At the Last Supper Jesus adapted the traditional Jewish Feast of Passover and created the Christian sacrament of Communion. He took something that was already very profound for Jews and developed it to speak of Himself with even greater meaning for the whole world.
This Maunday Thursday let’s try and picture our Master and the disciples in that upper room and it might be helpful in understanding what happened by thinking of Jesus looking in four directions.
First of all, as Jews, He and His followers looked back in history to the time of Moses and the Exodus. They remembered how their forefathers were enslaved in Egypt and how God saved and set them free. Moses instructed the Israelites to slaughter a lamb and paint some of its blood on their doorposts. That night fearful judgement came on Pharaoh and his slavedrivers. Throughout Egypt the firstborn in every household died but the Lord caused the destroyer to ‘pass over’ the Israelite homes that were sheltered by the blood of the lamb.
God’s holiness demands judgement but His love provides a way for mercy.
Jesus affirmed this principle that we should never forget past mercies but He went further. He used the Passover bread and cup as symbols of His body and blood which He would give next day on the cross so that whosoever takes refuge in Him will be saved from the wrath that is yet to come.
So Christians must never forget the cross, we must always look back with the deepest reverence for the blood Jesus shed that we might be redeemed.
Next I imagine Jesus looking up towards heaven in praise and thanksgiving. He gave thanks for what was on the table and what it represented. We should never take things for granted but recognise our needs being provided from heaven. We should be constantly thankful people for our physical daily bread and for Jesus, the source of the grace and mercy we need.
When Christians observe communion we are not just looking back to the cross but are also looking up to our risen Lord in heaven, praising Him, trusting Him, loving Him for all He has done and is still doing for our Saviour is alive!
Thirdly I see Jesus looking around at these twelve men in whom He had invested so much. It’s plain they were all dear to Him. He shares His bread and His cup with them, then startles them by kneeling like a servant to wash their dusty feet. And as He does He knows.
He knows that one pair of feet will soon be hurrying away to betray Him for money. Later those feet He is gently washing will bring the mob to Gethsemane. Another pair of feet carry the lips that will shortly deny they’ve ever seen or known that Jesus of Nazareth. And the rest of these feet will take off and run, deserting him to face His passion alone.
The Master takes His seat again and looks in their faces with sorrow but also with love that is willing to forgive. By this profound example Jesus created a quite radical fellowship of humble service that in turn has taught the world to practise respect and kindness.
We should look around our reopened church buildings this Easter, the folk around us at every communion service and our neighbourhoods all year round and seek opportunities to practise humility and kindness like our Lord, for His glory.
There is no doubt on this occasion Jesus was also looking forward beyond the cross to returning to the Father in heaven. ‘I’ll not do this again,’ He says, ‘until we can all do it together in the coming Kingdom.’ Jesus looks forward with eager anticipation to the Gospel being preached to all nations, people from every language joining His church, the number of His elect being complete. He looks forward to sharing God’s heavenly table with all His followers in the coming age when all is made new.
He waits, He anticipates, He prays for us, equips us with the Spirit to make disciples of all nations.
Learning from Jesus, we can look back to the cross and up in eternal gratitude to our risen Saviour, around at one another in fellowship and forward with hope for the joy set before us, the bright future promised to all those saved by His grace.
May these things motivate us to live in loving obedience and joyful witness until we see Him face to face.