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!