On Thursday evening shortly before Jesus’ arrest and trial He was trying to comfort His disciple’s fears. He had said to them, “You know the way to the place where I am going.”(John 14:4) Then Thomas asked a question that summaries what all of us feel at times. “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are committed to Him. But we also live in a world that doesn’t make a lot of sense, and we all face situations where we don’t know the way. “Lord, where are you going with this? How can we know the right way?” Then Jesus answered,”I am the way and the truth and the life…” We would like to have a specific plan – do this, this, and this and all will work out well. That isn’t the answer Jesus gives. He simply says keep your eyes on me, hold my hand, follow me. We don’t know where many of our trials in life will end. Just like the disciples on that Thursday evening had no real ideal of all that they would face. Yet they walked forward keeping their eyes, and the deepest hope of their hearts fixed on Jesus. It was He who brought them through to the resurrection on Easter Sunday Morning. With eyes fixed on Jesus we move forward one step at a time.
“In the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus took bread, and when He had blessed it, He broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take and eat. This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also, He took the cup, and when He had supped and given thanks He gave it to them saying, ‘All of your drink of it. This cup is the New Covenant in my blood which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of your sins. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.'” These words that you hear at every communion service are not a mere remembrance of something Jesus did at a Passover service two thousand years ago. They are a present reality of God’s grace. When you come to the altar hearing the words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins” Jesus is present with his forgiving grace. In this present act of God’s grace you have the assurance of your cleansing and new life. That is the marvelous gift given to you on this Holy Thursday.
At the beginning of the Passover meal a young boy asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The host then explains that this night is the celebration of their people’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt, and all they do reminds them of God’s saving work. It was on this night that Jesus gathered with the twelve in an upper room in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. All was as expected at this Jewish feast except there was a heaviness in the hearts of those around the table. Jesus had spoken of the betrayal by one of them, and His impending death. This only deepened their sadness. It was then Jesus did something different. He took a loaf of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it apart, and gave it to them saying, “This is my body given for you.”. Then He took one of the cups of wine and gave it to them saying “Drink from it all of you. This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” This is my body. This is my blood. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Words we hear down to this day as we take a simple piece of bread, and drink from the cup of wine. A commemoration as the Passover? Yes, but so much more. We are part of a new covenant in the real presence of Jesus. Believing His words we have our deliverance from bondage to sin. In this simple meal we are assured of our cleansing, and new life. That is why this night is different from all other nights.
Take time this Holy Thursday to read the account of the events this day from John 13 to 17. In Luke’s account, Jesus had said to the disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”(22:15) Jesus knew He was going to suffer. He wanted this human companionship as far as they could accompany Him until He had to walk the path alone. He had much He yet wanted to share, but the time was now very short, and their hearts were heavy with foreboding. What He gave them that night has come down through all the centuries to us. The servant love He seeks His followers to emulate as He washed their feet. The truth that life and peace are found in Him as the only way to the Father. The new covenant He established in giving His body and blood in the Holy Communion. He was giving them, and us, Himself to be truly one. This day is not merely a remembrance of a long past supper in a second story room in Jerusalem. It is a truth that brings us into Jesus life.
The day started out like any other, but the Lord knew it would not be a “normal” day. Yes, He would do some teaching at the Temple, but Passover was approaching, the last one He would share with the twelve. He had instructed them to prepare a place for their meal, and they would eat together. He knew His betrayer would act. He knew His disciples would scatter. He knew well the prophecy of Isaiah. “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”(53:7) He had meditated on the verse that said, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.”(vs.5) He knew that was the task ahead of Him, but He didn’t full know the depth of the anguish He must endure, the hell of separation from His Father. He would pray in that anguish for three hours, “If it be possible let this cup pass from me.” Yielding to His Father will He would proceed towards the cross. All of the events of these days are very familiar to us, but we must not let their familiarity decrease the magnitude, the awesome wonder of what Jesus did for each of us. For in His prayer, “Father, not my will but Thine be done”, He was doing it for each one of us.
It was a solemn meal in the upper room in Jerusalem that first Holy Thursday evening. It should have been a festive Passover celebration, but somehow there was a heaviness in the air. The disciples really didn’t understand why. Their Master knew what was ahead, and wanted companionship at His last meal before His death. The events that transpired that night would not be forgotten, in fact, not even 2000 years later. Jesus took a loaf of bread, broke off a piece, passing the loaf to the twelve. “This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. ” He took a sip of wine from the final Passover cup saying, “Drink from it all of you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for you.” That simple act, repeated countless times over the centuries, and in our own churches, brings us into the presence of Jesus. We share in the true body and blood of our Lord with the assurance of His cleansing and new life. Much would happen in these last hours of our Lord’s earthly life. The salvation event that took place on Good Friday, freeing us from the bondage to sin is assured to us again each time we receive that simple piece of bread and sip of wine. He words are true. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
The mood was solemn in the large second floor room in Jerusalem on the day we call Holy Thursday. The Master was quiet and deliberate in His actions; the disciples troubled with a sense of foreboding at the uncertainty that lay ahead. Jesus knew what he faced in these next days. It was a task He had agreed to before the world was created. But it would cause Him a kind of suffering that He had never experienced before. He would be going through death on behalf of this creation He loved. Death, total separation from His beloved Father, a horror unknown. These next day were a path that they would all have to walk. Because of sin, death had to be faced squarely, but because of these days, the power of death would be broken. In spite of the heaviness that rested upon that room, the Lord gave assurance that this was not the end. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” He told them. And He gave them gifts that would endure until He returned in glory at the end of the age. He gave His true body and blood in the bread and wine of the supper; and the assurance of the presence of God the Holy Spirit to dwell within them giving direction and courage; concluding it by saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you.” On this solemn evening they didn’t know what lay ahead in the next days, or what it would mean for the rest of their lives, but Jesus had given them a strength to continue, and a hope that would never leave them. Those gifts were not limited to the eleven in the Upper Room, but have come down to each of us in whatever rooms we occupy. We walk forward each day with the Lord who is our peace.