This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Luke 22:1-30
Sermon prepared by Rev. Carl Tuyl, Kingston, Ont.
During the dinner at the house of Simon the Leper, Jesus had mentioned the word burial. It was hint of things to come. The disciples knew already that there were dangers awaiting them. A few days earlier, when Jesus had persisted with his plan to go to Jerusalem for the passover celebrations,Thomas had said: we might as well go with him and die with him. There was the sense of pending doom already at the house of Simon the Leper. It hungover the dinner party there like a heavy fog that refuses to lift.
And indeed a few days later when they joined thousands and thousands of other pilgrims who came to Jerusalem the danger had even become more acute. Jesus was now on the most wanted list of the Sanhedrin. There was a reward for anyone giving information that would lead to Jesus' arrest.
Right at the beginning of the passage in Luke there is an indication of that danger. We get a sense of peril lurking not so far away. Jesus tells Peter and John to go and make preparations for the group's passover meal. And Peter and John ask of course: where do you want us to do that? I bet it wasn't so easy to find a suitable place. At the time of the passover Jerusalem was a busy city with pilgrims taking every available lodging. “No vacancy” signs all over the place. People flocked to the holy city to observe the religious feasts. And especially at passover, the city drew Jewish people from many far away countries. We remember the list of Acts 2: Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Lybia near Cyrene. Even visitors from Rome had come to Jerusalem. The temple court must have had standing room only. In that crowded city Jesus then tells Peter and John that they are to follow a man who will carry a jar of water and that man will guide them to the place where Jesus planned to be together with the disciples. Strangely it makes you think of the cloak and dagger plots of spy novels. It is reminiscent of people who for some reason or another have something to hide. In the war people on the run from the German police were rescued by the underground resistance who organized their escapes. They were told to take a certain train, always at night, get out at the loneliest stop, sneeze or cough two or three times and a dim figure would come out of the shadows and lead them to a safe place where they would stay a couple of days. There is something like that going on there. Follow the man who will carry a jug of water. Jesus is evading the temple police. But why this secrecy? Why this cloak and dagger stuff? Well, they're looking for him. The Sanhedrin has placed Jesus on the execution list. He is as it were already on death row. And why is that so? Why is the Sanhedrin so upset with Jesus that they want him dead?
There is of course the fear for riots and cruel intervention from the Roman army. But I don't think that is the whole reason for the Sanhedrin's hate of Jesus. All of Jesus 'speaking and teaching, all of his neglect to follow the Sanhedrin catechism amounted to a radical critique of the Judaism of its time; the religion of the temple establishment. The Lord often got into conflict with the teachers of the law. Remember that silly question about whether Jesus was allowed to heal a person on a Sabbath day. Jesus sharply criticized the often heartless religion of the Pharisees. The Lord did not mince words in his discords with his opponents. Listen to him as Matthew describes it in chapter 23: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish,—but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. No soft peddling there. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees did not forget those accusations.
Dr. Wright—a New Testament scholar writes in his book, The Challenge of Jesus, that when he was a professor at McGill he taught a sixth grade Sunday School. He asked the children: “Why did Jesus die?” They were to respond with a single sentence. Half of the children gave a historical answer: he upset the chief priests, the Pharisees did not like him, the Romans were afraid. The other half of the class gave a theological answer: he died to save us from our sins, he died that we could go to heaven, he died because God loves us. I judge, says Dr. Wright, all of them were correct.
Here in the Gospels, at the scene of what is called the last supper, you see in that very group of Jesus' disciples some of the Sanhedrin's objections. “He eats with sinners” they said. We all have seen the famous last supper picture. You can get it by number painting, by embroidery, and there must be millions of reproductions. The picture always gives people the impression of a sort of potluck supper in some church basement with the disciples all nicely seated at the table.
But let the Bible give us the description. There is Levi the tax collector, Simon the Zealot with extreme political ideas, Peter and John whom doctor Luke in the Book of Acts call unschooled ordinary men, there are the sons of Zebedee—fishermen who want to elbow their way into executive positions. A motley group of people from which the Sanhedrin would stay miles away. How many times did they say it with disapproval dripping from their lips, “This man eats with sinners and publicans!”
They had observed or heard of the dinner parties that Jesus attended and where he said time and again “I have come to seek sinners. It is a word that warms our hearts but it really upset the religious and social teachings of the Sanhedrin.
