The Messiah Serves the Table

On the evening before his arrest, Jesus reclined at a Passover table with his disciples. At this meal, Jesus is aware of the conspiracy to kill him. This is Jesus’s last meal with his disciples before his death.

“While they were eating,” the Gospel of Mark says, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. By this, Jesus conformed the breaking of the bread to a Passover meal and, at the same time, gave it a fuller meaning when he said, “This is my body.”

Just as the bread of the Passover represented life and liberation, so the body of Jesus does the same. Bread is what nourishes life, and the body of the Messiah nourishes believers in their shared life. Eating together, disciples share a community grounded in the gift of Messiah’s body just as Israel ate with God on Mount Sinai. In effect, Jesus says “my body” will give new life to Israel.

In the same way with the cup, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Jesus alludes to the sacrificial system of Israel, and the Passover meal gives his words special meaning. The blood of the Lamb gives life. Jesus is the Passover lamb whose blood renews covenant with Israel.

This language, “the blood of the covenant,” takes Jewish readers back to Mount Sinai in Exodus 24 when God inaugurated his covenant with Israel and ate with Israel (Exodus 24:8-11). Moreover, Zechariah 9:9-11 suggests the blood of the covenant frees prisoners; it is liberation. The King who rides into Jerusalem on a donkey is a liberator who “proclaim[s] peace to the nations.” But this king, Jesus, rides to his death rather than into military action. Jesus liberates through suffering rather than through violence.

The blood of Jesus is poured out to free the prisoners, to free the slaves. The suffering servant “poured out his life unto death” and “bore the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:12). Jesus gives life through suffering and deals with sin through dying. Jesus is the suffering servant of Isaiah who suffers the wounds of exilic Israel and brings new life through his blood. Through his suffering, Jesus ransoms Israel from exile.

The Passover meal now has a new horizon of meaning. The Passover lamb died to liberate Israel from Egyptian bondage. Jesus is the true lamb of God. Through his death, he gives new life and frees us from sin and its power. The original significance of the Passover remains (it still tells the story of Israel), but it is transformed by the new reality that dawns in the death of Jesus.

Jesus shares the cup with his disciples. It is the cup of suffering (cf. Mark 10:39-40; 14:36). They drank it that day in solidarity with Jesus as people committed to the way of suffering even though they would shortly falter in that commitment. They drank the cup Jesus drank. But they did not follow Jesus to the cross. And we, too, often do the same.

But there is more to this table. It also bears witness to the reality of the kingdom of God. The next time Jesus eats and drinks with his disciples it will be in the reality of the kingdom of God. While this includes the future messianic banquet in the new heaven and new earth, it is also about the in-breaking of the kingdom of God into the present. Jesus is the reality of the kingdom in the world, so the bread and wine are also the reality of the kingdom. In this new reality—the kingdom of God—Jesus eats and drinks with us. We eat and drink with the living Messiah whose death has transformed life. This calls us to a different kind of life—one that pursues peace and reconciliation rather than violence and estrangement. When we eat and drink together, we recommit ourselves to that way of life.

2 Responses to “The Messiah Serves the Table”

  1.   Ken Harris Says:

    I love the way you do this John Mark … the way you tie the old with the new. I plan to use some of these words the next time I lead the meditation before communion at the congregation that I am a member of at Port City in Mobile, with your permission. I have used what you wrote in your book “Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord’s Supper” in the past, and I was complimented on what I shared, but I gave due credit to the author.

  2.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks, Ken. Whatever is on the blog, you are free to use as you think it helpful!

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