Sermon: Same Table, Different Chairs
Scripture: Luke 22: 7-23
Date: August 5, 2018
When we participate in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the liturgy calls on us to reenact the last supper that Jesus hosted before He went to the cross and died the very next day. But as is often the case with our liturgy, sometimes I fear that that is just something we say without really thinking through its implications. Have you ever thought about what an incredible gift the last supper was to those who attended but perhaps even more to Jesus Himself? And have you ever thought about what you would do if you were granted that same gift? Not many of us have the foresight to know that tomorrow we will die and so tonight we have the opportunity, we are granted the gift, of hosting a last meal. What preparations would you make for your last supper? Well, first of all you would need to choose a location for the meal. The place where the meal will be is the first hard choice because the location – the ease of access, the size of the room – will play a significant role in deciding who to invite to the meal. The decision concerning where the meal was to be was a particularly difficult one for Jesus, because by Thursday of Holy Week, He had become public enemy number one as far as the Jewish leaders were concerned and they were looking for an opportunity to arrest Him when He was out of the public eye. So Jesus needed to keep to the shadows and the location for the meal would need to be kept secret so that the authorities wouldn’t find out. So Jesus privately arranged for the upstairs room in a Jewish Home of a believer in the heart of Jerusalem.
In the first century church, the Disciples would have to be just as cautious in choosing where they were going to hold the celebration of the Sacrament, remembering the Last Supper, because following Christ often made Christians outlaws and the Disciples were wanted by both the Jewish leaders and the Empire. And so they would meet in people’s homes and in the Catacombs, the tunnels under the city – never meeting in the same place and making the decision at the last minute and then marking the entrance to the place of meeting with the sign of the fish or a cross.
And there are still places in our world where Last Suppers must be observed in a similar cloud of secrecy. But that’s not our issue this morning when deciding where our last supper will be. Although the day may be coming when such a shroud of secrecy will be necessary, we are not there yet.
And then we need to decide what the menu will be at our Last Supper. Now that was not an issue for Jesus because this was the Passover Meal and so each part of the supper was set, representing the important events that took place during the night that the Angel of Death passed over the Jewish families who had smeared the sacrificial blood on their doorpost and so their first born sons were saved while the first born sons of their Egyptian captors were not, and then also it celebrated God’s providence as they escaped from Egypt and began their time in the wilderness, journeying towards the promised land.
Every Jew in Israel would have had the same menu that night. And, of course, when we celebrate this Sacrament, this remembrance of Jesus’ Last Supper, our menu is also set. The Bread and the Juice are always served as symbols of the Body and Blood of Jesus, that was about to be poured out on the Cross of Calvary. They are a reminder of and an invitation to participate in the passion of Christ. But what would you serve at your last supper? Would you serve food items that would represent your life? And, if so, what would those items be?
Author Melanie Dunea wrote a book in which she interviewed fifty of the most prominent, successful, respected chefs from around the world, asking each of them if they could choose, what would their “last supper” on earth be like. What they would like for their meal, where they would like to eat it, what would be the setting, who would prepare the meal, and who would be in attendance? In other words, what would they like to leave as their “last impression” on this world? And the responses were fascinating to say the least. A few chefs chose a menu of elaborate cuisine to be eaten in exotic places. But by far the majority of these world renowned chefs chose something else. They chose family, they chose friends, and they chose their most familiar foods. They wanted their “last supper” not to be about a five star presentation or fancy cuisine, but rather they wanted it to be about sharing bread and love around the table with extended family. And instead of being served a meal, most of the chefs wanted to cook and serve their “last supper” themselves. Much like Jesus, they wanted their last act to be feeding those whom they loved. Remember Jesus said to those he gathered for His last supper, “How I have longed to share this meal with you.” Many Of these chefs shared that same longing. Would you approach your last supper in that same way? Do we come to this table this morning with that same longing in our heart?
One Chef said that his last supper request was that he be able to cook it with his wife, “We would prepare it together for the family.” Another insisted that her assistants would be “family members — we would do it all together”. And one said he wanted his last meal on earth to be a big old pig roast, and the final touch would be a dessert of “Swiss chocolate, because my wife, loves it” His final dessert was for his loved one, not himself. What began, I think, as a recipe and decorations book was quickly transformed into a devotional work by the responses of the chefs. Just as Jesus transformed the Passover Meal into so much more than mere ritual. So what would you serve at your last supper?
