They had celebrated the Passover all their lives, but this one was different, this Last Supper.
There are two kinds of betrayal: the calculated type, planned by a cold heart that is overcome by strong desire; here – no surprises – it was money. Then there is that which disappoints and shames the betrayer, for it is unintended, arising instinctively, unexpectedly, from hidden caverns of a sincere heart. Jesus experienced both from those who were present in that dimly lit, limestone upper room.
When Judas slipped into the shadows and away, Jesus knew exactly what he was going out to do – for in the Garden of Gethsemane there would be a kiss to indicate to the Jewish authorities whom they should arrest. He knew, too, that when the moment came, a few hours after the telling touch of a traitor’s lips, none of these other friends would be there for him. Not one.
At some point the friends had engaged in a private, heated argument about who among them was the greatest. At the start of the meal Jesus, fully aware, had risen from the table, knelt down like a servant and silently washed their filthy feet, including those of Judas. He had come to serve, not to be served, and if they wanted to be ‘great’, then they had to lay aside their own lives too.
Then came the Passover meal. Highly symbolic, its ritual reminded the people of their supernatural rescue from slavery in Egypt when the angel of death passed over the houses whose lintels were daubed in the blood of a sacrificed lamb. They had eaten a hasty meal, which included unleavened bread, and made a quick exit from Egypt. The meal concluded with a forward look to the coming of the Messiah; God’s anointed, promised redeemer; ultimate servant to the human race.
After this Passover meal Jesus took the unleavened bread (‘afikomen’) and, as was the tradition, broke it to share between everyone. But then He said this: ‘This is my body, given for you…’ He took the third of four cups, the Cup of Redemption. He poured out the wine and said this: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for you.’ The impact this revelation had upon the disciples cannot be underestimated. Never before had anyone ever made such claims, revolutionising their understanding of the symbols – for He was the fulfilment of the Passover. It had always been about Him.
So, no wonder He desired, more than anything else, to spend His last Passover meal in the company of these flawed but loved friends. There would be no more opportunities to explain what His crucifixion was about. And, there in that dusty room, was a microcosm of a world that needed to be saved. The intended sin and the unintended sin... it all needed to be atoned for. And that is what Jesus left His last supper to go out and do.