I want you to think back a very short time to dinner tonight. I want you to picture what it was like sitting at your table. In your mind, look around you. Who is there? Is it family? Is it friends from church? Maybe some new faces? Are your children there? Your parents? Who is swirling about? Is there a youth in a bright t-shirt asking for your drink order? Or an adult telling a youth to ask you for your drink order? What’s in front of you? Did you get a big bowl of soup? Some Chili? Some homemade bread? Is it warm and inviting? Are the smells rising up with the warmth and filling your senses? Try to imagine taking a bite, what it tasted like, how it smelled, how it felt to be warmed by it.
Now, without opening your eyes, try to imagine tomorrow. Imagine sitting down to that meal. Imagine the people there. Imagine the feeling as you look around at your loved ones, your family and friends, perhaps people you haven’t seen in a while, or people more new to you. Imagine the food on the table. Favorite dishes, traditions, things you skip but someone else loves dearly, the side dish or the pie that someone else makes perfectly. Let those emotions of the day, the highs and the stress, the joy and the busyness fill you for a moment. Now open your eyes. Now give a soft elbow to the person on either side of you… just in case.
I want to suggest a few things. I want to suggest that the Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples, his followers, his brothers, those with whom he’d shared so many meals before, so many homes, so many stories, so much shared joy and misery… was much like what you experienced tonight or what you may experience tomorrow. We know that Jesus knew what was coming. We know that could not have been easy. But I remember my last Thanksgiving with my extended family that my grandfather was present. I think he knew it was his last. And I remember him looking around, taking it all in, surrounded by a large family he had loved so well, loved till the end, and I remember the joy in his eyes… And I think THAT is what Christ felt in those moments of his last supper.
I think too often we are subconsciously influenced even by the term “last supper.” The only people who have last suppers, last meals… are death row inmates, alone, facing execution for their crimes, unsure of what will come. But Jesus had committed no crime. And Jesus was not alone. And Jesus knew the good that was to come. I don’t think Jesus faced this meal as a last supper. I think Jesus celebrated this meal like my grandfather did. I believe that Jesus looked around the room at those he loved and drank it all in. I think he ate the food, which must have been so familiar, so steeped in Jewish ritual and tradition. This was the Jewish Thanksgiving. It still is. It’s the meal where they recount the story of their ancestors who escaped bondage and religious persecution and traveled to a new land, a land with new people, a land that was not easy, but full of promise. And this history was not one of a perfect people making good choices, but of an imperfect people who did not always listen to God.
The Jews gathered then and now to recount their THANKFULNESS to God for rescuing them, leading them, sparing them, and providing for them in the midst of their hardship and mistakes. And this makes this story remarkably similar to our own history, and our celebration of thanks, with all its complications and mess. And like the Jews, we prepare our feasts, our traditional meals, be they turkey or tofurkey, or in the case of my aunt and uncle one year, just side dishes, after they locked their turkey in an oven cleaning cycle… And we enjoy the company of those we love and reflect on our year and that for which we are most thankful.
So why does any of this matter, Brian? Well, you’ve been very good. You played along with me. I’m thankful for a room full of Presbyterians who all just played pretend with me and used their imaginations. J This matters because this table at which we gather for the Lord’s Supper, for what we call the Great Thanksgiving… is a place of mystery and of imagination. When we gather, we read words and gather as a people to do this in remembrance of Christ, someone we’ve never met in the corporeal sense, in the flesh. And how we remember Christ as we come to table matters. If we only remember the death of Christ, we are only remembering a fraction of the miraculous gift from God. After it, there is a remarkable resurrection… and before it… well, before it is a humble birth and an amazing life.
And if we are to remember and imagine a part of that meal in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the cup, perhaps it would serve us to think less of a last supper, and more of a Passover meal… a meal of thanksgiving. Imagine again with me. You don’t have to close your eyes. But imagine… not a last supper before an execution… (this isn’t his funeral) but a thanksgiving meal surrounded by all the comforts of familiar favorite delights, smells, sounds of laughter, and the sight of those you hold most dear. Hold those feelings from moments ago, those emotions.
When you leave here, I want to ask of you two things. First, tomorrow, as you sit down with family or friends, or by yourself, I want you to imagine this as your Passover feast. I want you to imagine what it was like for Jesus and his disciples. And then… the next time you come to this table, I want you to remember that meal, or any Thanksgiving meal. And I want you to think not just of the gift of Jesus’ death, but also of his resurrection, his life, his joy, and his love, and the family and friends Jesus held dear in those moments. We are a people whose identity is shaped by the gathering at this table. We do this in remembrance of him. Let us imagine him fully. Let us remember him well.
Let us pray.