Our story today is of Thursday. Now for the last time the Lord and the disciples leave their resting place in the little town of Bethany, coming over the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. This was the day of the Passover, the great feast, and the city must have presented its most festive appearance with its gaily colored crowds of people, perhaps little tents covering the hillsides. The disciples had come to the Lord asking Him what preparations they should make for Him and themselves. He sent two of them, Peter and John, to the city. Following a man carrying a jar of water, they found the house and the large upper room. It is possible that the "good man of the house" was a friend, but all the dwellers in Jerusalem opened their houses to visitors at the feast.
The room was "furnished and prepared," probably arranged with the tables and couches for the feast. Possibly the wine, the cakes of unleavened bread, the bitter herbs, and the preserve of fruits, into which the bread was to be dipped, may have been in readiness also. If not, Peter and John would prepare them and also the lamb, for the feast. This lamb must have been bought the day before; and been examined by the priests. Today Peter and John would kill it in the temple court when the trumpets blew. The blood would be taken in a golden bowl and poured out by the priests at the foot of the altar. All the while the Levites would chant the Psalms from 113 to 118, the people joining in some of the lines, and responding by a hallelujah to others. After this ceremony Peter and John would have their lamb roasted, and take it to the larger upper room to have it in readiness for the Lord and the other disciples.
In the evening the Lord kept the Passover with the disciples, with its blessings and singing of Psalms, and the story of deliverance from Egypt.
This feast they partook of after the manner of the Jews, but the Lord had come to bring a new and different worship; so after the feast He "took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is My body. And He took the cup and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them; and they all drank of it. And He said unto them, this is My blood of the new testament (or covenant), which is shed for many." He also said (in Luke), "This do in remembrance of Me." And this new feast, called the "Holy Communion," given for the first time by the Lord Himself, the Christian Church observes in remembrance of Him.
Review the events of Holy Week: the entrance into the city on Palm Sunday; Monday the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple; Tuesday the day of teaching in the temple. Wednesday we think of as spent in the quiet of Bethany.
Thursday came, when in the evening the Passover should be eaten, and for a week all leaven should be put away. Each household kept the Passover, by itself, or two households together, if one was too small. The twelve disciples were the Lord's household, and in the morning of the feast day the Lord sent Peter and John from Bethany to prepare the feast. About sunset all was ready. The Lord with the other disciples came from Bethany, over the Mount of Olives, to the large upper room where Peter and John had made ready.
As they were eating, the Lord sadly told them that one of them should betray Him. Have you not seen Leonardo da Vinci's famous picture of the disciples about the table with the Lord? You remember they are all looking up startled and troubled. They are looking toward the Lord. Some are holding up their hands inquiringly. The Lord has just told them that one of them will betray Him, and they are asking, "Lord, is it I?" John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next before the Lord at the table. Peter beckoned to him to ask who it should be. "Lord, who is it?" he asked; and the Lord said, "He it is to whom I shall give a sop when I have dipped it." Then, taking a sprig of the bitter herbs or a piece of a cake of bread, he dipped it in the preserved fruit, and handed it to Judas Iscariot. Evil thoughts and feelings came into Judas's heart, and he rose from the table and went out into the night.
There, as they were with Him at the table, the Lord gave them the bread and wine, and charged them to keep His Holy Supper. There, too, He spoke to them wonderfully tender words, which John has preserved for us in his Gospel: "Let not your heart be troubled." John 14 and following chapters.
1. When was the Passover kept? In memory of what?
2. When did the Lord keep it for the last time with the disciples? How did they find the place?
3. What Christian feast did the Lord give in place of the Passover?
4. What is represented by the bread, and what by the wine of the Holy Supper?
The meaning of the Passover. The escape from Egypt represents the deliverance from bondage to natural pleasure and evil, through the power of the Lord and His commandments. The feast represents the gift of new and better life. What does the lamb represent? Innocent affection from the Lord. Its blood on the door, innocent thoughts which belong to good affection, which keep evil from intruding. The unleavened bread represents the strength of pure affection free from all uncleanness; the bitter herbs, the temptations through which alone we can receive the good gifts. The feast originally was eaten girded and in haste, to teach that we cannot receive heavenly gifts to enjoy idly, but only to use. The feast was commanded to be kept forever, because we cannot be delivered and strengthened by the Lord once for all, but need His help continually forever. This same need is the reason for the Holy Supper which the Lord commanded instead of the Passover, saying, "This do in remembrance of Me." The bread and wine represent the gifts of heavenly affection and thought, the Lord's own flesh and blood, which we need to receive constantly from Him; and the reverent observance of the sacrament promotes their reception. (E. 329, 340; T. 702-710)
What preparation do we need for this reception of heavenly life from the Lord? We need to put away the wrong things which fill our minds and prevent our accepting His gifts. We must learn from the Lord what is wrong and with His help put away the evil of our doings from before His eyes. This preparation of repentance is represented by the jar of water which led the disciples to the place where they should keep the Passover with the Lord. A deeper repentance must be represented by the Lord's washing the disciple's feet at the table. (T. 722; A. 3147, 7442) Why were John and Peter sent? What is the meaning of the large upper room?