"Let Us Keep The Feast"
The ceremony and words used by Jesus at the Last Supper, that have given inspiration for two thousand years of Christian celebration, must have followed close upon, and indeed were probably intermingled with, the disciples keeping of the Passover according to Mosaic law. It is not so much that the one ceremony is distinct from the other in point of time and sequence as that it was distinct in purpose. The Passover, as a ceremony of tradition, looked back to a deliverance of fourteen centuries past. The Last Supper was the inaugural ceremony of a new fellowship, looking forward to a deliverance that was at least two thousand years in the future. The one was a remembrance of the past, the other a pledge of the future.
We therefore need to balance the future with the past. When Jesus said "This do in remembrance of me" He meant us to remember not only His life on earth and death on the Cross, but also His promised coming again in the glory of His Kingdom and His revealing (apokalupto) to all men when that Kingdom is established in power. Ours is not a faith that dwells forever on the things of the past, however soul-stirring and inspiring they may be, however mighty in Divine power for the furtherance of God's Plan. It is a faith that looks forward to the future, that beholds with clear, undimmed eyes those glories that shall be when the Son of Man has fully come in the power of His Kingdom. Then all nations will gather before Him to learn the pure language that He will turn to them, that they may call upon the Name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent. It is that coming which we have in mind as we raise the cup to our lips and repeat together "Till He come!"
There were eleven gathered with Him in that upper room. The others were not there ‑ those who, beside the apostles, were constant attendants upon our Lord during His ministry. There were the three Marys, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Mark, but they were not there. Others not there were Lazarus, Mary and Martha of Bethany, nor were Joanna nor Salome there, nor were those secret disciples, Joseph and Nicodemus. The "five hundred brethren" to whom the Lord showed himself after his resurrection were elsewhere, all unconscious of the ceremony that was being enacted for the first time and which they themselves would repeat, year by year continually, for the rest of their lives. It was in the truest sense of the word a family gathering, and it marked the institution of a new family, the Christian family, a family that was to hold together and endure, through centuries of suffering and persecution, until our own day; and endures still. Despite misunderstandings, difficulties, disappointments, disillusionments, we remain a family still, and those who have grasped this truth and practice it in their relations with their brethren are the ones who alone have remained truly faithful to the cause of Christ.
It was appropriate therefore that the institution of the Christian family should be marked by a ceremonial which, whatever else it was intended to symbolise, did in fact bring home to the disciples one vivid realisation. They were to eat bread in the presence of their host! That meant a great deal more to those men in that day than ever it means to Western Europeans today. From time immemorial until today, in the Arabian deserts, to eat bread in a man's house, or in his tent in the land of the sons of Abraham, meant that the host was forever bound to accept the visitor as one of his family, even to the extent of sacrificing his own life if necessary in the defence of his guest. It was no idle word that Jesus uttered when He said "This is my body, broken for you. Take, eat". By that action He was assuring them, in symbol, that, having partaken of bread at His hands, they were forever under His protection and members of His family. "Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends." He knew full well that He must lay down His own life on behalf of those who had eaten bread with Him. In the earnestness of His communion with the Father He prayed that these who by this ceremonial eating of bread had signified their desire to be of His family forevermore might be as one family whilst still in the flesh, "that they may be one, as we are one". We need to reflect here that to be one body in heaven means to be one family on earth. The unity for which our Lord prayed is not one to be achieved, as it were, instantaneously upon our 'change' to spiritual conditions and our entrance upon heavenly glory, but here and now in our fellowship together and our common pilgrim walk toward the Holy City. "The bread which we break," says Paul in 1 Cor. 10.16 "is it not the communion ‑ the common union —"of the body of Christ?" It is only as we enter into the real meaning of the term "communion of saints" that we can perceive the basis of that fellowship which shall be our inheritance beyond the Vail but for which we must he prepared here and now if we are ever to inherit it.
The significance of the bread, then, is His life given for us, our acceptance into his family binding us together in one body. If we take the symbol to ourselves and partake of the broken bread, we must identify ourselves with that position. But the eleven were to be initiated into an understanding even deeper than that. Not only were they to enter into a passive relationship as members of the Christ family but they were also to enter into an active partnership as blood-brothers with Jesus Christ Himself. He called them, not only to accept of His hospitality and sacrifice upon their behalf but also to become associated with him in a work of service which should make them for all time "joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer (endure) with him, that we may also be glorified together" (Rom.8.17). So He bade them drink of the wine that represented His blood. The assimilating of blood meant the acquiring of blood relationship to the donor, to these men of the Eastern world. Two Bedouin Arabs, resolved to become blood-brothers to each other, would each open a vein in his wrist and the two together would allow their blood to mingle. From henceforth they were blood-brothers ‑ each had the other's blood run in his veins. Drinking blood, meant the acquiring of life from another. "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you," said Jesus. Hence this symbol of the cup involved a second and deeper obligation, one more personal between each believer and his Lord. It implied eternal association together in as close a sense as two brothers together. It implied a companionship with the beloved partner in all things, in life or in death. So if Jesus spent His life in serving mankind and doing good to all, so do we. If Jesus forsook earthly ambitions and aims in order to further the interests of God's Kingdom, then so should we. If Jesus went into death at the hands of wicked men rather than swerve one iota from the course that Divine wisdom had planned, then we should be ready to do the same. "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." (Rom.6.4)
The symbol of the cup is that of a voluntary sharing with Him in all that He does, both in the service of mankind now, limited in scope and power though it must be, and in the infinitely wider sphere of Millennial work when that Age shall have come. "Are you able," asked our Lord, of some who desired to reign with him, "to drink of the cup that I shall drink, and to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"- "Lord, we are able," was the confident reply. They knew not what they said. So often, in our confidence, we say the same thing and understand the implication of what we say as little as did those disciples. May we have grace and sincerity to enter more deeply into the spirit of these things, and, approaching the holy table with full awareness of our responsibility and privilege, let us "keep the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth".