The Passover is now upon Jesus and the disciples and the time to celebrate with the Passover meal has now come. For one reason or another, they have not selected a place to celebrate the evening meal. Jesus sends two of the disciples into the city to procure a large room for the thirteen of them.
As they were sitting there eating their meal in remembrance of the Passover, it seemed to be like any other meal. The food they ate was the same food they had eaten before when celebrating the Passover. Jesus and the disciples had eaten numerous meals before and this meal was no different. Suddenly, the mood at the table changes. St. Mark records, “And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?””
All of a sudden, the atmosphere of the room changed, and it was not for the better. Jesus had dropped a bomb on the laps of the disciples that riveted them to the core: He would be betrayed, but what was worse was that He would be betrayed by one of His own disciples. There could be no more a devastating statement made than that just made by Jesus. It is unfathomable that one of Jesus’ own disciples would betray Him. When Jesus says “betray” here, He doesn’t mean that someone will go against Jesus or wrong Him in a way like we would think. What Jesus means is that one of the disciples will turn Jesus over to be killed, the ultimate act of betrayal that could ever be committed. How is it that one of Jesus’ own disciples could do this? They were the ones who had the most intimate contact with Jesus, being with Him constantly for three years. Now, one of them would betray not only Jesus but also all of the disciples as well, for they were the ones who looked to Jesus to be their Savior.
The traitor was not an attendant, not a servant eavesdropping on the conversation, not one of the larger group who followed Jesus, but one of their own. This was a meal that was meant to call together as one Jews from all over and focus Israel together on what God had done for them, but is now spoiled by the presence of a traitor! Not one who would deny Christ out of weakness. Not one who would be so panicked by the threat of death that he would wriggle free from his clothes and run off naked. But a premeditative traitor. And one whose fate will be so horrible for this betrayal that Christ says it would have been better for this man not to have been born. With those words, Jesus interjected into this joyous celebration a touch of darkness. The band of brothers is not so solid after all.
Following this startling news, something that would think to bring great division among the disciples, Jesus does something that no one expected: “And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.””
A deeper sadness intrudes as Jesus announces His own impending death once more. It seems that His death is coming ever so quickly, that it could happen any time now. Instead of worrying about what will happen to Him, He gives Himself for the disciples and for all people. By what follows during the next few days, it’s clear that the disciples do not pick up on the phrases “of the covenant” or “for many.” The significance of His death, that His blood will be the means by which God and His people will be joined in a new covenant of forgiveness, this they don’t yet understand. That His death will be redemptive, signified by the phrase “for many,” they cannot yet see, for their minds have not yet been opened. All they hear are words that interject a note of death into what was meant to be a celebration of life and thanksgiving to God.
Tonight, as we come together celebrating this meal which Christ feeds us with His very body and blood, know one thing: Jesus is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. That’s what tonight is all about – Jesus giving Himself for you. Taking the bread and the wine of the Passover, Jesus now instituted the New Testament sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. This wonderful gift of His body and blood was meant not only for the disciples. Note what Jesus says: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” You and I can be very grateful that our Lord did not restrict the Sacrament to just the disciples. We share one thing in common with the disciples: we are not able to save ourselves. The Sacrament, however, reassures us of this truth: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” You and I need that assurance repeatedly until Jesus comes again to take us to the marriage supper of the Lamb. That assurance He brings us through Word and Sacrament. Even as we were born into the kingdom by the rebirth of Baptism, so we are assured of forgiveness and strengthened to live in the kingdom through this Blessed Sacrament of His body and blood.
Also hear Him when He says His broken body and shed blood were for the many. Jesus, our mediator, is present in this meal tonight. The truth is what we sing: “Not all the blood of beasts On Jewish altars slain Could give the guilty conscience peace Or wash away the stain.” But this body and blood can. This body and blood were offered up as payment for sin, as an atoning sacrifice to wash away sin – yours and mine. This body and blood were accepted by the Father as an atoning sacrifice for the many. Jesus taught, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That includes you and me.
Finally, hear our Lord’s promise that He will drink the fruit of the vine with you in the kingdom of God. In this meal, Christ promises a future for you that extends beyond your boldest hopes. He holds before your eyes the promise of sitting with Him at the banquet table with all the faithful who have been gathered from east and west. He holds before you the riches that He will share with the faithful in eternity. All of this is yours and He bids you to come and receive what He has to offer you: Himself. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.