Chapter 28: The Last Supper
As you are preparing to be baptized and you attend Mass, you see Christians walking in line to receive communion, which is given only to the baptized. You may fervently desire to take communion too, as says the Psalm: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Ps. 42). And as you have more experience of the spiritual life, perhaps you feel driven to ask for more than baptism, for priestly ordination, for example. What is your experience relating to the Eucharist and the priesthood? Do you really want to unite with Christ? How would you describe the betrayal as lived by Peter and Judas Iscariot? That is what we’re going to reflect on in our meeting today, where we will talk about the last supper of Jesus with his disciples.
2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: Institution of the Eucharist – Peter’s denial (Mt 26:26-35)
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to the disciples. “Take it and eat;” he said “this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them. “Drink all of you from this,” he said, 28 “for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 From now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in the kingdom of my Father.”
30 After psalms had been sung they left for the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all lose faith in me this night, for the scripture says: I shall strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock be scattered, 32 but after my resurrection I shall go before you to Galilee.” 33 At this, Peter said, “Though all lose faith in you, I will never lose faith.” 34 Jesus answered him, “I tell you solemnly, this very night, before the cock crows, you will have disowned me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the disciples said the same.
2. 1- Explanation
According to Matthew, Mark and Luke (the “Synoptic Gospels”, that is, “seeing with the same eye”), Jesus ate the Passover lamb during his last supper with his disciples. After the meal, he gave them his Body and his Blood in a new covenant through which they will remember all his saving ministry with humanity.
At the beginning of the Old Testament, bread and wine were presented to God as an offering of the first-fruits of the earth, as a sign of worship of the Creator. With the Exodus, this gesture took on a new meaning: the unleavened bread, which the Israelites ate every year on the occasion of the Passover, reminds them of their hasty exit from the bondage of Egypt. And the cup of the “blessing”, with which they ended the festive Passover meal, adds to the joy of the feast an eschatological significance, which derives from the messianic expectation of the New Jerusalem. The celebration of the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples gives a new and definitive meaning to the Paschal (Passover) events.
Only the Gospel of Matthew adds after “blood of the covenant”, the expression “for the forgiveness of sins”. This recalls what the angel proclaimed to St Joseph, at the beginning of the Gospel, that the name of the child will be Jesus “for he is the one who is to save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).
During the last supper, Jesus drew the attention of his disciples to the fact that that the fulfilment of the Passover will be in the Kingdom: “until the day I drink the new wine with you in the Kingdom of my Father” (Mt 26:29). Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we live a “memorial” that is, the “recall” of the past in the present, as if we were actually there, and we open our hearts to the one who will come, and say, Maranatha, come Lord!
The Gospel of John tells us (Jn 13:1-17) how Jesus, at the last supper, washed the feet of his disciples, to give them an example of humility and service. Washing the feet, as such, was ordinary and routine in the Ancient East. A guest would be duly received in this way; and the slave would do the same thing for his master before dinner when the latter arrived home. But Jesus, the master of the disciples and their lord, washed their feet during dinner, giving the action a new symbolic meaning, thereby anticipating his sacrifice on the Cross.
As for Peter, he said that he would not disown his master, even if he had to die; but when put to the test, he three times failed to honour that assurance and denied his Lord (Mt 26:69-75), proof that he was afraid of being arrested. He forgot the words of Jesus “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Mt 10:28). He lost all hope when he saw Christ humiliated and mistreated. But his tears, his remorse and his return to the Christian community are an important lesson in how God’s grace comes to the assistance of human weakness.
The following table shows the temporal differences between the Gospels concerning the Passion of Christ; indeed, there is a time difference of one day.
|Synoptic Gospels – Mt, Mark, John Mt 27:62 Guarding the Tomb “The next day, that is, when Preparation Day was over”||The Gospel of John The Feast of the Passover||Saturday|
|14 Nissan year 30 (or 33): The Feast of the Passover The death of Jesus (Mt 27:1ff||The preparation of the feast (Jn 19:31), the day before Passover during which the lambs are slaughtered; Jesus dies on the Cross at the same time as the lambs are being slaughtered (Jn 18:28; 1:29; 19:36 etc.).||Friday|
|Eve of the Passover||Washing of the feet – last supper||Thursady|
2. 2- Summary and Practice
Just as bodily food gives us strength when we are exhausted, communion with the Body and Blood of Christ strengthens charity in us and sends us out again to serve the poor. Those who receive Communion at the Lord’s table are strongly united with Christ, and this, in turn, unites them with all believers into one Mystical Body. Participation in the Body and Blood of Christ strengthens us on the paths of life, nourishes in us our hope of eternal life, and makes us already participate in the Church of Heaven.
