So much can happen in one day.
Over the course of 24 hours, 1,440 minutes, and thousands more seconds, we can conquer challenges, deal with the responsibilities of life, and experience new opportunities before us. Truly, a lot can happen in one day.
One day can change everything. The course of our lives can change based upon the decisions and actions we take in a given day. Human history can be forever altered based upon certain events that take place in one 24-hour period. One day can be a powerful time where so much can happen.
During this season of Lent, we will take a look at one particular day that did change everything. We are going to look at the final 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life.
The events surrounding Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and, eventual, crucifixion are some of the most analyzed scenes in human history. There is a reason for this. What transpired in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago helps to define our faith and understanding of Jesus’ mission and identity. Not only that, but these events would come to alter human history and would make up the single most important day in history.
For that reason and others, it is important to understand what took place in Jerusalem between the afternoons of Thursday and Friday on that fateful Passover week. These events deserve more than a passing glance each Holy Week. They deserve to be understood, both in our head and our heart, so we can fully appreciate the lengths Jesus was willing to go to redeem all of humanity and bring us back into the Father’s love. As we do, we’ll ask ourselves what these events meant then and what they say to us today in our ever-changing and fast-paced world.
We’ll begin our journey into these important 24 hours in the afternoon hours of Thursday. Before we do, however, it is important to look at how we got to this point. The week began, quite triumphantly, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. It was a humble and royal procession, which led many to believe Jesus was coming to stake his claim as the King of Kings. The people expected a military revolution. What they received instead was more intense confrontations between Jesus and the religious leaders, where Jesus called out their understanding of Scripture and even went as far as to call them hypocrites. By Thursday morning, it was clear Jesus’ life was in danger and that the religious leaders wanted to end his ministry by putting him to death.
That takes us to this scene Luke describes in Luke 22:7-23. Luke, like Matthew and Mark, focuses on the table fellowship that occurred on that Thursday. Only John deviates from this meal and focuses on the discussion that took place in the Upper Room. What Luke describes is the celebration of what we now come to call Holy Communion or the Last Supper. This meal, is a powerful witness to the work Christ came to do in Jerusalem.
It was a meal that Jesus and the disciples anticipated in sharing together. This was the Passover week, which was one of the most important festivals that also was one that called the people to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate it. The Passover remembered God’s redemptive work in saving the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. At the same time, the Passover meal recalled the events on the night before where God “passed over” the Israelites as they gathered to dine for one last meal in Egypt. It was an important meal that recalled the gracious and redeeming love of the Lord.
Jesus and the disciples have gathered for this meal, which Peter and John were tasked with preparing. There doesn’t appear to be anything different to this meal than any other previous Passover celebrations. However, it would soon become apparent that Jesus had other plans in mind for this evening. He knew this would be the last meal he would share with his core group of 12 followers, and he wanted to make this fellowship time stand out.
Fellowship is truly at the center of understanding communion and what took place at the Upper Room. We are welcomed and invited to share in a special meal with Jesus, the disciples, and all the community of saints. It is an intimate gathering, where we are welcomed by the host and invited to join with them in a time of sharing, commonality, and connection.
Peter and John, though they prepared the feast, are not the host of this meal. Jesus is the host. He invites the disciples into the room and asks them to take their seats around the table. At this point, all the disciples are seated with Jesus as they begin to share in this important meal. Jesus is the one who guides the meal and will lead the disciples into understanding what this time is all about.
Now, the Passover meal has a ritual or tradition associated with it. Much in the same way of how our meal and fellowship times have a certain rhythm of when things will happen. There are certain things you do at various times in the meal. At the same time, there are different prayers and words recited that recount what God did for the people of Israel so long ago. The disciples would have expected the meal to follow a predetermined course and structure that would have been familiar to them.
However, Jesus breaks away from the tradition while sharing in this meal with them. As he shares in the cup and bread, Jesus doesn’t recount the actions of old, but instead focuses on what is to come. It is at this point that Jesus redefines this Passover celebration from a time of remembering God’s redemptive act in Egypt to what God is about to do on the cross for all people. This meal would now be about remembering Jesus’ self-sacrificial act of offering himself on the cross so that we may all be redeemed.
Each element of the meal participates in this act of remembrance. The bread signifies that Jesus freely gave his life, so that we might experience a new life. As the bread is broken it reminds us of the lengths Jesus was willing to go, even to the point of death, so that we might experience God’s love. The cup and its contents signify that Jesus’ blood was poured out to establish a new covenant between God and his people. A covenant built upon faith in Christ and acceptance of God’s grace. Jesus’ blood sealed the covenant, cleanses us of our sins, and establishes a new way forward for God’s people to relate to him.
As we share in this meal, we are invited to fellowship with Jesus in remembering the lengths he went for us. It is an act of remembering that calls to mind Jesus’ gracious acts that led him to the cross to die for our sin. When we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we are reminded of how loving and gracious our Lord is. John Wesley often taught, and I truly believe, that sharing in communion was a transformative means of grace, because as we are reminded of God’s actions through Jesus we are touched, again, by the grace of God and how we are renewed by the blood of the Lamb.
This meal invites us to share in the good news of Jesus’ life and what he did for all people. All people is interesting, because there is one additional element of fellowship that comes out in this scene from the Upper Room. Note that all of Jesus’ disciples sat with Jesus and shared in this meal. This included Judas, who would soon lead the religious leaders and Roman authorities to Jesus. Even those who would betray Jesus are welcomed to the table, because God’s grace is available to all people. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done, God invites us all around the table to share in the fellowship and to partake in this meal. Why? Because this meal is about God’s mighty love. It is not there for a few, but is welcomed to all. Jesus invites every person to this table with the hope of experiencing the grace of God in a new and transformative way.
That is our hope this day. In a few moments, we will remember what Jesus did for us by sharing in this meal together. Our hope is that we will be reminded of just how far Christ was willing to go to share his love with us all. At the same time, our hope is that we leave the table forever changed and forever transformed by the grace of God, so that we can continue the fellowship of the table with everyone we interact with. See, we are called to take what we experience from the table and share it in our communities, so that by our witness we may proclaim the redemptive and gracious love of the Lord that we have partaken in around this table.
On that Thursday night, Jesus and his disciples dined together. It kicked off the events that would take place that evening and into the early hours of Friday morning. Those events began around the table and with a meal that signified the things to come and the grace of our Lord. May we join Jesus at this table, partake in this meal, and be forever changed by the eating of the bread and drinking from the cup.