With apologies to Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, as well as Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein for mangling the title of their play and movie adaptation.
Today is Maundy Thursday on the liturgical calendar of many historically liturgical churches. We Baptists tend to know the name but don’t really do a lot with anything on the liturgical calendar except Christmas, Easter, and Good Friday. We remember the day as the day of the Last Supper and the arrest of the Lord Jesus. Let’s take a look at that Supper, shall we?
Let us consider this Passover, starting with the facts as we know them. It was the tradition and the law of the Jewish people to observe annually their deliverance from bondage in Egypt. There were portions of the observance that were clearly commanded in Scripture and we find those expressed mainly in Exodus but reinforced in a few other places. As things often do, of course, there were additional elements that tradition and time had added to the observance.
We can see in Exodus 12 that the meal was to be eaten with the household members, unless the household was too small, then they were to unite with another household to have a meal with no waste. The Passover was to be observed on the 14th of Abib, beginning in the evening.
So we find the New Testament story at that time of year. Lacking a definite year to assign, we lack a specific day of the week for the events. Traditional interpretation of the Sabbath after the Crucifixion gives us the idea of this falling on Thursday of our modern weeks, but there are some questions about that. (If you want to discuss that in the comments, feel free to calmly and rationally not call people idiots for disagreeing with you.)
I’ll take it as Thursday and leave the arguing for another day.
Thursday finds Jesus and His disciples in an upper room, leant to them by a family unnamed in Scripture. They recline at the table and prepare for the meal.
Sermon upon sermon has been built on this night. Most of us have heard mention of the washing of the feet, the bread and the cup, and the departure of Judas. (If you need to hear those, you can always listen here.)
How much do we really think about this night? How much do we think of the people who were there? We speak of the individual circumstances, like Peter or Judas, Thomas or John (the disciple whom Jesus loved), but what about the twelve of them as a group? Note: the text is clear that the Twelve are there, but some traditions give us the possibility that others are in the room. That’s possible–but I’ll focus on the ones we are certain of.
Dinner is happening, and the Lord Jesus shocks them by announcing “One of you will betray Me.” (Matthew 26:21) The response from each of the disciples is quite similar: “Surely I am not he, am I?” That one of them, Judas, could reach a point after three years with Jesus that he betrays Christ is astounding, but this is more astounding to me: after three years, not one of the Twelve are certain that they would not betray Him.
Every last one of them, apparently, wonders at their own faithfulness. With good reason, too, for before the night is out they have each abandoned Jesus to face trials alone. Surely John and Peter are there to see what happens, but they do not attend His trials to stop the injustice, just to observe from a distance.
Even having witnessed everything they’ve seen: the storms stilled, the deaf hearing, the blind seeing, and the dead living, the faith of the Twelve at the time is shaky. They know their own hearts better than anyone but Jesus, and they know what they could do. They fear what they could do.
The Lord Jesus does not really give them any reassurance, either, for He tells them that the one who is dipping his hand in the dish with Him is His betrayer. Guess what? It’s a common plate, no utensil meal. Anybody close by has been doing that, so it does not reveal anything. John even admits that when Judas leaves, the disciples don’t realize that he has gone to the priests to betray Jesus.
Instead, Jesus gives them something better than reassurance. He gives them something better than a pat on the head and a soothing, “No, Simon the Zealot, it’s not you, you’re cool” or “Phillip, man, everything with you is groovy.” He takes up teaching them of life in the New Covenant, of love for one another and love for Him.
And He gives them two things to do for remembrance. He takes the unleavened bread and speaks of the destruction of His body, He takes the cup and speaks of His blood and the New Covenant.Paul tells us later that this was to be done in remembrance of Him.
The men who came to dinner that night were not worthy of the One they ate with. They admit by their own doubts that they are not faithful to the last–they cannot even trust themselves not to betray Christ, much less to stand beside Him. They have seen and done, but still they waver.
Are we so different? We see and do, we read and remember, but we still waver. We have our days that we could betray the Son of Man for silver or for a nice, warm bed. We have our days that we will run away from the confrontations that our faith brings in front of us.
What do we do?
Come back to this moment: that His body and His blood are enough. They were enough for the men who came to dinner, with their faults and failings, and they are enough for us. They are enough for all who will come. So, shall we go out and invite a few more to the table? There’s grace enough for the next person after you, no matter how much you need.