Sunday, 31 July 2016

The Last Supper: A loaded meal.

"When Jesus himself wanted to explain to his disciples what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give them a theory, he invited them to a meal." (N.T. Wright).

Indeed, nothing fills the soul more than a good meal. It is said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach and Jesus got that spot on. The last supper was about relationship, remembrance and servanthood.  It was about the joy of contemplation of the meaning and beauty of Jesus’ final acts and hours on earth.

While dinner in Latin means "to break one's fast", supper in French means an "evening meal". It was meant to be light, informal and relaxing. In modern lingo, it had that chill-pill effect of cool, ambient and personal touch.

I can therefore expect a modest buffet spread of barley, wheat, figs and olive oil on the table. Nothing heavy like lamb or fish. And nothing fancy like sporting a Michelin-star chef waiting by the side cooking up a storm. Maybe just some pomegranates, honey and apricot to spice up the evening as Jesus spends his last night with his loved ones on earth.

In the last supper, Jesus turned the casual occasion into a simple ritual of remembrance. He led the evening with the unleavened bread and wine. He broke the bread and shared it with his disciples. He then invited them to a drink of grape divine and told them to mark the day, to remember him, that is, what he had taught them, and what lies ahead (including a veiled betrayal and denial). It was the beginning of a sacred commemoration, a bond of renewed community and hope.

The last supper took placed on a Thursday. Maundy Thursday. It was the day before Jesus was to be arrested. It was the eve of his final reckoning on our behalf. Jesus knew the cost, the cross and Calvary. He was born into it. His 33 years on earth culminated to those last few days. His accusers had already carved his name onto the Calvary’s head post. His fate was sealed. His full plan was soon to be revealed.

It was therefore both an ominous and portentous day, that is, a celebration of grief and relief, sorrow and joy, death and life. It was no doubt a night of raw nerves and expected jitters for what awaited Jesus, but nothing was going to stop him from having a light meal with those he loved. The anxiety, the feeling of abandonment, the pain, the uncertainty, the cold sweat and travailing tears, they can all wait till their time comes. 

It is in fact encouraging to know that scriptures described it as the last supper, and not the last debate or the last dispute or the last conference. Like N.T. Wright said, Jesus did not spend his last days expounding or dissecting his teachings. He did not form a study group or a research team to explain the complex theories of his pending death and resurrection. In other words, they did not gather to brainstorm, but to warm hearts.

For Jesus, it was a time of relationship – intimate bonding. For him, it was a time beyond theology. For him, all classroom teachings ended that evening to usher in the next phrase of the lesson, that is, the practical part, the living-it-out part. And this phrase can be distilled from the gospel of John into three demonstrative instructions.

First, Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another. Love was a no-compromise for him, and he was leaving nothing to chance. It is no excuse for one to proclaim that he loves God, but shun His people or view them with disdain. Self-righteousness would have unraveled all of Jesus’ teachings. For Jesus did not faithfully call his disciples out of their own world just so that they may return to it unchanged, unredeemed.

So, he preempted his disciples on that and issued the second instruction by setting the example. He washed their feet. Each of them got a personal pedicure from Jesus, so to speak. If love came down to give of himself without reservation, then grace stooped low to serve all without condition.

That was the message all along. For he stands tallest when on his knees and that night, Jesus exemplified servanthood with his towel and basin ministry. The act disarmed their hearts, and I believe, transformed it forever.

With that came his third and final instruction. It was an instruction of empowerment. You see, Jesus had showed them unceasing love in his walk with them. He had demonstrated servanthood by washing their feet. He imparted the grace of love, unity and fellowship with his last two instructions. Now it is time to impart the grace of resilience and strength.

The final instruction came in these words: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

That was it. The last supper ended on that somewhat foreboding note. The words that lingered with the disciples were “trouble” and “overcome”. Alas, Jesus did not mention anything about the coming wealth and prosperity they were to inherit. He did not entice or bait them with false hope and vain promises. It was not about what they wanted to hear, but what they needed to hear. And he never said that following him was going to be easy, smooth sailing or a slam dunk. On the contrary, Jesus specifically told them to count the cost. Alas, today’s prosperity preachers would rather we count only the benefits.

In fact, his parting words were a foretaste of what is to come, and each of his disciples experienced the full brunt of it in their own time. Almost all of them gave their life unconditionally in faith and hope. They followed their Savior to the ends of the earth. And they never looked back.

That was how transforming an evening meal became. The last supper was the last rite of passage before the disciples fully mature in their faith. The last supper was the final bonding session with their savior before the real work began. It was the last meal they had together before the true test of devotion to the great commission commenced.

Yet, they all passed with flying colors. They all held high the banner of their love, faith and hope – even to their grave. The joy of the Lord was indeed their strength.

In the end, the last supper was Jesus’ final postcard of love personally autographed to his disciples. It was therefore more than just a gastronomical delight. It was a meal well worth the partaking. It was a meal the partakers could not forget. And as N.T. Wright implied in the above quote that started it all, the last supper was much more than an invitation to a simple evening meal. It was a loaded meal. It was in fact an invitation to change the world. Cheerz.

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