Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | February 21, 2010

2010.02.21 “24 Hours That Changed the World: Thursday Evening: The Last Supper”

Central United Methodist Church

“24 Hours That Changed the World:

Thursday Evening: The Last Supper”

Pastor David L. Haley

Luke 22: 7 – 20

February 21st, 2010

“The Day of Unleavened Bread came, the day the Passover lamb was butchered. Jesus sent Peter and John off, saying, “Go prepare the Passover for us so we can eat it together.”

They said, “Where do you want us to do this?”

He said, “Keep your eyes open as you enter the city. A man carrying a water jug will meet you. Follow him home. Then speak with the owner of the house: The Teacher wants to know, ‘Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ He will show you a spacious second-story room, swept and ready. Prepare the meal there.”

They left, found everything just as he told them, and prepared the Passover meal.

When it was time, he sat down, all the apostles with him, and said, “You’ve no idea how much I have looked forward to eating this Passover meal with you before I enter my time of suffering. It’s the last one I’ll eat until we all eat it together in the kingdom of God.”

Taking the cup, he blessed it, then said, “Take this and pass it among you. As for me, I’ll not drink wine again until the kingdom of God arrives.”

Taking bread, he blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Eat it in my memory.”

He did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant written in my blood, blood poured out for you.” – Luke 22: 7 – 20, The Message

 

One of the most innovative, acclaimed, and most-watched series on TV – now in its eighth season – is the Fox drama, “24.” What makes “24” different than other dramas is that each week, Jack Bauer battles bad guys in unending evil plots in real time, hour by hour, as the clock ticks.

        Today we began a seven-week series about a 24-hour day far more significant than any of the days of Jack Bauer.  It’s the story of the last 24 hours of Jesus, literally “24 Hours That Changed The World.”

        This series is based upon a series done four years ago at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City by Pastor Adam Hamilton.  The series had such an impact upon his congregation that Adam Hamilton decided to make it available to the whole church.  We – along with many others – are using it, and indeed Adam Hamilton is repeating it again with his congregation this year.

        Let me make clear to you, I’ve never done anything like this in my 35 years of ministry, and in fact, am a little blown away by it.  Did you know there is a Facebook page of those doing the series, to share ideas?  Last Thursday, when I checked, Adam Hamilton had posted: “Sitting in front of the fireplace working on this weekend’s sermon on the Last Supper.”  Later, in another, he added: “Blessings as you prepare to teach or preach on 24 Hours!”

        The aim of the series is to help us better understand the events that occurred during the last 24 hours of Jesus life, see more clearly the theological significance of Christ’s suffering and death, and reflect upon the meaning of these events for our own lives. 

        Here’s how we’ll do it:  I’ll introduce the theme, then – via DVD – we’ll go with Adam Hamilton to the Holy Land to learn more about the geographical and historical setting of the event; and after the DVD, I’ll ask: Where do we see ourselves in the story?

        First of all, here’s how important the story was to those who wrote the Gospels. Jesus is believed to have died at the age of 33 after a life of approximately 12,000 days. The Gospel writers devoted most of their work to just 1,100 or so of those days, the last 3 years of Jesus life.  Even more significantly, their primary interest was in one particular day – the day he was crucified.  They did this because they believed that what happened that day – during that 24 hours – changed the world.

Each of the Gospel writers tells the story slightly differently. But they agree on this: sometime before he died, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem with his disciples after walking the seventy-five miles from Galilee, where he spent most of his ministry.  He came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Passover, but he also knew that he had come to die.

He entered the city from the Mount of Olives, riding a donkey. Crowds hailed him, laying their garments down before him, waving palms branches and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9) This triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is what we celebrate on Palm Sunday.

        Over the next few days Jesus taught in the temple, and according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, on one of those days in the temple, he overturned the tables of the merchants and moneychangers. After this, it was apparent to everyone, including Jesus, that his life was threatened, as he himself had predicted on three occasions.

        Thursday of that week was the beginning of the festival of Passover, which Jesus wanted to celebrate with his disciples.  Likely he knew it would be his last; but perhaps even Jesus did not know how quickly events would progress.

        All of us who live here in Skokie, with its large Jewish population, should understand Passover. The Passover Meal (or Seder) is a ritualized meal commemorating the events in the Old Testament book of Exodus, specifically Exodus 3 – 13, whereby God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. From that day to this, as God commanded, Jews have celebrated the Passover meal as the memorial of their deliverance. It is their defining meal.  

This year Passover begins Tuesday, March 30th (which means sundown on the 29th) and will continue for 7 days until Monday, April 5th.  During that time, we Christians will celebrate Easter. Do you understand that we are literally surrounded by this story; though it is ancient history, it’s still shaping lives today?

        Jesus – being not Christian but Jewish – celebrated Passover, and he wanted to celebrate it – especially if it was his last with those closest to him, his disciples.  So he gave them instructions to prepare for it.

        Finally, at dusk, they sat down to eat. Did it look like Leonardo Da Vinci painting of The Last Supper, where it looks like Jesus is saying, “OK, everyone who wants to be in the picture get on this side of the table.” 

Not really.  Let’s hear from Adam Hamilton how the Last Supper would have gone down.

[DVD – The Last Supper]

Now, having heard that, (which was amazing, wasn’t it?), I’d like to ask three questions.

1.     First of all, “Do we get it?” As Christians, we’ve got to get it!  Do we the significance of this meal Jesus gave us? For us as Christians, it is our defining meal, just as the Passover Seder is the defining meal for Jews. 

