Luke 22:14-20


Jesus’ Last Supper – Celebration

Luke 22:14-20  -  Jesus Celebrates his Last Supper

Luke’s account of Jesus’ Passover meal drew basically on the previous narrative of Mark but was shaped differently. The account of the meal reflected a classical Hellenistic literary form where a primary action would be followed by a longer final discourse - the last words and testament, as it were, of Jesus.

14 When the hour came, he reclined at table
and with him were the apostles.
15 He said to them,
“I have deeply longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.

The Passover Meal

The Passover was the greatest festival on the Jewish calendar. It was celebrated every year, and pilgrims from all over Israel and beyond would make every effort to come to Jerusalem to observe it. 

Origin. The festival commemorated God’s freeing of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. As the story of the liberation was retold over the centuries, it took a definite ritual shape in the annual Passover meal. It was essentially a family meal. The main course of the meal was a roasted lamb. According to the story, on the night of their escape, the Israelites had killed a lamb in sacrifice and then sprinkled the blood over the doorposts of their houses. The sacrificed lamb’s blood was a saving signal diverting the destructive sword of God’s angel that swept through Egypt slaying the firstborn male of every other living human and animal. In the ensuing chaos, the Hebrews had managed to make their escape.

In light of the pending escape, the slaves ate the roasted lamb with herbs and unleavened bread. They dressed ready for a hasty departure.

Jews in Jerusalem had their lamb killed sacrificially in the temple. Jews unable to get to Jerusalem still roasted the lamb and shared it within the family.

Purpose. Essentially the meal was a celebration of freedom. Its purpose was to keep in clear focus the liberating action of God and their initiation into their special covenant relationship with God (that was enacted later in the desert of Sinai). At the time of Jesus, Jews (including Jesus and the disciples) believed that by means of the ritual the saving action of God was perpetuated across time and made real in their present experience. During the meal the story of the original liberation was recounted, and those present had a strong sense of the on-going presence of God in their midst.

The Shape of the Passover Meal. Over time the meal was celebrated according to a definite ritual involving prayers, hymns, specified foods and formal sharing(s) from the one cup of wine.

1. Preliminary Course:

First cup was drunk and a prayer was prayed by the father of the family.

Entrée of green herbs, bitter herbs and a sauce made of fruit purée was eaten.

The meal proper was served but not yet eaten.

The second cup was mixed and put in its place but not yet drunk.

2. Passover Liturgy:

In remembrance of God’s saving action, the youngest son asked the father, “Why is this night different from other nights?” and the father explained, recounting the original story of liberation from Egypt and continuing to praise the liberating action of God as it took shape once more in their lives during the year since the previous Passover .

First part of the Hallel Psalms was sung (Ps. 113-114).

The second cup was shared.

3. Main Meal:

The father blessed and thanked God as he prayed over the unleavened bread.

The main meal, consisting of lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, with fruit purée and wine, was eaten.

The third cup (the Cup of Blessing) was drunk.

4. Conclusion:

Second part of the Hallel Psalms was sung (Ps. 115-118).

Praise was given to God as the fourth cup was drunk.

As Luke recounted Jesus’ meal, he respected the traditional ritual, mentioning specifically:

  • the first cup and prayer of thanks
  • the prayer over the unleavened bread and then its being shared by all
  • the Cup of Blessing.

Luke emphasised how much Jesus eagerly desired to eat this Passover with the disciples. Jesus’ eagerness said something beautiful about his relationship with them. This meal, however, would be particularly significant not simply because of the closeness of their personal ties but because of how he would make use of it to give meaning to his imminent suffering and death.

 16 I tell you that I shall not eat it ever again
until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God."
17 He took a cup, and when he had prayed a prayer of thanks,
he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves.
18 I tell you that from this moment
I shall never again drink the product of the vine
until the Kingdom of God comes.” 

Luke was referring to the first cup accompanying the preliminary course. 

19 He took a loaf of bread,
said the prayer of thanks,
broke it
and gave it to them, saying,
“This is my body, handed over for you.
Do this  in my memory."
20 He did the same with the cup after the meal, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood
that is being given for you.

