Remember Jesus Christ

By Charles R Erdman

Chapter 9 - The Last Supper


There is no time more fitting for observing the “Lord's Supper" than the evening of “Maundy Thursday," for we read,

that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

By this simple ceremony our Lord instituted the supreme form of Christian worship.

He had spent the day in retirement at Bethany. Full well did He know that the night and the morrow were to bring Him agony, torture, and death. What His thoughts may have been, none need to inquire. Who would venture, even in imagination, to intrude upon the sacred silence of that lonely burdened soul? Only this should be noted: while there is no mention of concern for Himself, there are indications that His thoughts continually turned toward His disciples and upon the message He would bring them at the evening meal. This meal was to be a Passover Supper. He knew what it would mean to them and to Him. We recall that when He sat at the table with His disciples. He disclosed something of the burden He had been carrying for them during the day: “With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: for I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

Earlier in the day He had sent Peter and John into the city to make preparation for this Paschal Feast. His instructions to them had been mysterious. He told them that, as they entered the city, they would meet a stranger bearing a jar of water. They should follow him, and wherever he entered they should say to the householder, “The Master saith unto thee, where is the guest chamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? And he shall show you a large upper room furnished: there make ready. And they went, and found as he had said unto them; and they made ready the passover.”

This householder must have been a friend of our Lord, otherwise he could not have understood the words addressed to him. It is not certain that he had any intimation of the honor which was to be his in entertaining such a guest; but at the Passover season, as the city was crowded with pilgrims, he may have made preparation for extending hospitality even to strangers. His guest room was furnished and ready, which some readers understand to mean that couches had been placed about a table and that even some necessary provisions were ready for the supper. There must be wine for the feast, and cakes of unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. Whatever was lacking, the disciples would purchase, and above all else they must secure a lamb which was offered as a sacrifice at eventide and then prepared to furnish the main substance of the sacred meal.

When all was ready Jesus arrived and “sat down with the twelve.” The usual ritual of the Paschal Supper was observed. The unleavened bread was broken. Four cups of wine were poured out, each of a half tumbler, and diluted with an equal amount of water. The lamb was eaten. Thanksgivings were offered. Then, before the supper was ended, “as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

Thus the most sacred of Hebrew feasts was brought into immediate connection with the most holy service of the Christian Church. In fact, it is right to conclude that the latter took the place of the former. In a real sense the Last Supper was the last Passover, and the Last Passover was the first observance of the Christian sacrament.

So closely related are these two ordinances that it is instructive to compare them. Both pointed the worshippers to the past and also to the future; both were historic, both prophetic. Passover called to mind a great national deliverance, when the angel of death passed over the homes of the Israelites, but entered the home of every Egyptian; when the heart of the cruel Pharaoh was broken and Israel was set free. Yet the celebration of this deliverance was a prophecy of a still greater salvation, when the Lamb of God was to be sacrificed and eternal life secured for all who put their trust in Him.

So, too, the Lord's Supper points back to the great deliverance wrought on Calvary, and forward to the completion of redemption and the perfecting of the kingdom when the Lord returns, for “as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he comes.”

The story of this Passover Feast should be of vital interest to all persons in every place who would partake worthily of the Supper of our Lord.

(1) There was a place prepared. This is the meaning of the cryptic instructions given by Jesus to Peter and John. He did not mention to them the name of His host nor the host's place of residence. With divine prevision He told them of a man they would meet bearing a jar of water, whom they were to follow into the home of His host; but with evident prudence He mentions no name or place, for Judas would have heard and would have reported the facts to the enemies of Jesus and the arrest would have precluded or interrupted the Paschal Supper. Jesus wished a place of seclusion where He could partake of the feast with His disciples and give them His last tender messages of farewell.

Thus, at the sacrament, Christ is eager to commune with His followers, and He expects them to make some preparation of heart and mind. He wishes them to furnish an “Upper Room,” made ready for fellowship with Him. This may be done by reviewing the story of His passion, by repeating a Psalm or a hymn, by reading a portion from Hebrews, or by some public, social, preparatory worship service. Whatever our practice may be, if our Lord is to speak to us at His table our hearts should be, for the hour, places of secret, sacred tryst.

(2) The unique and central feature of the Feast was the provision of the Paschal Lamb. Of this, all worshippers must partake; without this sacrifice no feast could be observed. So at the Last Supper the central Figure was that of Christ. No artist would think of painting that scene unless all the attention was centered on Him who is indeed the Lamb of God. Thus as we enter upon the observance of the Lord's Supper, it should be with a serious endeavor to fix our thoughts upon the Lord Himself. Here, as at no other time, we must “remember Jesus Christ” We must have in mind His explicit command: “This do in remembrance of me.”

