By Benjamin Stubblefield, Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
Marcel Proust, a 20th century French novelist, took about 14 years to write a seven-volume collection of semi-autobiographical fiction. His inspiration? Hot tea and a cheap cookie. The food took him back to his childhood, and he wrote seven (ahem … long) books to explain it to us. That might seem extreme, but we all know the experience of a smell, a taste, a touch triggering important memories. Such an instance is now known as a Proustian moment.
Our passage today describes for Christians our Proustian moment. Jesus institutes for us the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, as a meal for Christians to remember — to go back to a past moment that defines our present. But it is not only for us to remember what Christ did for us at His first coming. Amazingly, the meal is also to remind us of what He will do for us in His second.
Jerusalem is packed. Faithful Jewish pilgrims, Jesus and His disciples included, descend on the city to keep the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. What’s tough to come by are places to eat and sleep and materials for the festal meal.
That’s what makes the first scene in our passage so remarkable. Jesus has a prearranged large, furnished room in which He plans to conduct the first Lord’s Supper. Furthermore, He calls upon His disciples to diligently make the required meal preparations — secure the room, get a lamb slain at the temple, pick up bitter herbs, purchase unleavened bread and wine. All of this would take tremendous effort.
While our church communion services are not often that difficult to host, we ought to consider imitating the care with which Jesus and the disciples prepared appropriately for theirs. In order to take the Lord’s Supper rightly, they needed a place for Jesus to sit at the table, but we are now commanded, in order to take Communion rightly, to prepare a place for Jesus to sit in our hearts (1 Cor. 11:27–28).
Looking Forward (14–18)
Jesus takes a moment during this meal to give a word about future meals. In fact, He announces His Passover abstinence until “it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
Announcing to everyone while you’re eating with them that you’re planning on not eating with them for an indefinite and long time is like announcing to everyone at your birthday party that you don’t like presents, people or cake, and that you’re lactose intolerant. That’s a party-pooper.
Except in this case, Jesus is not implying He doesn’t want to be with His people. Rather, He implies that He’s never again going to eat this meal because He’s going to prepare one that’s way better.
In this way, the Lord’s Supper draws us back to the moment when Jesus promises us a place and party that He is going to make ready for us. Certainly, the disciples got sad at the thought of His absence, but I imagine they were thrilled at the prospect of what is yet to come.
The announcement of the Lord’s death reassures us: “until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). And when He comes, what a day, glorious day — and what a meal — that will be.
Looking Back (19–20)
To conclude the meal, Jesus takes the bread and a “new covenant” cup and says the words many of us have seen etched into our church altars: “This do in remembrance of Me.”
What Jesus is announcing here is nothing short of epoch-making. His death begins a new, “more excellent ministry” enacted on “better promises” by which His sacrifice “once for all” brings people to God (Heb. 8:6; 10:10). We would no longer need a Paschal lamb because the final Lamb of God has come to take away the sins of the world.
When we partake, therefore, of the Lord’s Table, we are right to do so happily and sober mindedly.
Because in order to mend His people, Jesus had to be broken.