Mark 14:12-16 and 22-26 can be found here...
On Thursday of Holy Week, we Christians enter into the most sacred time of our year. On this night we gather to share a meal, remembering another meal, and another gathering at night of Jesus and everyone who was closest to him. And having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The first reading Mary shared with us gives us some idea of the logistics of that meal. Where would they eat? How would they know? The story is a bit mysterious… but Jesus sends two of his companions to work out the details, and they are able to successfully arrange for a room… the upper room… in which Jesus and his friends will gather.
They are celebrating the Passover together, which was and is a powerful celebration for Jews: the commemoration of God reaching out with power to free God’s people from slavery in Egypt. The closest parallel we might have as Americans would be a relatively new holiday: Freedom Day, June 19th, also known as Juneteenth. This is a celebration of the day in 1865 on which the abolition of slavery was announced in Texas, and which was therefore the day when abolition became the law of the entire land. That celebration—which is not a federal holiday yet, only celebrated in 45 states—has just begun to take hold in the US over the past 25 years or so. So Juneteenth celebrations are not really set or prescribed—there’s no one way to celebrate because it’s still a fairly new celebration. It’s not like Thanksgiving, in which most people gather with family around a turkey dinner, or like Independence Day, which nearly always features barbecues and fireworks.
Around the year 30, at the time Jesus and his friends were celebrating, the Passover was much like that. It hadn't yet settled into the Seder celebration as we know it today, with a very specific set of readings, foods, and ways of telling the story.
But there was a celebration, they did celebrate. Passover was a pilgrimage holiday, during which everyone who possibly could, would go to Jerusalem, along with people from all over the known world. And they did share a Passover dinner together—certainly, there would have been a lamb. And I am betting a central part of their celebration, even though it wasn’t as formalized as it is today, would be telling the story.
How would they begin? My guess is the book of Exodus would provide a blueprint. One voice might begin… It was a time when a king arose in Egypt who became afraid of the Hebrew people, and who decided to oppress and take them into slavery. And this lasted for… how long? And another voice would join in the storytelling… It is said, 400 years, we were slaves in the land of Egypt. And the story would go on, voice adding to voice, the story unspooling as the night grew darker.
And we find them at supper, and we can assume they have been telling this story. And perhaps they have already gotten to the happy ending—the dance alongside the Red Sea, with Miriam playing her timbrel and leading the Hebrew women in celebration. Or maybe the story is still in the difficult part… whenever it is, Jesus speaks, and what he says is startling. It is enigmatic. While they are eating, Jesus takes a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he breaks it. And then, with broken bread in his hands, he says, “This is my body.” And then he takes a cup, and after giving thanks he gives that to them, and all of them drink from it. And he says, “This is my blood.”
My imagination swirls with all the possibilities of what happened next.
Perhaps a very long silence, with only the sounds of the bread and wine being passed from hand to hand, as each one there took it, and ate, and drank, as he requested.
Our gospels do not record one person saying, “What? What can you possibly mean? How can that bread be your body? How can this cup hold your blood? You are not making sense Jesus.”
But Jesus is making sense. It is the celebration of liberation for God’s covenant people from slavery, and… it has to be a bittersweet celebration, because, while they are not slaves any longer, they are still not free. They are still under the oppression of their harsh Roman taskmasters, who, though they are not conscripting Jews to build pyramids, can pluck them out of a crowd or pull them out of a fishing boat at any moment to carry a soldier’s pack a mile for him, if they feel like it. It’s not exactly freedom.
And so Jesus tells them that this is a new kind of liberation he is offering. This is my body, Jesus says, tearing the bread. This is my blood, he says, pouring wine into the cup. And just as this bread is broken, I will be broken. And just as this cup is poured out, my blood will be poured out.
Look. Here. Now. This is my life, Jesus tells the people who know and love him best. Watch, as I pour out my life for you. This is how I will show my love for you. And when you understand what I’m doing, what I’ve done, you will be freer than you have ever been in your life, because death will no longer be something you have to fear.
It is Thursday of the most sacred week of the year for us. And we gather tonight, much as Jesus and his friends did, to tell our liberation story: the story of the three days in which Jesus offered us the very same liberation from fear and death. And the story will go on, voice adding to voice down through the years, the story unspooling as throughout the generations, until all know, in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth: Jesus our savior poured out his life. Jesus our Lord poured out his love.
Thanks be to God. Amen.