Can you remember what you ate yesterday? Maybe you had a bagel for breakfast or a burrito for lunch; whatever it was, the food most likely served as a transition to the next activity in your day. While most meals are uneventful obligations to fill our stomachs, some slow us down and feed our souls. The memory of a meal on November 20, 1993, still feeds my soul. It was a chilly, drizzly evening—typical for that time of year in Vancouver. At the end of a carefully choreographed day to optimize the conditions for my success, I asked Toni to marry me. After she said yes, we celebrated with a delectable salmon dish. The meal gave us the opportunity to remember why and how we fell in love. It was a moment of resolve, a time for making promises.
In the intimacy of an evening with beloved friends, Jesus hosted a meal with everlasting significance. Mark’s account of the Lord’s Supper sets the scene “on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb” (Mark 14:12). The Passover meal commemorated God’s great deliverance of Israel from its slavery in Egypt. As God’s people practiced remembrance, it eventually became anticipation, whetting their appetite for deliverance from Roman oppression. The act of sacrificing the Passover lamb was freshly performed each year at the temple, and soon its meaning would be freshly presented in the Lord’s Supper.
The story, however, moves from anticipation to anxiety. Jesus interrupted the dinner conversation by saying, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me” (v. 18). Whatever pleasantries shared at the table would have screeched to a halt. This stark proclamation subverted the peace that a meal together symbolized. Shared meals provided a time and place where covenants could be ratified, where friendships deepened, and where even enemies could lay their weapons aside. While all betrayal is bad, a betrayal in the context of such hospitality would have been appalling.
As the disciples digested his words, “Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them” (vv. 22–24).
Typically, the blessing and breaking of bread would have simply ushered in the next course of dinner—the equivalent of saying grace and passing the pita. However, Christ’s words in the context of this Passover meal, full of redemptive anticipation and personal anxiety, ritualized something essential about God, both for the disciples at the table and for all who have followed since. The fruit of salvation came from an ugly tree, the old rugged cross upon which Christ’s battered body would hang. And so, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).
Yes, Jesus commanded the wind and waves to be still. He raised Lazarus from the grave. At his return every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord (Phil 2:10–11). Such visions of divine power inspire awe and adoration. But Jesus offers himself as a Savior broken and battered, memorialized in the hospitality of the table, and prone to betrayal even in the midst of blessing. We can come to him honest with and unafraid of our own brokenness. By his wounds we are healed, and through his blood we are made whole. In the Lord’s Supper, whenever we take the bread and drink the cup, we slow down to savor the divine gift of joy that came through the sorrows of our Savior.
Walter Kim is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He previously served as a pastor and a campus chaplain.
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