It was through his Galilean language or accent that Peter was recognized as a follower of Christ. How much better it would have been if he was recognized as a disciple of Christ through his understanding of the mystery of the Cross! The true disciple is not the one who followed Christ for three years, and the true Christian is not even the one who was baptized and received a baptismal certificate. The disciples who followed Jesus on the path to the cross and death showed an inability to understand the importance of suffering and the hidden spiritual signs of the Kingdom of God. It is not, in fact, easy to understand the mystery of Jesus, for this mystery is supernatural. In a purely natural way, no one can understand unless he has within him the Spirit of Wisdom, a special revelation and grace that opens the eyes of the heart. By nature, disciples possess a rigid heart and a closed mind; but by grace, they can understand the mystery. Peter’s tears and his repentance are a lesson to all who would deny Christ for fear of persecution. The difference between Peter’s betrayal and that of Judas is that the first knew the path of repentance and return to the community, while the second did not. No matter how great our sin, and how painful our dark night, we should always return again and again to the community, knowing that the Lord forgives us.
3- Theological and Spiritual Teaching: The New Covenant in the Blood of Christ
When God made a covenant with His people in the time of Moses, He asked them to learn His commandments and to put them into practice; in return, He would be for them a God who takes care of them. Moses offered animal sacrifices, and he sprinkled their blood as a sign of the covenant. This was a prelude and a sign of what Jesus would realize. God does not ask for bloody sacrifices, for He knows that the person who offers them does not benefit from it. God wants the love of His people, since worship stops at the threshold of words. Jesus, indeed, recalled these words of the prophets: “This people honours me only with lip-service, but their hearts are far from me” (Mt 15:8); “What I want is mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt 12:7), and he added, “It is not those who say to me, Lord, Lord, who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in Heaven” (Mt 7:21). It is Jesus who offered true sacrifice, for he fulfilled the will of his Father, living his love for the world, to the point of giving himself. The sacrifice that pleases God consists in the fact that man lives according to the will of God. What we live every day is a living sacrifice, offered to God the Father.
This is how the Lord Jesus realized the new covenant, by offering himself; the cup of his blood is a sign of this offering. During the Last Supper, he asked his disciples to drink his cup. This means that he invited them to participate in his offering, his self-sacrifice. Actual participation takes place not only through Communion, but also through the offerings of every day, through our good behaviour, and through our love in the gift of self to God. In this sense, he said, “Do this in memory of me.” The disciples have been faithful to this mission, and here and now we continue to do it in his memory.
Christ has conquered death, and through his Resurrection he is present in his Church and in the world. And when we gather in remembrance of him, he makes himself present, and he himself celebrates the Holy Mass. His self-offering (his self-sacrifice) is present in every celebration of the Mass; it gathers the offerings of the faithful, that is, what they experience on a daily basis. Thus, the love of Christ is not only manifested in what was sacrificed by himself, but also in the fact that he allows us to attach our sacrifice to his, as if we ware his partners. Often our actions are not complete. They contain many imperfections. His sacrifice, however, is pure and perfect. That is why he welcomes our prayer and offers it to God.
In this sense, the Holy Eucharist is the gate of the resurrection that fills our lives. During Mass, we unite with Christ crucified and resurrected from the dead. The word “Eucharist”, which comes from the Greek eucarista, eucharista, means “thanksgiving” In this way, the Church continues to offer praise, glory and thanksgiving to God, who loved us with such superabundant love.
4- Reading and Meditation: A Reading from St Caesarius of Arles (c.474-542)
The Body and Word of the Lord
I ask you, brothers and sisters – tell me: What seems greater to you, the Word of God or the Body of Christ? If you will give a true reply, you surely must say that the Word of God is no less than the Body of Christ. Therefore, with as great anxiety as we show when Christ’s Body is ministered to us, lest nothing fall out of our hands onto the ground, with as great anxiety we should see to it that God’s Word, which is dispensed to us, may not perish from our hearts because we are thinking or talking about something else. The person who hears the Word of God with inattention is surely no less guilty than the one who allows Christ’s Body to fall on the ground through his own carelessness.30