Last Supper: First Meal

(a taster from my forthcoming book: Creative Ideas for Frontline Evangelism with Young People)

Introduction

In my first two books my key point was that mission and sacraments are essentially linked. The sacramental life isn’t a reward for coming to a “correct” decision at the end of a road of discipleship but aids to the process of discipleship. The Eucharistic encounter is not an optional extra in the life of faith, but an essential expression of it.

If we take seriously the teaching of Christ, then the story of the Last Supper will be one of the most important you tell. I deliberately use the same kind of phrasing that I use when celebrating the Eucharist to make the connection clear.  I handle a paten and a chalice as I am telling the story, tear a piece of pitta bread or a wrap and pour out some real wine (or it could be apple juice or blackcurrent – this isn’t a Eucharist but a retelling).

Story

Whenever something important needs to be celebrated, then food is shared.

Think of all of great birthday parties, you have celebrated: surrounded by friends and family, laughter and cheers, jelly and ice cream. Think of those sumptuous Christmas dinners: the table groaning with all that meat and all the trimmings, crackers and Christmas pudding and your family all around.

When people come together for something special, then food is so often involved. To share food says “I think you are special” and no matter where in the world, no matter what the culture, and even no matter what the religion, the sharing of food is always a mark of hospitality and friendship.

We had eaten so many meals together in the past three years: from banquets offered by the great and the good to going hungry together in desolate places, from feeding to our fill on the mountain (or was it the plain? My memory gets a little hazy sometimes, we did so much with Him) to sharing what little we had with the poor and the destitute, our common table seemed to signify our common life. We ate, we laughed, we talked: sometimes about the most profound thought-provoking stuff and sometimes and trivial rubbish or silly arguments about which one of us was stronger, or cleverer or more holy or even a better mate of His…

So this meal, this Passover meal was just like all the others. Don’t think for a moment that it was a miserable meal, a solemn occasion, a boring event. We joked, we laughed, we talked the usual inane rubbish and then in the middle of it, just as He was about to launch into the bread course, as he did the usual prayers he said something that has stayed with me forever…

“Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you. Do this and I will be present with you always”[1]

It was a bit shocking really… eat his flesh? Cannibalism? We had strict laws about that kind of thing – even if it was only a metaphor, it was an offensive one because the eating of another human was and still is so taboo, so wrong, so illegal and yet he was adamant about it: eat not just with me… but eat me.

You could see that his words had disturbed many of us around the table, in the flickering light of the oil lamps I could see Pete had gone quite white. Then he continued.

He took the cup of wine: a big single cup that we shared as a sign of our togetherness and again the said the prayer of thanks that we had grown up with. Looking round the table he then continued:

“Take this all of you and drink from it. This is my blood. The blood which seals a new agreement between God and the world. It is shed for you and for all so that your sins may be forgiven. Do this and I will be present with you always”

Chilling. It sounded as if he was going away from us, and yet was keen for us to see that he was with us in spirit. Where was he going? He’d said nothing about going away before!

As he handed the bread out to you, it seemed now to be more than just food. It had significance and meaning. As the cup passed between us, and I drank deeply from it, although it tasted the same, it felt different. It felt as though it was doing something different within me, and I was somehow changed by it. I never felt closer to him as I had at that moment.

I didn’t understand what he meant by it. Bread and wine… body and blood. It made little sense to me on the night and still if I am to be honest, I don’t understand it. He said to continue breaking this bread, and I have. Wherever I have got to, whenever I have met new followers I have said the same things as he said to us that night. When I do that, it feels like… just as he said… that he is there around the table. When we eat and drink, that simple everyday act proclaims him, recalls those terrible events that were so quickly to follow that night, and I will keep doing it until he comes again in glory.

I don’t think I will ever understand it. It’s a mystery beyond anything I have ever encountered, and I’m just happy to experience it, and the difference it makes to me rather than getting my head around it.

Two thousand years hence and we still have only the barest inkling of what it really means. All the prayers of the Saints, all the words of all the theologians across the centuries and we still haven’t got our heads around this mystery.

When you eat normal food, it becomes a part of you, it becomes absorbed into you, and then is got rid of in the… usual way; yet when you eat of this bread and drink of this wine, you become a part of him, a communion, a joining. You can’t pull these wafers apart and see real flesh, and yet Christ is here. You can’t push a microscope into it, and point to something and say “there! there is God!” and yet, Christ is present. You can’t see the wind blowing, but you can see the effect of the wind blowing on the trees, in the same way look not for body or blood but see the effect that His blessed sacraments have on those who receive it.

Look for the effect that it has on you.

Activity

If you have an amenable priest to hand, the celebration of the Eucharist seems most appropriate. For many ideas for creative Eucharistic liturgies with children, please see my earlier book: Creative Ideas for Sacramental Worship with Children[2].

Application

Matt Maher write a wonderfully atmospheric and profound worship song on the Eucharist called Remembrance. This video combining that song with images from Jesus Christ Superstar can be useful to set the scene.


[1] “Remembrance” is such a weak word in English and does not capture what Jesus is trying to say here. The word he uses (Strongs 364) means “bring me into the presence of”. Your Eucharistic theology might just want to consign this to a fond recalling of a past event, but for others the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is an echo of ancient libations and sacrifices: deeper connections from the past, present and future.

[2] Rundell S (2011) Creative Ideas for Sacramental Worship with Children, Canterbury Press. Norwich.

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