Thursday, 2 November 2017

Reflecting on Communion (part 2)

As with my last one, this wasn't exactly written to be a blog post but hopefully it makes enough sense to be of interest to those who might be interested!

Reflections on Mark 14:12-26, the story of the Last Supper

The stories of the last supper are deeply familiar to many of us. Instead of looking here at the broad brushstrokes of the story: so familiar, so ingrained in our Christian tradition, I want to draw out and reflect on some of those little details which might just be more significant than they first appear and from them to raise some questions for us to consider together.

At the beginning of the gospel text we see Jesus sending off two disciples to prepare for the celebration of the Passover meal. Later in the passage he himself arrives it says, with the twelve, which suggests to me that these two forerunners were not among his closest friends but were others from his entourage. It makes it, I think, safe to assume, that the meal was shared with a wider community than just the twelve. It makes it, I think, important that we too think about how we invite those beyond our immediate friends to share our communion table.

Those two forerunners are sent to follow ‘a man carrying a water jug’ ... I don’t think they identified the right man by some kind of magic or mystery – a man carrying a water jug would have been an unusual sight in Jerusalem at that time. Water carrying was woman’s work. I don’t know what the significance of Jesus going to a home where a man was carrying water is, but I can’t help feeling there must be some meaning to this seemingly insignificant detail.

And so we come to the Passover meal, the Passover which is a family feast, but which Jesus celebrates in a borrowed room. Admittedly, we don’t know if this unnamed host was friend or stranger; but we do know that Jesus was not, in the traditional sense, the head of the household, the host; for all he takes on that role as the one who blesses and breaks the bread. I sometimes wonder whether the hosts themselves were present and if they were, what did they make of this turning around of the expectations, of this visitor placing himself in the father’s place?

As they eat together, Jesus speaks of the one who will betray him. He knows, too, undoubtedly, that the rest will abandon him and that for the last part of his journey he will tread a lonely road. But this, the one who will betray, and these, the ones who will not stay the course, are none the less invited not only to eat but “to dip bread into the bowl with me”. Do we too dare to invite those who we know will betray and abandon all that we stand for to serve and be served, to share the same meal from the same vessels?

And after bread there is wine. In the Passover meal wine is indeed drunk: four cups of it, each of which has a different symbolism. Blood, on the other hand, is very definitely not drunk, or indeed, in any way consumed. Quite the contrary: it is significant in the Passover story that the blood is poured out, daubed on door frames as a sign of God’s protection, but it is certainly not to be consumed: that is an important part of the whole Passover story. If, as is generally assumed, Jesus as well as taking the role of host, is taking upon himself the role of Passover lamb, the blood, surely, is the one part that should not be consumed, and yet these are his words “This is my blood of the covenant”: deeply powerful and, one can imagine, even offensive to his Jewish audience.  Deeply challenging, if we allow ourselves to really hear them from beyond the familiarity of ritual, even to us.

So what does it mean? Well, to be honest, I'm not sure I know. But perhaps it is the moment of a reuniting of the flesh and the blood of the lamb of the Passover story – the flesh which offered physical strength for the journey, the blood which offered God’s protection, brought into one in the person of Jesus. Or, perhaps it is that God’s protection: previously seen as an external reality from a distant “out there” sort of God is to be consumed and internalised in this new understanding of a now present “in here” sort of God. Perhaps it is something else, I suggest we should certainly think about it.

Whatever its symbolism, as Jesus drinks the wine at the meal table, he states that he will not drink of it again until “the day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” According to the gospel accounts, that next sip of wine, that ‘drinking it anew’ happens not after the resurrection in some glorious new reality but on the cross as he suffers and as he dies. Is this then where we find the kingdom of God? Not in some beautiful, imagined future where all is well, but in this messy reality of daring to carry the power of love to its absolute limits, in the making visible of the extreme depths of pain of truly unconditional love? 

I want to leave you with a final question: If this, the cross, is heaven and this is where we find it; if this is the end of the last supper, of the Passover feast, of the communion table: what now for how we commemorate it today? 

1 comment:

  1. Found this very thought provoking, Steph. I heard that when Jesus referred to His blood, he was referring to his life, because the Jews of that time interchanged the two words.