Chapter 7 – Luke: Meals and the Last Supper

LUKE – AN ORDERED ACCOUNT

One question many people ponder as they dig deeper into scripture is, “who wrote the bible?” Following the teachings of Martin Luther, Lutherans believe that the scripture was not directly penned by God, but rather, God inspired people to say and write these Holy words.  Reading the opening verses of Luke 1: 1-4 we read that Luke had reviewed all that he had heard about Jesus and then proceeded to write this account of the events of Jesus’ life and resurrection. He is writing to a person called Theophilus (which means “Friend of God”). In many ways Luke is writing directly for you as you are a Friend of God wanting to read and learn about Jesus.  The Gospel of Luke is only the first part of Luke’s ‘ordered account’ and he continues in a second book, The Act of the Apostles, which is the story of the early church, “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven”, Acts 1:1-2.

THE LAST SUPPER

In this chapter we are looking at how meals are used in this Gospel to tell the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We start near the end of the Gospel of Luke with the Last Supper – the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before his trial and crucifixion.

This meal was a Passover celebration, the ‘freedom from slavery’ meal, that we read about in the Exodus story. Here Jesus is celebrating a new freedom that is about to happen through his own death and resurrection. The parallels help to bring new meaning to this last Passover supper; an innocent lamb is slaughtered, a cup of salvation is drunk, bread is broken with those gathered. Jesus adds new meaning to the meal with his words. Read Luke 22: 14-23; Jesus says, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” This is a new promise/covenant that adds new meaning to the passing over of the angel of death event in Egypt.

This new meaning is about to be revealed in Jesus’ imminent death and resurrection.  His death was the sacrifice of God’s own son (compare with the lamb in the Exodus Passover), and with His death all the sins of the world are taken down to Hades/Sheol (the underworld of the dead and which marks a separation from God).  In Jesus’ resurrection three days later on the Sunday morning, all forgiveness is declared in Jesus being raised from the dead and raised from the sin that he took away.

The Last Supper, ca. 1520, by Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli following Leonardo da Vinci’s famous depiction.

The Last Supper, ca. 1520, by Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli following Leonardo da Vinci’s famous depiction.

This is the same meal (Lord’s Supper) that continues to this day at most churches around the world and is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian church – table fellowship, breaking bread together, remembering Jesus’ life and mission on earth.

TABLE FELLOWSHIP

Hospitality and table fellowship in the Middle East (Israel and Palestine) was a very significant social activity and convention in the years when our Bible was being written (1500 BCE to 100 CE).  Strangers being welcomed and cared for, who you eat with, who you did not eat with, are all issues that were so very important in those days.  In our modern era you can still see that being played out e.g. in high school cafeterias were the popular people at one table decide who can join the group. In Jesus’ days on earth, the Jewish food and purity laws would limit with whom you should, or should not, share table fellowship.

A lot of the rules relate to conforming and thus relate to who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’.  Jesus frequently broke those rules to teach how God sees ‘in’ and ‘out’. Read these verses and see who Jesus should not have eaten with:

  • Luke 5:27-32 Banquet at Levi’s House
  • Luke 7:36-50 Dinner at Simon’s House
  • Luke 19:1-10 Hospitality at the home of Zacchaeus

Remember from our last chapter where Luke writes about the outsiders – tax collectors (Roman collaborators) and sinners (non-Jewish people). These are the ones Jesus now is eating with. He is teaching about those had been considered ‘out’ are now to be included.  Jesus told a parable about this. Read Luke 14:15-24 where, again, the setting is table fellowship.  Notice the term that someone says to Jesus, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” and Jesus responds with the parable.  In effect Jesus is expanding who is part of God’s kingdom and He is using table fellowship as the method of inclusion. Jesus is saying we have new “bread buddies”, new companions (which literally means ‘one who breaks bread with another,’ based on Latin, com ‘together with’ + panis ‘bread’).

Meals and table fellowship are a powerful and tangible expression of welcome and friendship in every culture, and here in Luke’s Gospel they also enact God’s mission and stand for God’s grace.

JESUS FEEDS US

It is a very subtle reference in the story of Jesus’ birth when Mary “wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger” Luke 2:7.  Ask the questions, What is a manger and what does it contain? Jesus is laid in a feeding trough and therefor Jesus is food, not literal food for the animals, however this is the start of the story that at its ending has Him taking “a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you  … And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant (testament) in my blood.” Luke 22: 19-20.

The Last Supper continues to feed us today in Christ’s continued church. Also read these verses about Jesus feeding us:

  • Luke 9:10-17 Starting with five loaves and two fish, Jesus feeds the large crowds physical hunger, also Jesus feeds the disciple’s trust.
  • Luke 24:28-35 The risen Jesus is recognized in the breaking of bread at Emmaus. Jesus feeds the two disciples in faith who then return to Jerusalem to share this news with the others.
  • Luke 24:36-43 The risen Jesus eats a meal in presence of disciples showing that he still had a physical risen body.  Jesus feeds the disciples hope.

May you be blessed in these summer months (originally published July 2015 in the Trinity Times ) as you share BBQs and also sorts of meals with family and friends. Remember that God is present in the midst of your community with your ‘bread buddies’, and may you find new ‘bread buddies’ as you travel.

ADDENDUM

This CupSome reflections on the various names the church uses for the meal we share as remember Christ and participate in His continued presence with us:

  • ‘Last Supper’ – This term focuses on the finality of the Jesus’ earthy ministry with his disciples.
  • ‘Lord’s Supper’ – From 1 Corinthians 11:20 when Paul was writing about this very meal that was celebrated in the early church. The name focuses us on Jesus who is the host of the meal and also that we are the guests.
  • ‘Lord’s Table’ – This focuses on the again on the host (Jesus) but also shows the ecumenical nature of Christ’s church. Most/all churches have a communion table or altar. As the presiding pastor, I often invite people to the table saying, “This is not a Lutheran table. It is the Lord ’s Table. All are welcome.”
  • ‘Breaking of the Bread’ – is one of activities, along with teaching and fellowship, that the early church gathered to share. Acts 2:42
  • ‘Eucharist’ – In 1 Corinthians 11: 24 we find this Greek word that means, “Thanksgiving”. We thank God for the gift of, Jesus, the living bread.
  • ‘Holy Communion’ – This term focuses on the Holy anointed one (the Messiah) coming to us through bread and wine / body and blood and He becomes part of us.
  • ‘Mass’ – Derives from a Latin term used by the medieval church at the end of a Eucharist liturgy, “Ite Missa Est”, meaning, “Go, it is the dismissal”.  In our Lutheran worship we often use these words of dismissal, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”, and the people respond, “thanks be to God.”

Written by Pastor Steve Johnston

 

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