The week leading up to Easter is traditionally known as Holy Week. The Thursday of Holy Week is designated as Maundy Thursday. Though Maundy Thursday is sometimes overlooked, the events that took place on the Thursday night of Holy Week are unlike any of the other happenings that week. What happened around a table in an upper room in Jerusalem, the Church is called to reenact and repeat, to weave into the regular rhythm of our life together.
On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus gathered around the Passover table with His disciples. The first Passover table was an occasion for Israel to anticipate the salvation God would work for them while they were salves in Egypt. Each family was instructed to sacrifice a spotless lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts outside the home. The blood of the lamb would save them from God’s impending judgement on Egypt and shelter the firstborn sons of Israel. The lamb would then be roasted over a fire and eaten along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. In the generations that followed, the Passover table became an occasion not only to look back upon the past but to anticipate the future when the Messiah would come and bring final redemption to Israel. Against this backdrop, Jesus’ words and actions around the Maundy Thursday table are all the more profound.
In Luke’s gospel, after Jesus and his disciples reclined at the table, Jesus said, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Jesus then proceeded to bless the bread and distribute it to his disciples saying, “This is my body, which is given for you.” After they finished eating, Jesus took the cup saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Jesus’ words are dense with meaning, but a few brief observations are in store to help orient our approach to the Lord’s table.
The intentional silence of the gospel writers regarding the Passover lamb is at the same time their resounding presentation of Jesus as the true Passover Lamb. The Passover lamb of old was a symbol anticipating the reality to come—Jesus, the true and only Son of God, whose blood would once and for all bring salvation to God’s people.
In all the gospel accounts, a central element of the Passover meal is left unmentioned—the lamb! This is profound! The intentional silence of the gospel writers regarding the Passover lamb is at the same time their resounding presentation of Jesus as the true Passover Lamb. The Passover lamb of old was a symbol anticipating the reality to come—Jesus, the true and only Son of God, whose blood would once and for all bring salvation to God’s people. Therefore, the table we are invited to gather around as Christians is the Lord’s table. This may seem too obvious to warrant further explanation, but it is too critical to assume. This table belongs to Jesus in the present as it reenacts the first Maundy Thursday table in the past and as it anticipates the final banquet table in the future when the kingdom of God at last comes. In this way, the Lord’s table always lies between the past and the future. This is why the apostle Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim (in the present) the Lord’s death (in the past) until he comes (in the future).”
On the surface, it seems a rather strange ritual to weave into the regular rhythm of our life together—taking the bread and the cup. Yet the significance of the Lord’s table lies beyond the elements themselves and is rooted in what they symbolize in the past and in the future. In this way, our participation in the present is not static, meaningless ritual. It is active proclamation! By our present participation in the Lord’s table, we proclaim the death of Jesus in the past and the hope of his return in the future. The Lord’s table, therefore, is opportunity to rehearse the gospel narrative.
We will not know the joys of redemption Jesus has secured for us if we do not know the horrors of sin from which Jesus has saved us.
Jesus instructed his disciples to take the bread and the cup in remembrance of him. In this way, the Lord’s table is a reflection on the past—on Jesus’ giving up himself as the ultimate, perfect and final sacrificial Lamb whose blood will once and for all cleanse God’s people from sin. In reflecting on the past, we should approach the table with a keen awareness of the sobering reality of our sin. It was our sin for which the spotless Lamb shed his blood. As the old hymn laments, “Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.” It is true, as Thomas Watson once said, “until sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.” We will not know the joys of redemption Jesus has secured for us if we do not know the horrors of sin from which Jesus has saved us. If we wish to enjoy the future that the Lord’s table anticipates, we must reckon first with the past it remembers.
The table, therefore, is not merely a somber reflection on the horrors of sin and the crucifixion. It is a celebration of what is soon coming. It is the rehearsal dinner on the eve of the wedding feast.
The Lord’s table is also a shadow of the reality to come—the banquet table at the marriage feast of the Lamb in Revelation 19. When Jesus at last returns to consummate the kingdom of God on earth and to wed himself forever to his bride, the Church, there will be a celebration unmatched in all of history! This is the table at which Jesus will eat and drink with all of his redeemed. The table, therefore, is not merely a somber reflection on the horrors of sin and the crucifixion. It is a celebration of what is soon coming. It is the rehearsal dinner on the eve of the wedding feast. There should be a festive aspect to the Lord’s table as it looks forward to greatest, most joyful banquet of them all.
As we corporately reflect on the past and anticipate the future, we will truly be proclaiming in the present the gospel that at once confronts us with the reality of our sin and declares us fit in Jesus to eat at the table of the King.