It also was necessary to provide, for this Supper, bitter herbs and unleavened bread. The former were symbols of repentance. Thus, at the Lord's table, sorrow for sin and a sense of unworthiness will be felt by true worshippers. Unleavened bread was a symbol of freedom from sin, so all who partake of the Lord's Supper should do so with a new resolution for holy living.

(3) Judas was excluded from the sacrament. At least, such seems to be the best interpretation of the story. He certainly had been present during a large portion of the Paschal Supper. He had seen our Lord stoop and wash his traitorous feet; but when this last tender appeal for repentance had failed, “Satan entered into him”; and Jesus said to him, “That thou doest [what you are going to do], . . . do quickly” “He went immediately out; and it was night” Then followed those messages from the lips of our Lord which He addressed to the other disciples, and which are incomparable for their sympathy and cheer and hope.

Whatever may have been true of Judas, it is beyond question that, at the sacrament, all traitorous thoughts must be dismissed from the mind, if one is to receive a message from the Master. It is futile to partake of the sacred symbols if one is conscious that he is nurturing hatred toward a fellow Christian, or if he is intending to continue some evil practice or to cherish some secret sin. Unless there L something corresponding to the bitter herbs and the unleavened bread, one cannot expect to hear the words of his Lord: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you . . . . Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

(4) The meaning of the sacrament was clearly set forth by our Lord as He instituted the sacred ordinance. “Jesus took bread . . . and brake it . . . and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you . . . . He took the cup . . . saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood.” He thus indicated that the broken bread and outpoured wine were symbols of His approaching death; and further, that this death, as that of the true Paschal Lamb, was to be sacrificial, atoning, redeeming, and designed to bring men into right relation to God. Further still, as bread and wine were nourishment for the body, so those united to Christ by faith would receive from Him new spiritual strength. Then, too, as this supper was a scene of fellowship, so all who became partakers of Christ would belong to one body of believers. Consequently this supper of our Lord properly has been called the “Holy Communion.”

(5) The spirit of the Passover was one of hope. It was so on that historic night, when in Egypt the Feast was first offered. The enslaved tribes of Israel were assured that their deliverance had come. They were to eat the Passover in a spirit of expectancy, with their “loins girded,” with shoes on their feet, with staff in hand, ready to begin the march. They were about to be led out of their cruel bondage and to be established as the People of God, henceforth to observe this Feast as celebrating the birth of the nation.

Just so truly did Christ, in instituting His Supper, assure His followers that it would ever point them forward to a more glorious future deliverance. He was about to partake with His followers of the sacramental wine. It was to be a farewell supper, but He declared: “I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” So whenever they observed the Supper, in the days to come, they were to do so with glad expectation. They were to be like the ancient Israelites, each one of whom was ready to start on the journey toward the Land of Promise when the trumpet sounded and the Deliverer issued His command.

(6) The Supper of our Lord should be a time of thanksgiving. Such was the character of the Passover Feast. According to the Jewish ritual the ceremony began with a twofold expression of gratitude; it included hymns, such as Psalms 113 and 114, and closed with Psalms 115-118, known as the second part of the “Hallel.” It was probably this expression of praise which was used by Christ and His disciples when it is recorded that “when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.” This note of gratitude was sounded when our Lord instituted the Sacrament: “He took the cup, and gave thanks . . .. He took bread, and gave thanks.” It is from the Latin and the Greek words for “thanks” that we derive the English term “Eucharist,” which is a proper designation of the sacrament. Therefore the observance, while serious, should not be sad and mournful, but characterized by gladness and joy. The words of the hymn properly may be kept in mind: “This is the hour of banquet and of song.”

(7) The sacrament should summon all partakers to a humble dedication to the service of the Master. It should be humble, for we all realize that we are no stronger than the disciples. They sang the hymn and went out to the Mount where they all declared their willingness to die for their Lord, and then they all forsook Him and fled. However, they came in time to understand all that the sacred Supper had meant. They then realized that on the next day He had died for them, and they became willing to lay down their lives for Him; and upon them as a foundation the Lord built His Church. His word to them was “watch and pray.” This warning should come to us in the very silence of the sacramental service as we recall His warning. Yet conscious of our weakness and confident in the grace He can supply, we should go forward, not to failure and disgrace, but to joyous and loyal service. We should realize that “He died for all that they that live should henceforth not live unto themselves but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again.”