Last Supper

The musical Jesus Christ Superstar contains a song called The Last Supper, in which the apostles declare:

Always hoped that I'd be an apostle
Knew that I would make it if I tried
Then when we retire we can write the gospels
So they'll still talk about us when we've died

Sir Tim Rice wrote the rather corny lyrics of this rock opera. He presents a neatly tied up view of the aspirations of the men whom Jesus chose to be his apostles. To be an apostle was not an established career path, neither was there such a thing as retirement, or celebrity memoirs to ensure lasting fame.

What was the experience of these men, and what was their motivation in following Jesus? They were impetuous, they had found the call and draw of Jesus to be irresistible. There was something about him that captured their imagination and made them leave everything to follow him. Being a disciple meant a lot of walking, as Jesus moved form place to place. There were many nights, no doubt, spent sleeping under the stars. And finally there was the long tramp up to the Holy City after Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. It must have been exciting to witness the miracles, exhilarating to hear him preach, but also confusing as he turned worldly teaching upside down.

And the night of the Last Supper must have been a strange experience. It was usual to wash one’s feet on arriving at a house, not half way through the meal. If people come round to your house to eat you take their hat and coat straight a way, not after they’ve sat down at table. But Jesus has a point to make, and he wants to drive it home. The washing of their feet prefigures the crucifixion. In the Upper Room Jesus voluntarily divests himself, and wraps a towel around himself. At Calvary he will be stripped of his garments by force to be crucified.

Just as he empties himself of glory on the cross, here also he lays aside his dominance. Jesus is preparing the apostles for the future, and in so doing so he does not call for a throne in which to sit with his disciples at his feet.  Instead he assumes the role of a slave, to wash their feet; on the cross he will die the death of a runaway slave. They do not understand what he is doing, though later they will as the message is clearly interpreted by John the Evangelist. The action of Jesus embodies his teaching that if you want to be great in the kingdom of God, then you need to humble yourself, to abase yourself and be of service to others.  

Over the centuries, Christianity has got this wrong. One has only to look at the splendid bishops' thrones in cathedrals or the private pew of the Lord of the Manor in  village churches. Our Christian faith renders us equal; there is no one who is above others, we are all equally loved in God’s sight. We stand or kneel beside each other at the altar rails and Jesus gives himself to us equally. If this is how he regards us, then should we not regard each other in a similar manner? You often find that from those whom society might consider simple-minded that we hear the truest expression of the gospel message. 

That Last Supper when Jesus shared bread and wine, must also have been perplexing to those disciples: 'this is my body, eat it', 'this is my blood drink it'. Whatever did he mean? Again they would not have understood it at the time, but only later as they reflected on what he had said. Only a few days later, two disciples would recognise the risen Christ as he  broke bread on the Emmaus road. 

These men were faithful to the Lord’s command, 'do this and remember me'. They kept on taking bread and wine, they did not forget him. And here we are some 2000 years later, doing the same thing, we are faithful in our remembrance of him. We have the traditions handed down by Paul and the apostles, this is what unites us to Jesus Christ himself. And tonight it is as if we are catapulted back to that very night in the Upper Room.We are the disciples of Christ now, his friends at the feast.

Jesus is our master, the pattern for us to follow, the visual display of the Father’s overflowing mercy which is the essence of his nature. May we take to heart the teaching of our Master and be faithful in our application of it. As Jesus freely gives himself to us again and again, let us freely serve others in whatever way is necessary and may we not be too proud to let them be of service to us.