The Last Supper? Actually, No.

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This week is Holy Week, the week during which we remember the final week of Jesus’ life on Earth leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection.

Maundy Thursday is the day in the church calendar when we remember what we call “the Last Supper”, the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before he was crucified. For more on the “lesser known” days of Holy Week, read: “The Less Famous Days of Holy Week

However, there are several aspects to these traditions that might be misleading.

First of all, Jesus’ Passover Dinner with his disciples would have been on Wednesday evening. According to Jewish thinking, this would have been Thursday, since in Jewish thinking the new day begins at sundown. Thus, what we consider to be Wednesday night would actually be considered Thursday by the Hebrews.

For more on the timing of Holy Week, read: “Was Jesus in the Grave Three Days and Three Nights? Here’s How It Adds Up

But most importantly, what is misleading is the name “the last supper”. Consider what James K.A. Smith has to say on this topic:

when Jesus celebrates the Last Supper, he actually intimates that it’s not really the last supper, but the penultimate (second to last) supper.1

Smith is right. Think about what Jesus said during that supper:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29 ESV)

Paul the Apostle then says this about the practice of the Lord’s Supper by Christians:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26 ESV – emphasis mine)

In other words, the meal commonly referred to as “the last supper” was not ever meant to be thought of as the last supper that Jesus would have with his disciples, but as the preview of the great supper that they would one day share with Jesus in His Kingdom.

In other words, Communion, AKA the Lord’s Supper, AKA the Eucharist is an eschatological supper, through which we remind ourselves week in and week out of what is to come: the wedding feast of the lamb, in the New Jerusalem (Heaven).

Consider these words further thoughts from James K.A. Smith:

there’s a certain sense in which the celebration of the Lord’s Supper should be experienced as a kind of sanctified letdown. For every week that we celebrate the Eucharist is another week that the kingdom and its feast have not yet fully arrived.2

As you remember and reflect during Holy Week on Jesus’ penultimate supper, and every time you take communion, keep in mind that we do so both as an act of looking back and as an act of looking forward! Both are essential aspects of the hope that we have in Jesus!

 

James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdomp.199
2 Ibid., p.200

Turning the World Upside-Down

they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, (‭Acts‬ ‭17‬:‭6‬ ESV)

The early Christians were not occupied with bemoaning what the world was coming to, rather they were occupied with celebrating that which had come into the world.

May God use us to turn the world upside down in our generation as they did in theirs.

The Kingdom of God has often been referred to as the “Upside-Down Kingdom”, because many of the values of God's Kingdom are the exact opposite of values that popular society espouses, for example: humility over pride, sacrifice over opportunism, etc. (More on that here)

However the question is: Is it actually God's values that are upside down, or are they only viewed as being upside down by an upside down world? I believe it's the latter.

To turn this world upside down, then, is to truly make things right-side up.

 

The Problem with Free

Several years ago, my wife and I moved to Eger, Hungary to plant a church. Eger is a college town, and the first members of our church were college students, so we did a lot of outreach at the college campus.

One of the main ways we did outreach in the early years at the college, was by organizing lectures on various topics, such as intelligent design, business ethics – we even did a cultural night with Indian dancing and food as well as a lecture on the veracity of the Da Vinci Code, back when that was a hot topic. Each of these events was done for the purpose of evangelism and introducing people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and they were very effective.

The first such event we organized at the college was a lecture on intelligent design from an American speaker who is a friend of ours. We rented out a lecture hall at the college, organized all the logistics – and asked a friend of ours to be in charge of designing a flyer.

The flyer he designed had all the pertinent information on it – including the fact that this event was FREE.  At the very bottom of the flyer was a line of text which read: “And the best part is: It’s Free!”

After the flyers were printed, we began handing them out on the campus, inviting students to join us in the evening for this lecture. As I handed the flyer to one student, he stood and read it, and then handed it back to me and said: “If the best part of this event is that it’s free, then I think I’ll find something else to do.”

This gets to the idea of “Perceived Value”. Perceived value means: “the worth that a product or service has in the mind of the consumer. The consumer’s perceived value of a good or service affects the price that he or she is willing to pay for it.” (source)

In this situation, the ‘perceived value’ was ZERO, because we told everybody that the BEST thing about this event was that it was free!  #epicfail

In spite of this, we did pack the lecture hall out that night, and the event was a success, but we learned a valuable lesson. Interestingly, our most effective outreach in Hungary was (and still is) a camp, which the campers pay full price to attend!

What we have found is that when something COSTS someone something, the perceived value is higher. This has led to discussions about whether we should charge for outreaches, such as concerts, not because we have to, but because ironically more people come when something costs something – because we are wary of things that are free, wondering what the agenda or the catch is behind it being free.

I say all that to say this: I think one area where the Christian church has missed the mark, is when we say basically the same thing about God’s grace as we said on that flyer:  The BEST part is: It’s FREE!

Yes, Grace is freely given by God to the repentant – but in a very important way, Grace is not free: there is a cost to that Grace > it cost God EVERYTHING, it cost Jesus His whole life, AND it will cost YOU everything!  It will cost you your whole life, in order to take hold of it!

This is made very clear by Jesus, who tells parables about a man who found a treasure in a field, and, in his JOY, went and sold ALL THAT HE HAD, that he might purchase that field. Jesus says that you must take up your cross, you must DIE! – you must give up your whole life in order to take hold of the new life that He is making available to you!

Here’s the thing: when we portray that the BEST thing about the Gospel is that it is free, we are diminishing the perceived value. No wonder some people react with a less than enthusiastic response! No wonder some people say: Well, maybe later – you know, once I’m done doing my own thing – if that ever happens.

The point of what Jesus says when he says that the Kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man finds and in his joy goes and sells all that he has and returns and buys that field – is that the knowledge of God, the ways of God, eternal life – these things are such incredible treasures, that if you could only understand how great they are, you would be willing to do ANYTHING and EVERYTHING necessary to take hold of them. In other words: No cost would be too high!

And it is only then, once we have helped people to understand this, that we bring them the good news: that it is God’s free gift to them. But the only way to take hold of it is to give all of yourself over to him who gave all of himself for you.

That kind of understanding is one that brings a person to their knees, to tears of thankfulness and gratefulness, where they are overwhelmed with the kindness and goodness and love of God.

The best part about grace is not that it is free. That’s just the icing on the cake. 

May we portray the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its true infinite value: something worth living for, something worth dying for, something worth giving EVERYTHING for.