This cup was the third formal cup, the Cup of Blessing. 

Luke’s wording of Jesus’ statements over the bread and the cup differed a little from Mark’s. Obviously the early Christian communities did not attach undue weight to literal exactness. They were satisfied to convey the substantial meaning.

Luke added two extra comments to Mark’s account of Jesus’ statement over the bread:

  • (This is my body) that is being given for you
  • Do this  in my memory.

Regarding the cup the main differences were:

  • The cup was given for you (rather than Mark’s for many)
  • The covenant is the new covenant

By means of the narrative and accompanying actions, Jesus sought to convey the meaning of his death. Luke in turn used the narrative to illustrate the meaning of the Christian Eucharist.

The Meaning of Jesus’ Death

Fulfilment in the Kingdom. Jesus would “not eat (or drink wine) again until the Passover was fulfilled in the kingdom of God”. It is not clear whether Luke thought that the definitive coming of the Kingdom was enabled precisely by Jesus’ death and resurrection or simply connected to it in some undefined way.

By the “fulfilment” of the Passover Jesus meant the eventual achieving of the final liberation, initiated by the first Exodus, carried on across the twenty centuries of Israel’s history, and to be continued until the Kingdom will be complete. As Jesus would make explicit after his resurrection, the completion of the Kingdom would become reality only through the cooperation of his disciples. The task was still unfinished. Each Eucharist would become a call to mission to accomplish what has still to be achieved.

Bread Broken and Body Given for You. The broken bread signified the broken body of Jesus (as it would in fact be on the following day). In the mind of Jesus the bread (which was the normal staple of life) signified the life force soon to be set free from his broken humanity.  He would give his life in faithful trust to God. He would die as the direct consequence of his unshakeable commitment to love (“for you” and for all who shared the same humanity) and to universal justice, without distinction and at whatever the cost. He would give his life in love and trust to God - for love of and hope in people.

a) In the Jewish Mind. As the Jewish people looked back at their history, they easily, naturally and expectantly saw there the action of God. But they knew that often their forebears were oblivious to that presence of God. Somehow they intuited that they, too, could be equally blind to God at work in their own lives. Yet the God whom they could see acting in the past was really the same God just as active in their present. 

When the people remembered in ritual an action of God at some time in their history, they believed that God was acting in the same way now in their present. Their task was to learn to discern God present and at work also, and especially, in the now moment. The act of remembering God in the past became a call to contemplate God in the present. That was the understanding, too, of Jesus. 

b) In the Christian Experience. When Jesus directed the disciples to “do this in remembrance of me”, he was effectively stating that in the ritual celebration of their Eucharistic meal disciples would touch once more into the saving action of Jesus and bring it into the context of their own community. The work of redemption would continue across the centuries. The present would always be more immediate, more important, than the remembered past. 

Over time, Christians have tended to elaborate their understanding of sacraments, but they share the same basic insight of their Jewish ancestors in faith. 

The New Covenant in my Blood. Jesus’ reference to the “new” covenant carried echoes of an earlier prophecy of Jeremiah:

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, 
when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors 
when I took them by the hand
to bring them out of the land of Egypt—
a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,
says the LORD. 
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel 
after those days, says the LORD:
I will put my law within them,
and I will write it on their hearts; 
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other,
“Know the LORD,” 
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; 
for I will forgive their iniquity,
and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The sense of new covenant was important. Covenant inferred deep relationship. Jeremiah thought in terms of:

- relating to God from the heart
- knowing God
- experiencing forgiveness.

The death of Jesus would initiate a whole new covenant (relationship) between God and the human race. By dying Jesus gave his life in total surrender and love to God who had first empowered that surrender by loving Jesus. Jesus’ death was the climactic moment of an exchange of loving that had grown and deepened over his whole life.

In Jesus, the whole human race gained the possibility of somehow being drawn into that dynamic exchange. The potential would become actualised as people aligned their own hearts and wills with the heart and will of the loved and loving Jesus.