        When Jesus took that ancient ritual, took that bread and cup and shocked his disciples by saying, “This is my body broken for you” and “This cup is my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” he transcended the old meaning into a new one, the old covenant into the new.

The last twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life  – and this meal in particular – is the story of God whose love is so great that he send his Son to lay down his life as the sign and seal of a covenant that would deliver the human race from death.

No wonder Paul would write in Corinthians, before the Gospels were even written:

“Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you.” Do this to remember me.  After supper, he did the same thing with the cup: 
”This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you.” Each time you drink this cup, remember me.

What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.” (1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26, The Message)

In transforming the Passover into the Eucharist, Jesus gave us this meal to define who we are. Through it, we remember that someone has saved us; that our freedom came at the cost of a person; that God, in human flesh, suffered and died for us.

We must see ourselves there at that supper and at that cross, knowing it was for each of us that Jesus died. Every time we take the bread and wine, we remember; and it reshapes us. It reminds us where we came from, and it defines who we are and who we will be.

We come into that meal remembering that we were slaves to sin and death, living for ourselves and on our own. We leave that meal free, knowing our Savior, choosing to follow him, accepting his grace and mercy in our lives.

This is the story we remember. It is a big story, and we have to get it if we are going to be a follower of Jesus Christ. (Hamilton, 24 Hours That Changed the World, pp. 26 – 27)

2.     Second question is:  “When have we been Judas?”

The Passover is meant to be a festive and joyful celebration, and that was likely how that evening began. But as the night wore on, the mood darkened; everybody wondered what was going to happen to Jesus and to them. Would there be repercussions from his actions in the Temple? Would he finally proclaim himself Messiah?

Jesus cut through this uncertainty with a statement so electric it still echoes across the centuries. “One of you,” he said, “will betray me” (Mark 14:18).

Jesus knew who it was, but did not say, leaving all of them to wonder: “Surely, not I?” (Mark 14:19). Even though only one would betray him, before the night was through, Peter would deny him; and all would desert him, leaving him to face trial, torture, and death alone.

The echoes of Jesus’ prediction and the acts of betrayal by those closest to him are still discomfiting. In our own age, when church leaders have abused children, embezzled funds, and more, we realize that betrayals are commonplace. Jesus might as well have said, “All of you will betray me”; and with that realization, we must look at ourselves.

When have you been Judas? When have you been Peter or the other disciples? When have you betrayed Jesus or denied or deserted him? The reality is that all of us will at some time betray him — every one of us.

So when we commemorate the Last Supper, we do well to recall this: Jesus’ acknowledgement of the betrayal, the denial, the desertions that would follow. Perhaps this is why the church has traditionally voiced confession and repentance before we receive the bread and wine.

But it’s also worth remembering, as we look at repentance and restoration, that although Jesus knew Judas would betray him, Peter would deny him, and the others would desert him, he still washed their feet (John 13:3-5), and shared the bread and wine with them. He looked past their betrayal, their sins, and their failures and called them his friends. We take comfort in the knowledge that he will do that for us as well.

It is well said, in that prayer in our older communion ritual, which unfortunately we do not use much any more: 

“We do not presume to come this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.  We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.  But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to partake of this sacrament of thy Son Jesus Christ, that we may walk in newness of life, may grow into his likeness, and may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.”

3.     The third question is: “Who will be at our last supper?”

Is it any surprise, that, as Jesus approached his death, he found it comforting to be with his friends?

In the hours before Jesus would be arrested, tried, tortured, and executed, he was those men and women who were his companions and intimates, those with whom he had prayed, worshiped, and shared life. When he went to pray, knowing he was about to die, he asked them to pray with him. They were not perfect. They had let him down and would do so again. Still, they were the best friends he had; and they were with him at this meal as he approached his darkest hour.

If you knew you only had one more day to live, that it was time for your last supper, who would be sitting around your table? No doubt your family members would be there. But who else?

Do you have friends – spiritual friends – people you can talk to about faith, about life; people you can confess to and who can confess to you; people who will pray you through tough times?

Friendships like that do not just happen. We have to cultivate them.

That’s why the earliest Christians – hundreds of years before they had church buildings – gathered for worship and in smaller groups in one another’s homes.

That’s why most churches – including our own – encourage and are always trying to start new small groups of people who gather for prayer, study, and mutual encouragement.  Because the truth is, each and every one of us needs close friends who will join us on this journey, who will challenge us, help us, and support us in our faith.  If Jesus needed a group like this, how much more so do we?

So that when the end comes, they will be there.  As a pastor, I’ve been present on several occasions for the end of dear parishioner’s lives, and almost always as they neared it.  What a joy is has been to see them approach death with their family and dearest friends. Last year, for example, with Sandy Bloom. I think, if we had our wishes, that’s the way we’d all wish it to be.  It was for Jesus as well.

Consider joining – or if you can’t find one you like – starting such a group not only for yourself, but for the benefit of others.

There, at the Last Supper, Jesus sat, with his disciples, a band of misfits and ragamuffins. There were fishermen, a tax collector who was a Roman collaborator, a Zealot who wanted to kill the Romans, a mix of brash and bashful men, most of whom (like most people in the first century) could not read and write. One would betray him, one would deny him, all would desert him; but they were still his friends. In breaking bread with them, he taught them one last time. In washing their feet, he showed them his love. He gave them a meal by which they would remember him for the rest of their lives. From that time to this, every time Jesus’ disciples have shared this meal of bread and wine, it has bound us together as his followers and reminded us that he is never far away.

In Mark’s Gospel, the Last Supper ends with these words:  “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives . . . they went to a place called Gethsemane.”  

Next week:  What happened in the Garden of Gethsemane?

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