And then we need to decide who we want to invite to our Last Supper. Who is invited really impacts what we are wanting to accomplish at the meal. Here’s what I mean by that. I have always been intrigued by the guest list for Jesus’s last supper. You see, I have always pictured that, while Jesus started his journey with just a handful of men – the original disciples, and even some of those He added over time as they made their way from village to village. But by the time Jesus came to Jerusalem for the last time he had gathered quite an entourage of followers. People he had touched and transformed along the way. When it came to the Palm Sunday parade think of all that that entourage could have included. All those that Jesus healed as He moved about the countryside. Some percentage of the thousands that He had fed with a couple of fish and loaves. Many of those who had heard the sermon on the mount. The woman who had been healed of the chronic blood loss. Jairus, the Temple official whose daughter Jesus had brought back to life. Lazarus. And his sisters. The Blind man whose eyes were opened. The lame man who had been lowered through the roof so he could be healed by Jesus and the friends that lowered him. The lepers that had been restored. The mother whose son Jesus brought back to life in the midst of his funeral procession, and the son. The prostitute that Jesus saved from being stoned to death, who may or may not have been Mary Magdalene. But certainly Mary Magdalene would have been there. And His mother. The former demoniac whom Jesus had saved. The number of people that could have been following Jesus and perhaps expecting to be invited to the Last Supper was endless. And yet the only people He invited to The Last Supper were the 12 Disciples. Because He had something important that He wanted to share just with them. And even more interesting perhaps were the places that they assumed at the table as they came into the upper room. What would the seating chart for your last supper look like? Well, tradition tells us that the beloved Disciple (presumably John) was in the honored position at the immediate left of the host and that Judas (the betrayer) took up the space on His immediate right. Then the other one we know for sure is that Peter went to the end of the line and apparently in an act of feigned humility took the seat that would have normally been occupied by a servant who was there to wash the guests feet and serve the meal, though Peter’s humility didn’t carry over to perform such menial acts. Jesus had to do those things. The others jockeyed for position. Trying to move up in the pecking order, sit closer to Jesus, except maybe Thomas. Who just wasn’t sure about all this. What it all meant. I suspect he might have sat closest to the door – trying to decide if he was going to stay for the whole meal. Thomas had his doubts. But even more telling perhaps were those who were not invited. His mother for instance. And Mary Magdalene. He only wanted the Disciples to be there and hear what He intended to say to them. How much He loved them. How he needed them to continue his work, but what that would cost them. And finally His hope that they would remember Him whenever they broke bread together. What would you say to those who would be invited to your last supper?
When I served a smaller church, we would occasionally celebrate this Sacrament in a different way. One time for instance I took all of the furniture off of the chancel area and set up a table like this with thirteen chairs. One for Jesus and one for each of the 12 Disciples. I then set places at each chair with scraps of food that were visual representations of what would have been the food from the Passover meal. And then there was a loaf of bread and a chalice at what would have been Jesus’ place. The idea was that we would be picking up after the meal had ended. After the disciples had already left. Judas’s chair was tipped over and his plate turned over indicating the haste with which he fled from the table. There was a pitcher and bowl of water and dirty towel near what was Peter’s chair. And after talking a little about the places that people assumed at the table at the Last supper and what went on there, I stepped into the congregation and invited 11 people to come and take a place at the table with me. It was fascinating to watch as they chose what seat they wanted to occupy. Most were reluctant to assume John’s seat as the beloved Disciple, but there were always those who rushed to sit where Peter would have sat. No one tried to sit where Judas had sat. And then once they all settled in to a seat, I shared the words from Luke’s gospel – telling them how much I have longed to share this last meal with them and echoed Jesus words about love and the cost of discipleship and remembering, and then I began to break chunks off the loaf of bread and handed one to each – take eat this is my body broken for you, Jesus said. And then I dipped my piece of bread in the chalice and said, this is the blood of the New Covenant that will be shed for each of you for the forgiveness of sin. And once everyone had dipped their piece of bread into the cup, I dismissed the table with prayer. And they returned to their seats in the pews, and I stepped out into the congregation and invited 11 more to come to the table. You see with each serving the table remained the same, but the chairs were different because they were occupied each time by different individuals who chose to come for very different reasons. Same table, different chairs. And then we got to the last setting and there were twelve people left to be served. So I invited them all to come and said one of you can sit in my chair so we can all be served together. But instead, one young man went to Judas’s chair and stood it back up and said to me “this is the chair that I deserve to sit in.” And I looked at him. I knew some of the demons he had been wrestling with and I replied to him, “the truth is that is the chair that most of us deserve to sit in.” It was such a powerful moment. And I broke the bread and I passed the cup and we remembered our Last Supper with Jesus. This morning the invitation goes out. Come and share this Last Supper together. And as you kneel at this altar, imagine which chair is here for you. Because you see, every time we celebrate this Sacrament the table is the same, it’s the Lord’s table, but the chairs are made different by those who occupy them.