Source of Salvation? Nowhere did Luke clearly state that Jesus actually saved humanity by his death, or indeed that his death was a sacrificial death. 

He did say that Jesus’ body was broken “for you”. Yet Jesus’ whole life had been lived for that same purpose, and his violent death was simply its culmination.

He saw Jesus’ blood as the blood (sealing) the new covenant (that, in Jeremiah’s mind, was expressly associated with God’s forgiveness of sins). In the culture the blood that sealed covenants was blood shed in sacrifice. Yet Jeremiah had made no explicit reference to sacrifice (and had largely despaired of temple worship) when speaking of the “new covenant”. Knowing that he would be killed violently, Jesus may simply have seen his blood as serving to seal a whole new (and real) relationship with God.

Another Christian document, written at about the same time as Luke’s Gospel, the “Letter to the Hebrews”, creatively used the whole Jewish sacrificial apparatus to illustrate the superiority of Jesus’ death as means of access to God. Yet the same author also saw salvation consisting in the deepest obedience-relationship with Christ and, with and in Christ, with God: 

In the days of his flesh, 
Jesus offered up prayers and supplications,
with loud cries and tears, 
to the one who was able to save him from death, 
and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 
Although he was a Son, 
he learned obedience through what he suffered;
and having been made perfect, 
he became the source of eternal salvation
for all who obey him... (Hebrews 5:7-9)

Obedience. By sharing in the risen life of Christ through baptism, the Spirit of God draws the Christian into the constant dialogue of Jesus with God, the dialogue of the first two persons of the Trinity. In the dialogue both persons give themselves totally to each other in love. For the author of Hebrews, Jesus’ offer of his whole self was called obedience – a total union of mind and heart. It was the human sharing in the divine dynamic. (The original meaning, of “obey” meant to “listen deeply” to another, to have one’s heart “beating in time with” the other). To the extent that Christians draw close to Christ in obedience, they are drawn into the dialogue of the Trinity, which is the experience of eternal salvation. The sacramental re-presentation of Jesus’ death in each Eucharist provides constant opportunity for disciples to unite their hearts and minds ever more deeply with Jesus.

By his carefully crafted account of Jesus’ actions and accompanying comments, Luke had sought to convey the meaning of Jesus’ death. He also used the narrative to illustrate the meaning of the Christian Eucharist.

The Eucharist Foreshadowed

Apostles. Jesus ate with “the apostles”. Luke rarely used the word apostle in his narrative, except in the context of the earlier mission of “the twelve” around Galilee (the formal terms apostles and twelve seemed interchangeable). Jesus is still waiting to “eat (the Passover when it will be) fulfilled in the kingdom of God”. For Luke, Eucharist was a meal with a purpose. It was a meal for persons sent on mission. Eucharist was responsibility – it was “unfinished business”. 

However, since the term “apostles” was closely associated with the “twelve”, Luke also saw the apostles as representatives of the twelve founding fathers of Israel, the twelve patriarchs. Later in the narrative (verse 30) he would refer to them “sitting on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel”, symbolising Israel structured precisely as a People. The Eucharistic meal was to symbolise and effectively constitute the gathering of the Christian community as the renewed People of God.

Remembrance. Jesus was concerned that he, and particularly his message, be remembered. Precisely what he wanted remembered was his insistence on the universal love of God in whose eyes all people were equally precious. Jesus had consistently made abundantly clear that sinfulness was no barrier to God’s acceptance and love. People needed to appreciate their dignity, and the equal dignity of everyone else. Consequently they needed to find ways to live together in mutual respect, care and justice. 

To symbolise that core message, Jesus chose a shared meal, a family meal, a meal of friends where everyone was welcome, sinner or otherwise. 

In the Life of the Church. After Jesus’ resurrection, his disciples continued to do what he had asked them to do in order to remember him. The context of meal was clearly preserved, though the particular shape of the Paschal Meal seemed to have dropped off immediately. They believed that what they ate and drank in the meal was the reality of Christ, his body and blood. Later in the Church’s life, for practical reasons, as numbers increased, even the obvious meal context was diminished to be replaced by a severely reduced, stylised and sometimes barely recognizable symbolic meal. 

