For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,
that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed
took a loaf of bread,
and when he had given thanks,
he broke it and said,
‘This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.’
In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying,
‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Let us take a moment and settle into this event. It is Thursday evening in Jerusalem. It is the feast of the Passover, and the disciples of Jesus are gathering in an upstairs room to celebrate together by eating the Passover meal. By late afternoon, even the streets smell like roasting lamb, and the disciples can almost taste the wine, the charoset, the bitter herbs. As they walk, John gets needled, because he is the youngest disciple, so it will be his place to ask the ritual questions. Why is this night different from all other nights? John shakes his head and says, “I hope you guys don’t see any need to hide the matzo for me. I’m a big boy now – I can stay awake!” Spirits are high. We’re in Jerusalem! We’re having the seder together with our friends! What could be better than this?
Indeed, what could be better? But Jesus surprises the disciples when they begin to arrive in the upstairs room. He starts by washing their feet. Of course, a good host provides water and towels for foot-washing, because everyone’s feet get pretty nasty in a city. They’re filthy, covered with dust and sand and offal. And Jesus sits on the floor — Jesus! On the floor, like a servant! — and washes those 24 feet, all by himself. This makes Peter uncomfortable, until Jesus chides him, reminding Peter that we are all servants, even Jesus himself.
Then they recline for their meal. They enjoy the bread, the charoset, the lamb, the wine, the greens, the rice, the company. These friends have been traveling all over Palestine together, and they’ve been through a lot. They don’t all understand what it is Jesus has been telling them, but that’s okay, because at least they get to be near him, with him.
But there is one person in the room for whom this is not okay. Only two people in the room know that a traitor is in their midst, someone who will report Jesus to the authorities in exchange for money. In this room, love and anger dance together in dynamic tension, frustration and contentment, forgiveness and rage. And in the middle of this dance, Jesus does these two baffling things.
This bread is my body.
This wine is my blood.
Remember me, whenever you gather for a meal, and I will be with you.
Place yourself in this story again. You’ve traveled with Jesus over the years of his ministry. Yeah, he says some pretty weird things sometimes, but you know Jesus; he’s a good guy. And then he comes out with this. Eat my body? Drink my blood? What is he talking about? You exchange glances with the other disciples, but with a shrug of your shoulders, you do as Jesus asks. The quiet in the room is awkward. You and your friends shift in your chairs restlessly. Then Jesus looks at you — no, he’s looking at Judas, sitting right next to you — he looks at Judas, and he nods, and says, Go do what you have to do.
Jesus stands up. Let us sing, my friends! So you all join in singing the Hallel. Peter leads the closing prayers of thanksgiving, of hope for the Messiah to come — all of you look directly at Jesus at these words — and especially to the final words, Next year in Jerusalem! Jesus shakes his head at these words, and then asks Peter and James and John to go for a walk with him.
You still aren’t sure what to make of this. Remember me? I will be with you? Jesus isn’t going anywhere… is he?