Jesus Is The Host
“It was just before the Passover.”
The Church has always found Thursday night of Holy Week significant. The name, Maundy Thursday, is derived from the Latin, mandatum, meaning “commandment.” The English words “mandate” and “mandatory” are derived from this Latin origin. The evening was named after Jesus’ proclamation: “A new command I give you: Love one another” (John 13:34). What transpired that night between Jesus and his disciples in the upper room continues to guide the church, shape its leadership, and inspire its mission. Maundy Thursday is on the church calendar for a reason. It belongs right there with Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In the upper room, Jesus lays out the meaning of the atonement and true character of discipleship.
On Thursday night, Jesus gave his followers two simple object lessons during the evening meal. He washed their feet and he broke bread. These two enduring acts go a long way in defining the mission of God and the Body of Christ. They merge real hospitality and deep sacrament. The towel, the basin and the bread and the cup, signify the essence of Jesus’ Kingdom strategy. The apostle John focuses our attention on the humility of Christ. We read that Jesus “got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:4-5).
The familiarity of the scene is like an old picture on the wall hiding in plain view. Too many sermons on this text dull our senses. We’ve heard the punch-line so many times before, “Humble service.” Our cynical selves think that Jesus got an awful lot of mileage out of fifteen minutes of ordinary servitude. When the famous do something humble, everyone praises them, but our routine acts of humility and kindness go unnoticed, much less praised. It is with thoughts like this that some of us enter the upper room.
The preparation that has gone into Christ’s family meal is almost unfathomable. Nothing less than the grand sweep of salvation history stands behind this meal. At the Last Supper, Jesus is host to three meals in one.
First, this meal is the ultimate family meal. Its meaning is rooted in the Passover and celebrates the Exodus, that pivotal redemptive turn in salvation history. Moses and the people of God were given specific instructions: “Each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there” (Exodus 12:3-4).
Second, this meal is the ultimate sacrificial meal. Jesus celebrated The Last Supper with his disciples on the night that he was betrayed and forever with all those who are in Christ. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Finally, the Last Supper is a farewell meal. “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15). This ultimate sacrificial family meal is eaten in anticipation of the glorious reunion of the marriage supper of the Lamb. “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9). This eucharistic family meal has a past, present and future in salvation history.
At the Last Supper Jesus looks after everything. He gives directions to Peter and John to prepare for the Passover in a large room that he has arranged to be used. He washes the disciples feet, serves the meal, sets the tone, carries the conversation, and concludes the meal with a blessing. Jesus is still doing what only he can do—“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” What the psalmist imagined figuratively, Jesus performed literally, Jesus gives us his body and blood. From start to finish Jesus looks after the Meal. The setting, the preparations, the conversation, are all under his supervision. He is the host who arranges everything. He is the servant who washes the disciples feet. He is both High Priest and Passover Lamb. He is the bread and the cup. The Last Supper is the family meal of all family meals and Jesus is the true host.
The gospel writers make sure that we feel the suspense and stress that existed outside and inside the upper room. The night was filled with anxiety and fear, just as you may feel today. The religious leaders were looking “for some way to get rid of Jesus” and the disciples were arguing among themselves “as to which of them was considered to be the greatest” (Luke 22:24). There was outside opposition from the religious authorities, insider betrayal, negative group dynamics, and a sorry state of ugly one-upmanship. This was a tension filled family meal.
John 13 is the apostle’s invitation to attend the Last Supper. He opens the door to the upper room and invites us in. He writes us into the scene, negative thoughts and all, in order to draw out the significance of what Jesus did, not only for the original band of disciples, but for all who follow him. The Twelve were there, but they missed the message the first time around. Along with them we need to revisit the upper room to grasp its real hospitality. Our souls are restless and distracted. Sin raises its ugly head. But John’s narrative invites us in, regardless of our restless egos, devious ways, and negative thoughts. We are there in the company of the disciples, only half aware and not knowing what to expect. Jesus is the host and he gives us a seat at the table.
Upper Room Reflection
What makes the meal in the upper room meaningful?
How have you accepted Jesus’ hospitality?
What do you think about when you celebrate this family meal?
How does the Lord’s Table fulfill the promise, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”?
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