I wonder what the disciples thought of that last supper they had with Jesus. Particularly in Mark’s gospel, there’s a real sense of danger and intrigue. Jesus tells two of his disciples to go into the city where a man with a water jar will meet them. (Remember that in this culture men simply did not carry water jars; that was women’s work.) So the two disciples are to follow this man to a house. Then they are to ask the owner of the house to show them the guest room. And then they are to prepare the Passover meal there.
Why all this cloak and dagger stuff? Well, the simple answer is that Jesus is probably trying to prevent Judas Iscariot from knowing his future whereabouts. He couldn’t exactly say, “Go to Mary, the mother of John Mark’s house and prepare the Passover in their upper room”. Then Judas could simply go to the chief priests, tell them where Jesus would be, and that would be that. No, Jesus wanted to have that last Passover meal with his disciples. And only then would he allow himself to be arrested.
So why was it so important to Jesus that he celebrate that Passover meal? As good Jewish people, Jesus and his disciples would have celebrated Passover every year of their lives. But this one was to be different. For Jesus reinterpreted two parts of the meal: the bread and a cup of wine. He took some bread and he broke it. Now this was a normal part of the Passover meal. But as he broke the bread he added some new words: “This is my body.” And then he took a cup of wine and passed it around. Again, this was a normal part of the Passover meal. But again he added some new words: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”
I can picture those disciples looking at one another. What’s he saying? Jesus had already told them he was going to die at the hands of the chief priests, but that on the third day he would rise again. But they’d never really understood. Now, with a piece of broken bread in their hands, and a mouthful of wine in their mouths, Jesus’ imminent death became real.
I am pretty sure that at the time they did not really understand the significance of what Jesus was saying. But afterwards they did. After Jesus had died and had been resurrected, they began to understand what his death meant. They realised that his broken body was necessary so that our sins could be forgiven. They realised that his blood had inaugurated a new covenant, a new agreement, between God and humanity.
And they remembered this every time they broke bread and drank wine. Certainly once a year at Passover. But possibly even more regularly than that. Why? Because Jesus asked them to. Mark doesn’t record it, but Paul does, in 1 Corinthians 11. Twice Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me”.
So each time we gather like this and take a piece of bread and drink a small cup of juice we remember what Jesus did nearly 2000 years ago. And each time we too have a tangible reminder of Jesus’ death. We know that our sins are forgiven through what he did on the cross. And we know that we are sons and daughters of God as a result of that new covenant. So when you take a piece of bread and eat it and take a mouthful of wine do not be sorrowful as you remember Jesus’ death. This is a moment of joy! Forgiveness of sins is ours through Jesus! Our relationship with God is restored! Let us remember what Jesus did and be glad.