When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

The Last Supper

On Thursday the Feast of the Passover began. It celebrated the birth of the Jewish nation. The Jews had been slaves in Egypt, and on that day, ages before, they had escaped. They had been in a great hurry, for they knew not at what moment the Egyptians might pursue them, and there had been no time for them to make bread. They had eaten supper, each family in its own house, having a lamb for meat. The blood of the lamb they had sprinkled on the side-posts of the door, as a sign to the avenging angel that Jews and not Egyptians lived there, and the angel, seeing the blood, had passed over their houses, but in every house of the Egyptians there was mourning that night. For bread, they mixed together flour and water, and baked it without yeast. This is what is called unleavened bread. And when the anniversary of that escape came round, centuries and centuries after, they kept it by sitting down to the same kind of supper,—a lamb, and bread unleavened,—remembering how God had delivered their ancestors out of Egyptian bondage. This they do even to this day.

Jerusalem, then, was full of people; for the lamb must first be offered in the temple, and the supper must be eaten in the city. Every house was filled with guests. In all the markets men were buying lambs, in every kitchen women were making ready to roast them. Accordingly, that morning, the disciples said to the Master, "Where do we go to-day to eat the Passover? In whose house shall we find a room and a table for our feast?" But in the group stood Judas, listening. To-day, for the first time, the Master would stay in the city after dark; where would he stay? There might the rulers send to take him. There, in the night, when all the people were sitting at their suppers, and nobody was in the streets, he might be arrested without noise or tumult. Where would he go?

But our Lord saw the face of Judas. A man who has such thoughts in his heart as Judas had, can hardly help showing them in his eyes, even if he does not reveal them with his lips. As the weeks had passed since the day when Jesus told the disciples that he would be put to death, he had seen a change in Judas. Judas had continued with the Twelve, but he had been ill at ease. He had hoped once, as did they all, that the King would appear in power. Indeed, as we have seen, they still had that hope, even as they drew near to Jerusalem on the last journey. But the hope of Judas had grown less and less. He had seen how our Lord's enemies increased in number and in hatred. For a moment, on the day of palms and psalms, he had held up his head, thinking that the city would receive its King. But the procession had been a failure, and after that Judas expected nothing. Then on Monday our Lord had driven out the traders; and the Sadducees, as he knew well, would not forgive that. It was plain to Judas that all would soon be over. It was plain also to Jesus that Judas had lost hope, and with it had lost faith.

And therefore the false apostle listened eagerly to learn where the supper would be eaten. But our Lord had arranged it so that he should not know. Jesus turned to the two disciples in whom he felt he could put perfect trust and gave them his directions. "Go into Jerusalem," he said, "and in the street as you pass the gate you will see a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow that man, and when he goes into a house, go in after him. Ask for the master of the house, and say to him, 'The Lord sends you this message: "Where is the guest chamber where I shall eat the Passover with my disciples?" ' And he shall show you a large upper room furnished: then make ready." Thus Judas was no wiser than before.

The two went, and there was the man with the water pitcher; and as he turned about, they followed: so they came to the house, and all happened as the Master had arranged. There was a large upper room, reached by an outside stairway, and in it was a table, with couches placed about it. Then Peter and John carried a lamb to the Temple, that a priest might kill it, and brought it back to have it cooked, and all things were made ready for the supper. The sun set, and the evening came, and under cover of the darkness our Lord and the others made their way down the Mount of Olives, into the city, to the upper room.

Now, as they took their places there was a strife among them which of them should be accounted the greatest; that is, they desired, each of them, to sit beside the Master in the place of honor. Peter said, "The place is mine: I am the oldest." John said, "No, it is mine: he likes me best." Our Lord seems not to have settled the matter, putting one above and one below. That was not his way. He showed them how it was all wrong,—all that contention as to which should fare better than another. He rose from the table and laid aside his cloak, and took a towel and tied it about his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel. For in that country, where men wore sandals, it was the custom for a servant to wash the feet of guests who came in from the heat and dust. Our Lord, then, looking into the faces of the Twelve who had been disputing which was the greatest, took the part of a servant. Peter, indeed, protested, as no doubt they all did. Peter said, "Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Thou shalt never wash my feet!" But our Lord insisted. He washed their feet, even the feet of Judas. Then he said, as he put his cloak about him, and took his place again, "Do you know what I have done? I whom you all call greatest have washed your feet, like a servant. That is what the greatest ought to do. He only is truly great who is serving others."

Then they went on with the Passover supper. There was a roasted lamb upon the table, and a dish of bitter herbs, like lettuce, with vinegar in which to dip them, and cakes of unleavened bread, round and flat. After they had eaten, came a solemn conclusion of the feast. A cup of wine was blessed and passed about, and then the herbs were eaten, each person dipping the leaves in the vinegar. Here our Lord paused, and looking about on the disciples said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me." You know, he meant, how I sit here in peril of my life, how the rulers have passed a sentence against me that I must die, and are watching daily to take me. One of you, my friends, shall deliver me into their hands. This he said, with sorrow in his face. "The Scripture must he fulfilled," he said, "where it is written, 'He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.' " And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, "Lord, is it I? is it I?" To which our Lord replied, "He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me. One of you, my friends, who at this moment is eating this supper with me shall do this deed. The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born." Then Judas said in a faint voice, "Is it I?" and John whispered, lying next to Jesus, "Lord, who is it?" and the Lord dipped leaves in the vinegar and gave them to Judas, saying, "What thou doest, do quickly." But this he said in such a way that no man at the table knew the meaning of it. Some thought that Jesus was sending the treasurer on some necessary errand. Judas, however, knew. Up he started from the presence of his Master, from the company of the friends among whom he had lived so long and intimately, and turned his back upon them all, and went out into the night.

the last supper


Then, in the order of the feast, came the blessing of a second cup, which was followed by the recitation of the story of the escape from Egypt, and by the singing of certain psalms, from the one hundred and thirteenth to the one hundred and fifteenth. And as he blessed the cup, and gave thanks, and told them to take it and divide it amongst themselves, he said, "I say unto you that I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God." And they began to understand that the end was near at hand and that this was the last supper.

Then he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take, eat: this is my body, which is given for you: do this in remembrance of me." And then the cup, with which the Passover supper ended: and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, "This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins: do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me." He had told them that he was to die, but now he added that he was to die for them and for many. And he asked them to remember. When you sit at the table together after I am gone, break the bread as I am doing, and pour the wine, and think of me; how my body was broken and my blood was shed.

After that, he talked with them long and tenderly, trying to show them how it was best for them that he should go away, and telling them that they must show their love for him by doing the things which he had taught them. "I see that you are very sorry," he said. "Sorrow hath filled your heart. Indeed, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave me alone. Yet I will give you peace. Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world." Then he prayed with them, and when they had sung another hymn—the psalms, from the one hundred and fifteenth to the one hundred and eighteenth—they went out into the Mount of Olives.