The Last Supper
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Mark has already told us that the religious authorities are trying to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him, and that Judas has secretly agreed to betray him. Borg and Crossan suggest that sending TWO disciples into Jerusalem to find the place where they will eat the Passover meal is to prevent Judas from betraying Jesus' presence until after the meal is over.
Note - apparently - that Jesus has already made arrangements with others for the preparation of the room without informing any of his disciples. The two that go into the city find the room "furnished and ready."
And note that the sign is a man carrying a jar of water (this would be noticeable, because only women usually carried water). And this man meets them. That is, this man recognizes and seeks them out rather than the other way round. The disciples have no prior knowledge of who this man is. They are "out of the loop" about these arrangements.
And just in case you're wondering - Is this the Passover meal that Jesus is sharing with his disciples? - Mark specifically mentions "Passover" 4 times in 5 verses, 12 to 16.
Why is this?
Well, in our tradition, "Lamb of God" is one of the titles attributed to Jesus. But which lamb?
At the time of Jesus, some lambs were killed and offered as sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist is reported by the Gospel of John as making this identification with Jesus:
Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. NRSV John 1:29
But that lamb is NOT the Passover lamb.
The Passover lamb is sacrificed so that God's people will be liberated from their slavery and oppression in Egypt, and be freed to enter a safe and abundant land. Specifically, the Passover lamb does two things:
- Its blood - painted on the door posts - acts as a shield, protecting those inside from the 10th plague, the angel of death; Exodus 12:21-28, (NRSV); and
- Its body - eaten that night - provides nourishment for the arduous journey ahead - the flight from Egypt, the flight towards freedom and the promised land.
In this meal, Jesus identifies himself with the Passover lamb. His death is not a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. His death is a sacrifice for liberation.
For liberation - for freedom. And for covenant - for bonding together with God, as God's people, to live together as God desires us to live together.
Mark fails to give us an explanation of exactly which covenant Jesus is referring to when he says, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many." But surely, it is not impossible for this to be a reference to the original covenanting at Mount Sinai. Exodus 24:1-8, (NRSV)
I wish I were a better scholar of Greek so that I could feel more confident of how to interpret who are the "many" for whom Jesus' blood is poured out. The word used is not the one for "nations" or for "Gentile;" that is, for non-Jews. So possibly Jesus wasn't being all that inclusive. But on the other hand, it is the word we use for the "hoi polloi," the masses of ordinary folk. And I'll take whatever crumb there may be for me at this table of grace. "Hoi polloi" - count me in.
And surely it is not impossible for us to understand that whatever this covenant is, it does NOT erase or replace or void all the previous covenants God has previously made with God's people - the Jews. (And who would worship a God like that anyway?)
The meal ends with Jesus making an explicit set of "book ends," of which we are somewhere in between. The first book end is that meal then, with his disciples. The second book end is "that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God."
The time we are in then is both a time of remembering what Jesus did back then, and a time of anticipating what Jesus will do "new in the Kingdom of God."