Nevertheless when disciples gathered to reflect again on Jesus’ word against the backdrop of their ever-changing lives and to take part in that symbolic meal, they understood that Jesus himself was personally present among them. 

They would be drawn into the meal’s fulfilment in the Kingdom. As they actively associated themselves with Jesus in heart and mind within the ordinary context of their daily interactions, the Kingdom was being shaped. Like Jesus they would pick up their crosses, whatever form they might take, and enter through and with him to resurrection life.

Jesus had long desired to eat this special meal with the disciples. Luke had mentioned many shared meals in the course of his narrative; he had used the meal setting to situate several teachings of Jesus. Meals would provide the further context of his resurrection appearances. And the Eucharistic meal would sum up the essence of the Christian life. Seen in this light, it becomes clearer why Luke gave such emphasis to other meals in his narrative. They, in their turn, throw light on how such Eucharistic celebrations may be better conducted. 

When Christians would later gather to celebrate the Eucharistic meal in remembrance of Jesus, they would remember the other meal stories of Jesus, and thus learn the appropriate attitudes of heart necessary for fruitful participation.

Meals in the Gospel of Luke

- The first meal mentioned in Luke’s narrative was in Simon’s house where Simon’s recently healed mother-in-law began to “serve” those present (4:39). Healing became the prelude to service, and service the hallmark of all disciples.

- The next incident was the banquet at the house of Levi that occasioned some Pharisees’ criticism of Jesus for his “eating with tax collectors and sinners” (5:29-32). He later faced a similar criticism – “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (7:34). Jesus identified himself as one in solidarity with those in need of wholeness, irrespective of what others thought (5:32).

- Jesus defended the disciples for not “fasting”. The new spirit of the Kingdom was not to be defined in restrictive acts of piety (5:36-38).

- Though hardly constituting a meal, the disciples’ “eating heads of grain” on the Sabbath gave Jesus the opportunity to declare himself to be “lord of the Sabbath” (6:5), the Lord of a world where God would provide enough for all if only people would trust God’s ways.

- It was at a meal with one of the Pharisees that Jesus welcomed the sinful/love-filled woman who “wept over his feet, kissed them and anointed them with ointment”, giving him the opportunity to affirm that, despite the Pharisees’ negative judgment, her faith had occasioned her being saved, and her love had proved her forgiveness (7:36-50). Faith and love in the now, whatever about in the past, provided entry into the Kingdom.

- His satisfying the hunger of “the five thousand” in the wilderness despite inadequate resources foreshadowed Isaiah’s messianic banquet of the future, as well as the Eucharistic feast of the Christian community where disciples would “bless, break and give” and have more than enough (9:12-17).

- Like the twelve before them, the seventy sent out on mission were to “eat what was set before them”, accepting hospitality and reciprocating by sharing the message of the Kingdom (10:7).

- At the meal served at “Martha’s” house, Jesus emphasised that personal warmth and connectedness, along with an openness to listen, to learn and to receive, were necessary components of all genuine service in the Kingdom (10:38-42).

- In accepting their “daily bread”, disciples were to recognise their total dependence on God and to imitate God in God’s constant openness to forgiveness (11:3-4).

- He taught that the master himself would come and serve at table those disciples who lived “dressed for action” and “alert at all times” (12:37).

- A further meal with Pharisees led Jesus to criticise their neglect of the essentials of life in the Kingdom: justice and the love of God (11:42); and on a later occasion he suggested that they invite to their banquets “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” (14:13), imitating in fact the bounty of God who did precisely that (14:16-24)

- In the story of the loving father of the two sons, a festive meal provided the opportunity to celebrate conversion (15:23-24).

- Zacchaeus’ warm welcome of Jesus to a meal became the occasion for Zacchaeus to declare his generosity, and for Jesus to claim him as a true son of Abraham.

Next >> Luke 22:21-38