Jesus knew that he was going to be betrayed, but he wanted some quality time with his disciples. He knew that one of the Twelve would do the betraying, so he made secret arrangements for the Passover meal. It reads like a spy story: follow the man with the water jar (normally women carried water jars, men carried wine skins). There was a coded message to give and then Peter and John (for Luke gives their names) could prepare the meal.
Mark gives us only 9 verses, but it lasted much longer than that. John gives five chapters to the Lord's Supper.
Eating together, especially in the Middle East, is a sign of fellowship and friendship. Imagine how it must be to be betrayed by your guest. We don't have to imagine. Glencoe reminds us. The Macdonalds welcomed the Campbells to their home, roasted an ox and broke out the whisky, then in the night when all were asleep, the Campbells rose and slaughtered every Macdonald, man woman and child, that they could find. Was there ever an act of greater betrayal? Just one, when Judas betrayed Jesus.
This was Jesus' last meal with his disciples, indeed his last meal. The Passover was the most important of all Jewish occasions. It was the most important family occasion. It was a symbolic meal to remind them of the time in Egypt when God had sent the Angel of Death to slay the first-born. Only those who were covered by blood on the lintel and doorpost were saved. The Angel passed over their houses. Every part of the meal had a meaning - the lamb, the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, the hurry.
Jesus transformed the symbols. It is still a symbolic meal, but now Jesus makes the bread symbolise his body and the wine the new covenant in his blood.
Christians have misinterpreted the communion and tried to turn it into something magic, as if simply by eating and drinking some magic blessing is conveyed. But just as the Passover meal was explained by the asking of questions and the giving of answers, so the Lord's Supper needs explanation and understanding. The wine does not turn into blood or the bread to flesh - Jesus vowed not to drink again of the fruit of the vine, not of his blood.
Gone are the Jewish symbols of lamb and herbs etc. We are left with only two symbols, bread and wine. Jesus is our Paschal Lamb. His body was broken, his blood was shed. We now have a new Covenant in his blood. No longer are we imperfect people failing to keep perfect rules, we recognise ourselves as such because one perfect person has kept those rules. We no longer rely upon the blood of bulls and goats which cannot take away sin, but in His sacrifice he has once and for all taken away our sin. This is his last will and testament. It is our inheritance.
Paul's description in I Corinthians 11 has the intriguing verse "Anyone who eats and drinks without recognising the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself." Here 'the body of the Lord' refers to the church. The context of chapter 10 makes that abundantly clear.
The meal remains a family affair. On the Persecuted Church Sunday we should remember not just the local family, but our brothers and sisters in Christ worldwide.