Week after week, we do what Jesus did, in remembrance of him. In just a minute, we will do it again.
But tonight is special because tonight we remember when it all began. Tonight is an opportunity for us to think a bit more deeply than usual about what Jesus was doing at the Last Supper and what we do every week.
As I read the gospel for tonight, the word that jumped out at me was “eager.” Jesus says, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you” (v.15). Only Luke tells us that.
And I wonder, what about that night, what about that meal, what about that ritual, made Jesus eager for it? What value did it have for him? What value should it have for us?
Jesus tells us one reason. He is eager to be with his disciples.
At first glance, that might seem odd, both because the disciples could be irritating and because Jesus spent virtually every waking minute with them. But as I picture that last week of his earthly life, Jesus did not have much quality time with his disciples. Jesus was too busy cleansing the temple, and teaching the crowds, and battling the Pharisees. Now Jesus wanted intimacy. Jesus wanted connection with people he loved and who loved him.
Jesus does not romanticize the disciples, not even on this night. Jesus tells them that one of them will betray him. Jesus tells them that another will deny him. Jesus has to listen to them argue about which of them was the greatest. These are not perfect people.
And still, Jesus was eager to spend this time with them. That is a powerful statement about the value of Christian community.
Like the disciples, we come together around Jesus. And sometimes we miss the point. And sometimes we bicker. And sometimes we fail.
But despite our own worst impulses, it is good for us to be together. And somehow, over time, if we stick it out with each other, and if we listen to what Jesus says, and if we learn from what Jesus does, we become the people and the community that Jesus calls us to be.
So just the chance to be together was a good reason for Jesus to be eager for this night, and also for us to gather.
But Jesus was surely looking for more than companionship.
By the time he gets to the Last Supper, Jesus must have needed a break. He was almost certainly younger than I am now, and clearly much tougher. Still, even Jesus must have been exhausted by three years of continuous ministry, three years constantly on the move, wandering from town to town teaching and healing. Everywhere he went, crowds sought him out. Even when he tried to sneak across the lake for a little down time, word got out, and crowds flocked to him. It is an introvert’s worst nightmare!
When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, not quite a week before the events of our reading this evening, he was once again greeted with crowds. But the days that followed were hard for a different reason: Jesus’ long, running battle with the religious leadership was coming to a head.
Jesus struck first. As soon as he entered the city, he stormed the temple and drove out the money changers (19:45-46). For the religious leadership, that was the last straw. They were more determined than ever to trap him and then execute him. Each day became a kind of wrestling match. The religious elite would do their best to trick Jesus into discrediting himself. Jesus would slip out of their traps, and often skewer them in turn.
By the Passover meal on that first Maundy Thursday, that is all over. Jesus is done fighting. Jesus can take a well-earned break. Jesus can relax with his friends. Most importantly, Jesus can be refreshed.
Of course, Jesus knows what is coming. As he explains to the disciples, he will be arrested in a few hours, and his final ordeal will begin. But for now Jesus has a chance to gather his strength, and to prepare his disciples for their own ordeal.
That tells us something important about the ritual Jesus established that night. In the Eucharist, God invites us to gather in the name of Jesus Christ so that we can receive the solace and the strength we need to keep going.
The world out there is full of challenges. Terrible things often happen in our world and sometimes in our lives. Even the ordinary strain of our ordinary lives can wear us out. We need regular renewal.
And so we come to this holy place. We enter a holy time. We gather with our brothers and sisters around the Lord’s table. And—this is God’s gift to us— at least for a time we get away from the trials and tribulations in our lives, and we commune. We commune with each other, and we commune with God.
When we share in the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, we take Christ into ourselves and are nourished by him. We do it with our brothers and sisters, and are formed into the one body of Christ.
For that hour, we rest in God’s presence, and we receive a little bit of God’s strength. God the Father holds us. Jesus Christ nourishes us. The Holy Spirit empowers us. Our brothers and sisters share their gifts and their strengths and their struggles with us.
It can’t last forever. At the end of the service, God sends us out into the world in peace. We leave, and life resumes with all of its struggles. It certainly did for Jesus! But we return to the world and to our lives and to our struggles with the strength to handle them a little better than we otherwise could. We return to the world to do the work that God calls us to do, to share in God’s mission and God’s vision for all of creation.
Tonight we enter into the climatic events that are the core of our faith: Christ’s suffering and death, and Christ’s glorious resurrection.
Each service has its own power. Tonight we experience the refreshment and renewal of Holy Eucharist, which prepares us for the ordeal of Good Friday, the wait on Holy Saturday, finally the good news of great joy that comes on Easter.
And I say to you, I have been eager to celebrate Holy Communion with you this evening. And I am grateful to God who brings us together, who nourishes our souls, and who strengthens us for whatever lies ahead for us, for our parish, and for our world.
In the name of Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb who is sacrificed for us. Amen.