Imagine being a close friend of Jesus in the 1st Century, reclining at the table with him, eating a meal. It’s been a roller-coaster three years! Your whole world is buzzing about him. He is absolutely the talk of the town.
You are still not quite sure what all he is talking about, but you have come to believe in him. If he is not Messiah your ancestors have talked about for many generations, he is certainly a prophet. Maybe he really is the Messiah?!
Your people have held on to hope for hundreds of years of returning to former glory. This Roman rule is not the way it is supposed to be. God rescued your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, and He gave them the promised land. God drove out all the inhabitants of the promised land before them. He could do it again! Certainly, He would do it!
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that donkey, it seemed almost so real you could taste it. This really seems to be it! The people are behind him. Everyone is waiting to see what’s next. A new day for Israel seems to be right around the next corner!
But, you never know with Jesus. He is anything but predictable, and he says some really weird things sometimes. Hard things. You don’t completely understand what he is getting at when he talks about the Temple being destroyed and rebuilt in three days. What does that have to do with anything? All of those statements about being the Bread, and the Living Water and the Vine….
As you sit at the table, the talk is excited. It is Passover. Expectation in the air. This Passover is particularly poignant with all that has been going on, but Jesus is quiet.
Not that it’s unusual for Jesus to be quiet at times. They had gotten used to it. He often went off by himself, and he would often seem to drift into deep thought, especially lately.
Jesus had left all of you instructions about preparing the Passover meal. No one knew where Jesus was, but everything was left for you as he said it would be. He finally showed up and watched as you finished. You didn’t really notice his silence until he finally spoke as everyone was finally reclining at the table.
Jesus was obviously waiting for just this time. His voice carried a certain weight to it. More than usual. There was a firm, but calm, urgency to his words. The excited tones of the men around the table fell immediately quiet as Jesus opened his mouth to speak.
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16)
There he goes again. He has been talking about suffering more, lately. It seems that the more excitement that has been generated in the last weeks and months, the more he talks about it. He certainly has made some enemies. The Pharisees have stepped up their threats, and this whole thing could certainly tip at any time.
If, he is the Messiah, though, this is the time we have been waiting for, right? It’s supposed to go like this. God is going to do something unprecedented in your lifetime, certainly, and unprecedented since God drove the people out of the promised land before your ancestors.
The Jesus picked up his cup and gave thanks to God, the Father, as he usually did, but then he handed the cup to you, saying,
“Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:17-18)
He didn’t even take a drink of it. You look uncertainly at the others, but you do as he said. He has been talking about the kingdom coming since the beginning. It looks like this is it! Right? This is what you have been waiting for. If the excitement and expectation could get any higher, it just raised a full octave!
And then, Jesus picked up the bread, and broke it up in pieces. He handed the pieces to you and everyone else before he said anything else. When he finally spoke again, the air that was light in the room with excitement and expectation become suddenly heavy with a certain dread that hung in the tone of his voice and the words he spoke:
“This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)
The gravity with which Jesus spoke those words was unmistakable. You will never forget them. You can picture Jesus and hear the tone of his voice even now. The long pause emphasized that he meant those words to be etched indelibly in your mind. And, so they were.
Reeling from the seeming incongruity of the excitement of the coming of the kingdom, and the suffering he keeps talking about, you hardly noticed that Jesus picked up the cup again. Just when you think you understand, you realize you don’t, but you are used to that by now.
What did he mean that the bread was his body? Why is he talking about us remembering him? Now of all times…. And then you realize he is about to speak again:
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” (Luke 22:20-22)
Those words, “cup of the new covenant in my blood”, were almost lost in the accusation of betrayal! (In fact, you wouldn’t recall them until much later.)
The solemnity of the moment was broken. You can’t be sure who said it first, but you are quick to protest, “I would never betray Jesus! How could anyone who has been with him so long even think of it!”
And just like that, the old insecurities erupted again. Peter and John were arguing, again, about who was greatest. You can hardly get a word in edge wise.
You still don’t get it. None of you do. Jesus is about to go to his death. The most important thing he came to do. And, you don’t yet get it. The old paradigm of the Messiah king who would re-establish the rule of Israel in Jerusalem is still clouding your thinking.
Cutting away from the confusion in that scene, at this point, those words – the cup of the new covenant – still echo today from that day when Jesus spoke them.
Up to that time, generations of Jews from millennia had practiced blood sacrifice, as did all the neighboring tribes and nations they knew in their world (to their own gods). It was a way of life. Their feasts and holidays and all the important occasions were dominated by the sacrifices they gave.
These were times of celebration and deep reflection, of community and relationship and identity as the people chosen by the one true God who brought their ancestors out of Egypt and established them in the land promised to Abraham, the father of your faith, These sacrifices were part of the sacred covenant God established with your people.
But that is forever changed from this date forward.
From this date forward, God made good on His earlier promise to Abraham that all the nations of the world would be blessed through his descendants. The cup of the new covenant would be poured out in the blood of Jesus that was spilled on the ground from a Roman cross on that Friday immediately before Passover.
Jesus would provide the one sacrifice after which no other sacrifice would ever again be needed.
Everything up to that point was a foreshadowing of this one event. The pivotal event in human history: the death of the Son of God, the son of Man, on a tree.
The Law was only a shadow of the reality to come. It could never make perfect those who wished to draw near to God. If it could have, they would not have had to make the same sacrifices continually, year after year. The blood of bulls and goats could never be enough. (Hebrews. 10:1-4)
Jesus did away with the old covenant and its continual sacrifices. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins”; and that one offer is sufficient to perfect those who wish to draw near to God. (Hebrews 10:11-14) It foretold by the Holy Spirit through the prophet, Jeremiah:
“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”
Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”
(Hebrews 10:15-17, quoting Jeremiah 31:33-34)
Today, we remember. Today we meditate on God’s willingness to empty Himself of His station and position to take on human form, to be obedient as a man, even to the point of death, showing His great love, compassion and commitment to us.