The night of the last supper, all was not well among Jesus’ disciples. Everyone was on edge. They all saw the handwriting on the wall—soldiers and swords, crosses and nails. One of them had already sold Jesus to the authorities. And Peter was boasting he’d be brave and follow Jesus, even if it meant certain death. Every time he said it, eyes rolled. It was Peter, after all. But they were all off kilter, scared and queasy. None of them felt much like eating.
The Bible says Jesus was aware of their fear and confusion. He loved them. He knew their hearts were in the right place, but he also knew he’d end up alone. They were so frail.
As was he. He would have given anything to escape what was coming, and in prayer he begged God that it might pass him by. The Bible says fear ran down his face like drops of bloody sweat. He had seen crucifixions. He could imagine his.
The only difference between Jesus and his disciples was that when the time came, he didn’t run. But that doesn’t mean he welcomed his fate. He didn’t feel much like eating either.
But that’s what they did. On the night Jesus was betrayed, they shared a meal. They gathered at a table. Because that’s what they’d always done. A large part of their three years together was spent at tables.
In Jesus’ ministry, the table was where things got real—eating together, they began to understand that God’s love for them was full of mercy, no matter who they were or what they’d done. There they were, saint and sinner, rich and poor, all welcome to eat.
The table was where truth got told—Jesus would tell you stories about invited guests who were too important and preoccupied to come to a king’s banquet, so the riff-raff took their places, going into the kingdom ahead of the privileged and powerful. And so the last are first.
The table was where the vision of Jesus’ movement got spelled out in object lessons of service and humility. Jesus on his knees with a towel around his waist, dragging a bowl of water from foot to foot, washing his disciples clean. ‘Servants,’ he told them at that table, ‘are not greater than their master. What I have done for you, now do for each other.’
The table was where pardon was given—to a sinful woman who could not stop bathing Jesus’ feet with her tears, to an odious little tax collector who’d climbed down from a sycamore tree to welcome Jesus to a meal in his home.
At table with Jesus it somehow felt possible for hard things to get better, and lost things to be found. At table with him, you could imagine a time when you would be able to forgive just about anything.
And so that queasy night they ate with him. And while they were at table, he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body broken for you.’
The bread, his broken body. A sign of broken dreams, broken promises, broken hearts. A sign of mercy and presence to show us that in things that break, God is there.
‘Take, eat, all of you. Here is frailty made blessing,’ he said. ‘For you.’
And after the supper was over, he took a cup, blessed it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Take, drink, all of you. This cup is a new covenant in my blood, poured out for you for the pardon of sins.’ Medicine for what ails you. And a covenant, a promise that we can begin again. And we will.
’Take, drink, all of you. Healing and the dawn of a new day,’ he said. ‘For you.’
And then he said to them, ‘Do this.’
Do this. To remember me.
Do this, and I am with you.
Do this when you’re broken. Do this when you sin. Do this when you get sinned against. Do this when you’re afraid. Do this when you just can’t believe the way hard things have dropped into your life uninvited. Do this when you disagree and fear you won’t find common cause or a clear way forward. Do this when you want good company, when you don’t want to be alone. Do this when you’re joyous and want to multiply your joys. Do this when you’re grateful and want to taste again the goodness of the Lord who’s been so good to you.
Do this. Come to the table. Sit down. Eat and drink.
And so on that awful night they did.
Now, if I were making this story up, I’d tell you that after eating with Jesus, all the disciples got up from the table, repentant, converted, faithful and brave. I’d tell you they were loyal, loving Jesus and each other with a love that could withstand anything. I’d report that they didn’t abandon him, but were with him to the end.
But ‘m not making this up. And that meal didn’t make the weak strong, or cowards brave. It didn’t give Peter a personality transplant or any of them more wisdom than they had when they first sat down, which was pretty much zero. They shared with Jesus a meal of love and memory; a meal whose heavenly food and intimate company was all they should’ve needed to find a faith nothing could shake. But it wasn’t. They went out that night and failed him, and he went to his death alone.
After Jesus rose from the dead, they ate together again. At Emmaus he took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them, just as he did that last supper. And just as on that night, they were still who they were—betrayers, deniers, deserters, willing spirits with weak flesh.
In Galilee, he grilled fish and bread for them, and they ate breakfast in the cool dawn air by the lake. And just as on that last night, he fed Peter, who had sworn just two days before that he did not know and had never met his tender Lord. The table isn’t magic. But it is necessary. We have to eat. Jesus knows we always have to eat.
Jesus and his disciples ate together many times after his rising. And after he ascended to heaven, they keep on eating with him in the Spirit, in the church, in a holy communion.
For two thousand years Jesus has been eating and drinking with disciples like us whose hearts are in the right place but whose lives are still kind of a mess. Two thousand years of ‘doing this,’ and we’re still suffering the small cuts and deep gashes of our human frailty. It hurts. The damage is real. There’s no denying the pain or evading the consequences. And still he comes to us. Still he says, ‘Sit down. Eat and drink. You, just as you are. You, just as I find you. Come. Do this. Do it again.’
What matters to him, it seems, is what’s real. What matters is that we are who we are. That we don’t hide our wounds in the dark where no light can reach them for healing. What matters to him is not that we have the right answers or the right opinions, or even the best behaviors, but that we do this. That we come to the table, come together, come as we are, and do it again and again and again.
It might take us another two thousand years to fully grasp the table’s lessons, two thousand more to perceive the table’s truths, two thousand more to be transfixed by its mercy, transformed by its grace, caught up in its dynamics of self-gift and resurrecting love. But he is patient.
And in the end—who knows?—it may be that becoming perfect, or even becoming ‘better persons,’ isn’t the most important thing. Maybe just being together is. Maybe just eating and drinking is. Maybe just the fact that he is with us is enough. All he asks is that we don’t stay away because of our weaknesses, and that we don’t prevent others from coming because of theirs. ‘Do this,’ is all he says, ‘even when you don’t feel much like eating.’
Anchor your hearts here, he commands us. In bread and cup. At a table. And so we do. For as long as we meet here again and again, as long as we are together giving thanks for the amazing grace that so willingly embraces the poverty and beauty of our hearts, as long as we are sharing the meal of life, all will be well, even when it isn’t, he is so kind.
So come to the table today, lay it all out, everything you have—your emotions and questions, your strengths and weaknesses, your beauty and your struggle, your joy and praise and thanksgiving. Here with each other and with him, in the embrace of the Holy Spirit, you will taste and believe again, like never before, the trustworthy Word of the Lord—that as many times as we stumble, we’ll be helped up; as many times as we fail, we’ll learn and grow; whenever we sin, we’ll be pardoned; when we’re sinned against, we’ll find a way to offer pardon; when we’re full of joy, our joys will multiply. And when we die, we’ll rise.
Do this, our Brother said.
Sit down. Eat. Remember me.
I am with you always.
Again and again.
Until I come.
Not fast learners. My only hope, to be a grateful recipient of this boundless love.
Exquisite. Beautiful, flowing prose. Truth. Harsh reality. Memory. And gentle, beautiful, unconditional grace. Something healing that we all need. Thank you for this gift.
Wise, wise, wise! Thank you.
Lovely, Mary. Thank you for continuing to enlarge notions of the meal for me.
Such a surplus of meaning in the ‘holy mysteries’–yes!
Eager to participate in your workshop! Love the new language!