I continue to read David Seccombe’s The King of God’s Kingdom as a way of thinking about the last days and hours of Jesus’ ministry during Lent.
As said in the previous post, Seccombe finds convincing evidence that the Last Supper was a Passover meal.
But did Jesus really share in it with his disciples?
Joachim Jeremias, who wrote a book on the eucharistic words of Christ, claimed that Jesus himself did not eat at the meal. Luke 22:15 expresses an unfulfilled desire.
And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (NET Bible).
According to Jeremias, Jesus was fasting. So he could not join in the meal. With regard to the cup, he expressly says that he will not drink until (literally) kingdom come (v. 18). Translations often supply the word “again” in v. 16 so that Jesus says that he will not eat again of the bread until it is “fulfilled in the kingdom”. However, the word is not in the Greek.
Seccombe justifies adding the word. Jesus may have refrained from drinking wine. But he ate the rest of the meal. Seccombe says that Jesus said he desired to eat with the disciples, so surely he would have.
(Maybe Jesus was just a teetotaler. That would make the prohibitionists happy. He was waiting until the technology to pasteurize grape juice developed. Just so you know, I am being sarcastic.)
We can’t know for sure. I have long hoped that Jesus did not eat or drink at the Last Supper. But that comes from a pastoral problem in my denomination. You are almost forced to eat and drink when communion is observed. They pass the trays down the rows and you stand out if you do not take the wafer or the cup. We specifically invite everyone to partake (open communion), so it feels like rejecting hospitality if you don’t participate.
In one church I had an elder who was so disturbed if someone did not participate that he would stand over them and counsel them that no matter what they had done, Jesus would forgive them, so it was alright to eat and drink.
So the problem was that in being inclusive, we were not very sensitive to people who, for whatever reason, did not feel like sharing on a particular Sunday–and we celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday. So I always felt it would help if I was able to claim that Jesus himself did not participate in the Last Supper. But most people in our tradition tend to reject this idea with feeling. They would agree with Seccombe.
It is hard for us now to get the mood of the original Last Supper. To Jesus it seems that the meal represented death. In the garden he prayed with anguish that the cup might pass from him. To us the meal represents the sharing of life. In some of our churches the meal has become more about sharing as a community and family than about recalling the dread with which Jesus invested the cup of his life’s blood. Some seeker-sensitive churches have even dropped the words “on the night when he was betrayed. . .” as being a downer.
But I do not know whether Jesus ate that meal with his disciples.