… the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (1Co 11:23-24 ESV)
Over the years as I have had the privilege to administering the Lord’s Supper I have often found myself trembling when I get to the words “on the night in which he was betrayed”. A few times I have had to get control of myself as I found tears welling up with in me. Many times I had to simply stop and explain to the believers gathered around this table why these words impacted me the way they did and why they should impact us all in the same way.
My trembling and sometimes tear do not result from sorrow at the reality of Jesus’ betrayal. There is of course sorrow over that and one of the reasons we celebrate Lent is to seek to understand in a deeper, spiritual way the true nature of the suffering, pain and sorrow of our Lord’s passion. My tears and tremblings come, however, out of a renewed understanding and amazement at the love of Jesus for his Church. Perhaps more than an others words in all of Scripture there words: “the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread”, bring me to a place of awe, bring me to a place of wonder, bring me, when I know I am standing in the presence of the one who was betrayed, administering his covenant meal (what Jack Miller often called “God’s kiss”), to that place where Peter was when he said – “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, o Lord”
“The night in which he was betrayed” as we read the accounts of that night in the gospels it seems clear that that night was the most challenging of our Lord’s life. This is where the real battle was fought, this is where he faced his greatest temptation, wrestled the greatest with his fear of what was damnation on the cross would really mean. Jesus states that his heart was so full of sorrow that it was just about killing him. On this, the most demanding night of his life, it would seem that on this occasion Jesus could have said to the disciple: “OK guys, I really need for you guys to give me some “Me time”. This is a really, really bad day and I need to think about me and I need you to think about me”. But Jesus did not do that, he never did that. The reason is that Jesus was the least self-reliant person who ever lived (as my friend Paul Miller recently reminded me). The reason the night was so dark, the reason his sorrow was so great was that he knew an hour was coming when he would no longer be able to rely on the One he totally relied on. Jesus constantly tells us in the gospels that he does not rely on himself or his own judgment but on that of his Father: John 5:19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. (Joh 5:19 ESV). In a time and culture that tells us that the really great people are those who are self-reliant, Jesus invites us to be counter-cultural and follow him and rely on on ourselves but on the Father. He totally relies on the Father and now Jesus knows an hour is coming when the Father will forsake him and it fills him with dread.
During this time, however, he is not thinking about himself he is thinking about his people, his sheep, his Church. I believe that he is not just thinking of them as a mass of humanity but as individuals scattered throughout the millennia who will put their faith in him. That night I believe he asks himself two questions: 1) What can I show these people to let them know what it really means to be my disciple; 2) What can I give them that will remind them in a powerful way that all of this is true, something that will preach my gospel to their entire being in those times when they silently or not so silently ask “how do I know this story is true? how do I know God really became man? how do I know he really did die? How do I really know he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven”.
For the first one he decides that we all need to fully understand that the life of a Christian is basically a life of being s servant so he does the job that only the lowliest of servants would do: wash feet. He washes the feet of his disciples to say to them this is they way of greatness the was of the servant to all.
As for the second he decided to give them a meal like the Passover meal that will remind them that this glorious story is true. He decides to give us a “sermon” that appeals to all our senses -touch, taste, sight sound and smell. He gives us a great gift that will be more than just a memorial because of the promise that “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1Co 10:16 ESV)
So on the night in which he was betrayed Jesus rather than thinking of himself looks down the long corridor of time and says: “What will Martin need in Germany to remind him that this story is ture? What will that man Jonathan in America need? What will that blind woman Fanny need to remind her in times of doubt that I really did do all my book says I did? What will Vernon in Georgia, Dan over in England, Jennifer over in Kenya need to remind them over and over again “, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (Joh 13:1 ESV)”. What will be the best gift I can give my brothers and sister throughout the ages of the church to preach my gospel to their whole person? I will give them this sacramental feast and when joined with my gospel it will be the great reminder, it will be the great bringer of joy, it will be my small feast that is the promise for the great feast I am preparing for them even now.
As glorious as this is I find myself trembling with awe and wonder when I remember that he did this on the night he was betrayed.