"Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?" He said, "Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, 'The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'" And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover."
"Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom."
A Sense of Preparation and Anticipation
In a lot of ways I some how can't help but feel like the liturgical setting and practice of the last supper or communion has eroded the natural and much more creative practice to which Jesus and the disciples first practiced it. That's not to say that it had little or no value within liturgy as it first was constructed, I just think that value has slipped away through time and lost the appeal of what Jesus meant to say through our remembrance of it.
In the gospels it is not a 5 minute setting where each disciple passed the tray of wafer like crackers and little plastic cups of grape juice, said a quick prayer and "gobbled" them done. In fact Jesus branched the Jewish festival of the Passover feast as a reflection to the New Covenant he was bringing! The Last Supper or Communion was something different something more then a simple wafer or even a feast. It had meaning and personal spiritual significance to those who were apart of it.
Jesus says to his followers earlier that they should go into the city and prepare for the evenings activities. I don't know why but I picture Peter and his brother Andrew going off and hitching a boat to go fishing so that maybe they might bring a fish to the evening's meal. Maybe James and John went to the local market to find bread, cheeses, fruits, and other good stuff while Philip, Thomas, and the others searched for a room in which they could host the event.
I don't really know the order but they all had a part in organizing and preparing for the Passover meal. There was still something deeper about it though. There was this sense of preparation but also the greater sense of anticipation. Anticipation as to meeting up with the others and hearing about the adventures they encountered while preparing for the night. Anticipation as to whom else might be there and anticipation to what Jesus might have planned for the evening. The feast once it arrives becomes alive and full of laughter, joy, and the excitement of people talking with one another as they share their different stories, memories, talents, and gifts.
Unity in the Body
Jesus grabs there attention as he stands with a loaf of bread in his hands. He begins breaking it up and handing it to them as he says "Take, eat; this is my body." What a peculiar and strange thing to say. I don't know about you but when I picture the idea of eating a "body" I kind of loose my appetite. That being said, I don't think Jesus intended us to think of it that way!
I think Jesus intended for the disciples and us to see it metaphorically. So let's picture it for a moment... what thoughts come to mind as we imagine the disciples taking part in one body? The thought that comes to my mind is that Jesus was reminding them of the unity to which they had with one another through his relational participation with each of them.
The problem though is I think when we start reflecting on that word "unity". Typically when we hear this word I think we tend to assume it means a grouping of individuals or elements which have all things in common. Like we find unity with the jocks of our schools or we find unity in those who believe, act, and follow the same endoctrinization or denominational system as ourselves. That's not the unity Jesus was describing here though through the picture of his body.
Picture a single strand of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA). Do you know that if all the molecules of DNA in a single human cell were laid out end to end, they would stretch 2 meters. How many cells do you think there is in a human body? It is estimated that the average human adult has over 10 trillion cells in there body; each one with their own unique, specific, and extraordinary DNA strand! That blows my mind!
I can remember watching a film on the Intelligent Design Theory several years ago that stated the language used within the DNA structure is so complex that it is virtually impossible to be considered accidental or random in nature. If that is so, God in essence spoke each one of our identities into existence and in so doing left his imprint on each one of us.
"Take, eat; this is my body." This unity Jesus spoke of was a relational interjection which he has with each one of us as we also have with one another through our expressions of love, kindness, compassion, joy, and fellowship. The things we think about affect those around us. The words we speak transform, for better or worse, the people we are close too. The actions we take, either for ourselves or others, begins a processes of change which is inevitable whether we accept it or not but we do have the power to choose whether we do it in remembrance and reflection of our unity in his body, his character, his persona, or not.
Missional Agenda to Pouring Out a New Covenant
Jesus then takes his cup and says, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Looking back we can easily see the tie Jesus was figuratively placing between his death on the cross and the cup he held in front of himself but, what about the disciples? What do you suppose they were thinking in that moment and time?
It might seem radically different but blood was considered to be a life giving element. So I imagine the disciples were not seeing Jesus' cup of the New Covenant as a representation to his actual death but rather a picture of the way he lived his life! Jesus lived a life which was poured out not for himself and not just for those of his friends. He lived a life that was poured out for many so that they might remember and follow his lead by pouring their lives out into the hearts, minds, and spirits of many more!
Jesus' life was filled with the imagery and acts of a missional focus to reach out to others in need in whatever way that took shape. That same indwelling call that Jesus had is passed on and shared with us as we in essence drink from the same cup. As we are empowered through his body we are sent out to do his work and incarnate his presence with the rest of his people regardless to there beliefs, life styles, or outer image.
How can we do this? I remember reading a friends blog a few months ago and he referred to another article on the site 'Towards Hope' called 'Ten Tips for Living the Incarnation...[Plus One]'. John Santic has outlined a beautiful picture of what it means to live incarnationally and I encourage you to read is article but for the sake of pouring it out for you here is a synopsis of his 10:
Holistic Gospel Proclamation
Reading the Culture
[Plus One]...Simplicity or 'Here's to Nothing'
Coming to the Table in a New Light
I don't know about you but when I reflect back on what the disciples may have experienced and encountered at that supper table in a dimly lit room, I begin to see myself coming to that table in a new light. A light filled with hope, promise, future, and purpose. A light filled with communion. Communion with God. Communion with Jesus. Communion with my brothers and sisters. Communion with many!