With Easter Sunday next week, there are few more appropriate texts to consider than the significance of the Last Supper.
Jesus does a remarkable thing by taking the bread and identifying it with his body to be broken, and the wine with his blood to be poured out for the many. These are deeply Christological words; Jesus attaching profound spiritual significance to his impending death. This is a deliberate and symbolic inauguration of a new Passover, this time centered around the Son of Man. As long hoped, God has ‘returned’ to his people to bring liberation and redemption.
I like this image: the distribution of the broken bread speaks of Jesus’ presence with the disciples. And so it anticipates the resurrection and speaks of his presence as Christians celebrate the Lord’s Supper today.
In the Passover ritual, the third cup of wine would have been taken by the leader of the household with these words:
“May the All Merciful One makes us worthy of the days of the Messiah and of the life of the world to come. He brings the salvation of his king. He shows covenant-faithfulness to his anointed, to David and to his seed forever. He makes peace in his heavenly places. May he secure peace for us and for all Israel. And say you, Amen.”
Jesus linking of his blood with the cup, connects his death to covenant sacrifice. His death will be violent. It speaks of a new covenant for the redeemed people of God. It will have a spiritual significance far beyond one man’s life. It will be vicarious, ‘for the many’, bringing to mind texts like Is 53:12 and Mark 10:45 as well as new covenant hopes of Jeremiah 31:31-33.
This second word therefore, tells the disciples that the suffering and death of the Son of Man, rather than being a disastrous defeat, will establish a new order and will fulfil the saving purposes of God.
Verse 25 is significant: this new order is itself not permanent. As Christians re-enact this Last Supper, they therefore do so with joy and thanksgiving, but also in hope – looking forward to the return of the glorious Son of Man and the final establishment of the kingdom of God in all its fulness.
The Last Supper
17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”
19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”
20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.