This was it. This Last Supper was the meal that preceded the feast of the ages. This was the night when everything would fall apart…and fall into place. This was the night to end all nights.
There they all were – Jesus, Peter, Big James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Andrew, Little James, Jude, Matthew, Simon, Thomas, and Judas – all gathered to celebrate, to remember, to prepare. All sitting on the edges of their seats, hoping for one more word from Jesus. It was Passover, the night to celebrate their people’s freedom from captivity in ages past.
This was the night to remember how, after the Israelites marked the entrances to their homes with sacrificial blood, God made a covenant to spare their firstborn children from the plagues that afflicted the Egyptians. The angel of death passed over those homes marked with the blood. The story in Exodus tells us that once Pharaoh had had enough and agreed to release the Israelites, they left in such a hurry that they didn’t even give their bread time to rise.
Centuries later, there they were, remembering the miracle that rescued them from death. I can just hear the clinking of glasses, the shuffling of feet, the beating of hearts hanging on every word He said. These were hunted men, hated by the law because of the Man they followed. These were rejected men. These were the nobodies and the somebodies, all having forsaken everything to follow Someone who was just about to tell them that He was going to die that weekend.
He got their attention first by pointing out that his traitor would be revealed that night. Then He took the traditional unleavened bread and the wine used in the Passover meal and blessed it.
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28 ESV)
It was a typical Passover dinner with the typical elements up until that point. This time, as He held up the bread and wine, Jesus gave thanks for the meal that marked His own death. He gave thanks for the breaking of His own physical body and the shedding of His own physical blood. He gave thanks for the betrayal and thanks for the pain. I wonder if His heart split at the cracking of the matzo. I wonder if He held back tears as the wine flowed from the decanter into the vessels from which the disciples would drink.
The disciples must have thought He was crazy. I wonder if they really understood the significance of His prayer of thanks or if they chalked it up to ceremonial liturgy. Still, Jesus knew. He knew what was coming. He knew that one of the men he just prepared a meal for would sell him out for 30 pieces of silver, only to kill himself a short while later. He knew that He would retreat into prayer in overwhelming sorrow before His arrest, only to return and find the disciples who were supposed to watch for him having fallen asleep. He knew that the man He called Rock would deny Him three times hours later just to escape persecution. He knew that yet another in that room would doubt even His resurrection until he felt the wounds with his own hands.
Even still, He gave thanks. He ate with them, literally sharing His very self with these men. They shared food and hearts and prayers and hymns and then went out to pray. Then came the religious leaders – not to pray, but to kill Him.
There, with the crack of a horse’s whip came the shattering of the glass that brought the shedding of blood that put this Son of Man to death. He was beaten and mocked. He was nailed to a post at the top of a hill called Golgotha – the place of skulls – in a garbage dump at the entrance to the city so all who passed through could see.
A final breath, a final cry of “It is finished!”, a final drop of blood spilt on the ground split the temple veil of separation in two and cracked the core of sin’s chokehold of slavery upon all mankind. Blood spread on a post by the one and only Son spared not that Son, but all of us. That blood wasn’t just poured out carefully; Scripture tells us that it was spilt for you and me. It was messy and undiscriminating and enough to cover us all.
For all of this – for all of the pain, the ridicule, and even the separation between Himself and His Father – He gave thanks.
Because resurrection was coming. That supper, that death, that burial – they were all just a beginning. He gave thanks because He knew the “joy that was set before Him”. He did it all for those messy, unscrupulous, wild men who betrayed and doubted Him. He did it all for the Pharisees who turned Him over to Pilate. He did it all for Barabbas, a filthy murderer, whose life was spared at the crowd’s behest. He did it all for the man who drove the last nail into His hands. He did it all for me. He did it all for you.
He gave thanks, poured and spilt His blood, all for vessels who would carry His love to others and bring freedom from the captivity of sin.
I don’t know what you’re facing at this point in your life. Maybe things don’t look like you think they’re supposed to. Maybe that the cup you’re expected to drink from bears bitter wine, and you aren’t sure why you’re supposed to swallow.
May I encourage you in something? Hard as it may be, lift that cup, lift your eyes, look to Him, and give thanks. Give thanks for the suffering. Remember that your third day is coming, and resurrection is just around the bend. It may be longer and further away than you’d like, but it will come, and with it will be the freedom and rejoicing that comes with the advent of new life.
Let’s look to Him today with thanksgiving in our hearts, no matter what the world looks like around us. Let’s trust Him to know the end before our beginning even arrives. Let’s raise our glasses high to the King who conquered death. This Easter, let’s resolve to take whatever comes with gratitude for what it will bring.
He is alive. He is risen indeed. We have been passed over because of the blood on that cross that marked the death of His Son. And everything we endure from now until our own resurrection will be worth it. The King of all kings has already conquered death so we can live…and give thanks.