which was particularly special in some way. What made it so?
When have you found God in the midst of life at its hardest? What happened?