But there is something in that group of men that is not really visible without some guidance from the Bible. Yes indeed, they are men from very different backgrounds, different convictions and different make-ups. No money among them. No resources to speak of. We get the impression that they are not even all that sure about their own loyalty to Jesus. When Jesus hints at the fact that one of them should betray him, they all have to be reassured that no, it is not them. And when soon Jesus is arrested, they all beat a hasty retreat with one of them emphatically denying that he even knew Jesus.
And yet look a bit deeper, think a bit further, in just a little over a month these people will stand up in the crowd and courageously preach the gospel, point the finger and say, “You have crucified the son of God.” Yes, there in the upper room is the church in embryo—the church with all its diversity and failures. But there is a newness in the making at that supper. Listen to him: This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you. Look past Michelangelo's painting, past all its reproductions, and see there in that Jerusalem upper room: the church! The church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is an even deeper symbolism there. This sermon follows the passage in Luke and has as its theme The Last Supper. That is also the superscription above the passage in the Bible, The Last Supper . But they are both wrong titles. This is not the last supper. I read in the Book of Revelation chapter nineteen—call it the hallelujah chapter—and it says “Then the angel said to me, write: blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the lamb.” That really is the last supper. The picture of the new heaven and the new earth The picture of newness with no more tears and no more mourning and no more pain and sorrow. The horizon of the Christian hope: perpetual peace.
We see a symbolic enactment of that great renewal in the supper in the upper room. The real last supper will be the glory of God's recreation. “In this hope we are saved,” writes Paul. Yet he also writes that in the meantime we have to put up with what he calls the groaning of the whole creation, as in the pain of childbirth. The church is not excluded from that. The pain does not stop at the door of the church.
We see that too here in this embryonic church. We taste the solemnity of the hour. This is my body broken for you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you. We would want as it were that moment to be wrapped in reverent silence, people praying their prayers, tears in their eyes. Again that ever clearer indication of the end: my body broken, my blood shed. And then there is that verse 24: also a dispute arose among them, which of them was considered to be greatest. Who is numero uno. Chief executive officer. Right in the middle of Jesus speaking of his broken body and his shed blood. One said: “Hey guys, look at me”, another said: “ You know what I did and somewhere in the corner: I am better than all of you.”
It hurts even to read it. It is like a curse in a silent monastery. Jesus' solemn words like dust in the wind. Irreverent is even a euphemism for what is going on there. “This is my body given for you; this cup is the new covenant in my blood”—Imagine somebody following that by insisting that he is more important, more capable, more whatever than all the others. This as we know has not stopped. It has travelled through the ages of the church's history? We are right, you are wrong. The people of God divided into God only knows how many factions. Paul suffered from it in Corinth. Jesus suffered already from it there in the upper room.
Hear it once more and taste the awfulness like bitterness in the soul: my body given for you, my blood poured out for you and then a dispute arose among them.
Jesus responds by giving his disciples the most difficult lesson of faith: the greatest among you should be like the youngest and the one who rules like the one who serves. And we know from other sources in the Bible what Jesus did. He washed the feet of his disciples. The task of a slave.
He teaches his disciples who soon shall be his church. He teaches the church of all ages not by long involved theses swapping argument with argument, not like a brilliant debater working with the sharp lance of logic, but by taking a basin and a towel and washing the feet of his disciples. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that picture travels across the ages. In every dispute, in every quarrel, in every bitter argument the Spirit wants everyone to recall that picture, that situation—Jesus girding up his cloak and washing the feet of his disciples. It is more than a sign of humility it is a commandment to humility. A chaplain in a home for people who were severely impaired , with many Alzheimer patients among them, once described his ministry as follows: “I wash the feet of people who do not travel anymore.” He wanted to say that he followed Jesus' example also to the least of the Lord's brothers and sisters.
Words added to that picture of Jesus washing the dirty feet of his disciples, describing it, would only detract from its profound eloquence and poignancy. There are no words to describe what happened there. Words would be unable servants to even begin to convey this gesture. There remains only the figure of Jesus girding up his cloak, taking a towel and a basin and washing the feet of those people who all wanted to be the greatest.
Some schools of hermeneutics (preaching) maintain that every sermon has to have an application. The logical consequence of the sermon. In the government they call it outcome. The result. Well, this sermon ends without such an application. For any words added to that picture would not be sufficient to translate the depth of what was happening.. Here is the perfect example of the failure of words. No words, no application end this sermon. Instead, the picture of Jesus responding to the dispute by bending down and washing feet.
