We take so much for granted when we receive the Lord’s Supper together.
Jesus sat with his disciples in a furnished guest room for the traditional Passover meal. His solemn words have all the earmarks of someone saying farewell to his friends, including telling them to eat the bread in his “remembrance” (Lk 22:19). And the cup is witness to the “new covenant” (vs. 20) — as Moses instituted the Passover meal in Egypt, so Jesus introduced the ritual that would mark a new turning point in God’s history with his people.
Then Jesus announced that one of the disciples would betray him — one of them sitting right there at the table (vss. 21-23). This is the scene depicted in Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, with the disciples reacting in shock as they tried to figure out who would dare do such a thing.
Did they understand the import of what Jesus was saying? Probably not, for the next thing Luke tells us is that the disciples started arguing “over which one of them should be regarded as the greatest” (vs. 24, CEB).
The scene reminds me of Mark 8:30-37. Three times in chapters 8 through 10, Jesus tries to tell them that he will be arrested and killed. Three times they show that they don’t understand. And the second time, in Mark 8, Jesus’ bleak announcement is followed by their debate over which of them would be top dog.
Were the disciples that clueless?
There is, of course, no way to be certain what was going through their minds. But I would read it this way. The story they wanted to tell was one of triumph, of being chief dignitaries in a whole new kingdom that was about to unfold when Jesus took command. They heard what he said about suffering and death, but it didn’t fit with the story they were writing for themselves. Thus, they filed his strange comments away under the heading of “Not Important Now, But Maybe Think About This Later.” Meanwhile, they had more pressing business: if Jesus was about to set up a new kingdom, they needed to figure out the proper pecking order.
It’s a bit like measuring your new office for drapes before you have the promotion.
The Last Supper was an opportunity for the disciples to get a glimpse of what God was really doing in their midst: the New Covenant would be purchased at the price of the blood of the Son of God. Their own petty concerns about power and position would be thrown into bold relief.
Did they get it? Not at that moment. Not until after the crucifixion, after the resurrection, after Pentecost. And even then, we see how the Lord’s Supper still goes awry, as when the church in Corinth made a mockery of the ritual by letting their taken-for-granted distinctions of social class get in the way (1 Cor 11).
When we take the bread and cup, we have the opportunity to put ourselves at the table with Jesus and the disciples, in the Upper Room. What are we missing in Jesus’ words? How do our own concerns about what we expect God to do for us make us blind to what God is actually doing?
And how might we be empowered to repent of our own betrayals — including the betrayal of not listening?