Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sermon: Luke 22: 1-23 The King's Feast

If you were able to choose your last meal, what would it be? The internet is the source of all sorts of information, and there are several pages dedicated to documenting the last meal requests of prisoners on death row. From a family bucket KFC meal, through to lobster tail and steak; bacon and eggs through to pizza, with ice cream. If you were to pick your final meal, what would it be?

In our reading tonight, we find Jesus eating his last meal with his disciples. It is this very night, on the night that he was betrayed, that he gathers in the upper room with his disciples. The disciples don’t seem to realise that it is such an important occasion, but Jesus makes clear that this is a very significant meal. It’s a dinner that they will never forget. Indeed, it’s a meal that we continue to remember and commemorate as we join around the Lord’s table tonight. But why is it so important? Why do we still celebrate the Lord’s supper?

The early part of the passage is taken up with the arrangements for the meal. A couple of weeks ago there was a special TV programme following the Queen around during her Jubilee year. At one point, she came into the royal banqueting hall to inspect the arrangements, and made the staff move all the fruit bowls as they were too near (or else too far away). She was making sure everything was ready in her role as host.

So too Jesus, here, is the one who plans the meal. He sends his disciples into the city, where they meet a man who leads them to the upper room. There they make all ready. But this is no ordinary meal. This is the Passover, the highlight of the Jewish year, when God’s rescue of his people from Egypt is remembered and celebrated.

The preparations having been made, the disciples and Jesus gather in the upper room. It is only at this point that Jesus declares that this night is full of more significance than normal. You see, far from Jesus being carried along by circumstances, as if he is a prisoner of fate and things just happened without him knowing; Jesus has been planning and preparing for this night.

Look with me at verse 15. ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it (again) until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ You see, Jesus knows that he is about to suffer. He knows that the cross is just around the corner. But this is not just sentimental emotionalism. It’s not just, oh it’s good to have this. Rather, he takes the Passover and uses it to explain what is about to happen; and points forward to the coming of his kingdom.

As we listen in to what Jesus says and does, he points backwards to the Passover in the past to explain the present, and point to the future.

Passover was a big occasion, a yearly festival, a bit like our Christmas dinner. In it, the Jews remembered the rescue God had provided for their ancestors. The Israelites had been in Egypt - they moved in when Joseph was prime minister at the end of the book of Genesis, and leave in the book of Exodus. but between the end of Genesis and the start of Exodus, about 400 years have lapsed. While they were once important, by the time of Exodus they were slaves. They cried out for God to rescue them, and God did it through the Passover.

The Passover was the last of the ten plagues in Egypt, when Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to ‘let my people go.’ In the Passover, God gave instructions to Moses and the children of Israel. They were to take the Passover Lamb, and kill it. The blood of the lamb was applied to the doorposts and lintel of their houses. Inside, they shared in the meal of roasted lamb and bitter herbs, with the unleavened bread - because they were ready for the road; waiting for the call to go.

During the night, the angel of the Lord came through the land and struck down every firstborn in the land - from Pharaoh’s palace to the lowest slave. Each firstborn son died, except in the houses of the Israelites, where the blood of the lamb was visible. A death had already occurred. The lamb had died instead of the firstborn son. Pharaoh sent the Israelites away; they were free because of the Passover.

That’s the meal that Jesus and his disciples were celebrating. But now Jesus declares that what happened in the Passover was pointing all along to what he would do as he suffered on the cross. Now I don’t know about you, but sometimes families have special rituals when it comes to family meals. It might be watching the Queen at Christmas before opening the presents. It might be crackers, then meal; or meal then crackers; or deferring dessert until after a snooze.

There was a set ritual for the Passover. The meal was a re-living of the events of the first Passover. But then Jesus does something new, something different. He portrays his suffering in terms of the bread and wine.

He took some bread and says: ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ The bread symbolises his body, broken, given for his disciples. In his death, we are given life. In his wounds, we are healed. This is what we remember as we meet together around his table. Jesus is the real Passover lamb, who died in our place, bringing us salvation - not just rescue from Egypt, but rescue from everything that enslaves us - sin and death and hell.

So with the cup, Jesus takes it and declares: ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’ Jesus’ blood was shed for us on the cross; he institutes a new covenant - not of law, but of grace. His blood was given to release us from the law and to set us free to serve him.

As Jesus suffers and dies, so he brings in his kingdom. So as we take bread and wine, as we remember him, it’s not just as we might remember an old school friend who we haven’t seen in a while. Rather, we remember with gratitude and joy what Jesus achieved for us as he suffered. We not only look back, but we also look forward. The royal feast is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. This bread and wine is just a sample of the celebration we will have when we see Jesus face to face in his heavenly kingdom.

Jesus says that he will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. Neither will he drink the wine until the kingdom of God comes. By his death on the cross, Jesus has ushered in the kingdom. He has made the way for us to come and to share in the royal feast. The king has done all that is necessary.

The invitation is extended, as we share tonight to do this in remembrance of him - not just remembering back to the cross (the fulfillment of the Passover), but also remembering forward - looking to the completion of all things, when Jesus returns and welcomes us into his heavenly home. Will you come and share with him?

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church at the Maundy Thursday service on 28th March 2013.

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