In the end remember Jesus' story about the publican and the Pharisee. The words of the publican: Lord be merciful to me a sinner. There isn't much more that a person could say.
Proposed Order of Service
Gathering hymn: #63
We pray to God who ordains our days
keeps our tears in his bottle and gives his angels charge over us
for peace as we worship and happiness as we live.
Confession of Sin:
a) by prayer of the reader
b) by reading an applicable Bible passage
c) the following: Holy Father, do not worry you said when you were with us in Jesus Christ. And you said do not worry about tomorrow. You know all our needs. Yet you know how easily we entangle ourselves with untimely and often self-made cares. We understand that much of our worry is due to lack of trust in your care. We confess that much of our worry is because—like Jesus said—we are people of little faith. Restore to us Father the assurance that you are like a shepherd caring for his flock and that we shall not want. Replenish our confidence in your care so that we may be strengthened in hope, faith and love. Forgive us when we falter and we are as people without faith, without hope or without love. Bury all our past sins and errors and failures in your forgiveness as we frankly confess them to you and make all our future days bright by the blessed grace of obedience. We pray this in the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Assurance of Pardon: People of God remember the parable in which Jesus told his disciples that the kingdom of heaven was like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants? There was one servant who had run up a debt of ten thousand talents; the equivalent today is several million dollars. The man could not possibly have paid, and according to the custom of the time he could not declare bankruptcy and walk away from his debt. He would be locked up and he and his whole family would be sold into slavery. But he fell on his knees and he begged for mercy. Then the servant's master forgave him the debt. Imagine and taste the man's relief and joy. That joy of God's forgiveness is yours through Jesus Christ who came to save people from their sin!
The summons to lives of obedience: An applicable Scripture passage or the Ten Commandments can be read.
Prayer for a Blessing on the Reading of the Word: Holy Spirit Lord and Giver of life source of all good, we thank you that prophets of old were moved and breathed upon to speak words of God. We have to move through mountains of information and grope through murky waters of all kinds of presentations. We rejoice that we may read this—your Word and we pray that it may be a lamp to our feet and a light on our journey. Let it be for us the light that shows the dawning of a new day when Christ shall be all in all and through the reading sculpt us ever more into the likeness of Jesus our Lord. Amen
Reading: Luke 22:1–30
Sermon: "The Last Supper?"
Hymn of Response: #502
The Prayers: Our heavenly and Holy Father, in our observance of Lent we pray that you will help us to neither think lightly of the fact that in the words of Isaiah we are and have been like sheep going astray, nor lose sight of the fact that by the power of the Holy Spirit guiding us, we are enabled to live a new life. As we do so in this world, help us to maintain a balance between the call of your word to keep unspotted from the world and the fact that you loved the world so much that you gave your one and only son for her salvation. With the Preacher of old we pray to keep falsehood away from us and to give us neither poverty or riches but give us our daily bread. Yet in your wise counsel you have given riches to some and we pray that you will help them not to disown you. And where on earth poverty scandalizes your demand for righteousness we ask you to effect relief and move us to be agents of your mercy. Be a source of inspiration to all who are engaged in that ministry. Strengthen the arm of our Christian Reformed World Relief Committee and our local deacons as they in their way materialize the mercy of Jesus. We pray for peace. The peace that passes all understanding that comes from a quieted conscience in the knowledge of your mercy and forgiveness but also we pray for the peace that comes about by the beating of swords into plowshares. Bloodshed continues Father all over the world. Be pleased to so reign the affairs of this planet that people may not bring upon each other further death and destruction. We also confess heavenly Father that this creation of yours has been despoiled and desecrated by our polluting. The beluga whales get cancer, the salmon's travel to its spawning waters is disturbed, bears flock to our dumps and children breathe carbon monoxide. Please restore us and our fellow human beings to respect and reverence your handiwork. Grant succour to people who suffer pain in whatever form. Grant healing to ill people, comfort the mourning, and support those whose pain is beyond anyone's knowledge. Grant to all of us the ability to live our lives in the knowledge of your unceasing faithfulness so that we shall not be unduly burdened nor act and live as if you were not beside us. This all we pray in the name of Him who took our infirmities upon himself and by whose stripes we are healed—our blessed Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
The Hymn of Conclusion #558
Until we meet again
walk among the beauty of the earth
with joy and gratitude in your heart
listen to the song of the birds
and hear the music of the wind
So shall all your days be a song
because the love of God will surprise you
the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ will embrace you and the guidance and companionship of the Holy Spirit will comfort you.