Friday, March 29, 2013

The (Last) Passover

To us, it is the Last Supper: but to them, it was Passover, a time of joy and remembrance. But the comforting ceremony and celebration of Passover are, unfortunately, short-lived.  They are interrupted by predictions of death and betrayal and faithlessness, which both frightens and angers Peter. To us, the story is finished, and it's easy to ignore what it would be like to actually be part of the story. We are quick to pass judgement, to say, "They should have understood, Peter should have remained strong, he was a coward!" And we can forget that we are all, at times, fools and cowards. One thing that remains certain, that never wavers, is that Peter really does love Jesus.

After a short time, Jesus cleared his throat, and we all looked up again. He said, “I have greatly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”[1] And he took the nearby cup and filled it with wine—the finest we could find—and prayed briefly over it, giving thanks. Then he drank deeply from it, and when he lowered the cup, he said, “Take this, and drink it amongst yourselves. For I will not drink of this fruit of the vine again until the Kingdom of God comes.” And he passed it down the table, and we each took a drink of it. After that we ate the bitter herbs and washed away the bitterness with another swallow of wine. And then…
“Praise the Lord!” Jesus began suddenly, without warning, and it took us a moment to catch up and begin singing with him. “Praise, O the servants of the Lord, Praise the name of the Lord!” Jesus’ tiredness seemed to fall away from him as he looked up to heaven and sang loudly. “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!” Slowly we disciples did the same. We were still confused, and puzzled, but for now we were no longer troubled. Something was going to happen tonight, maybe something horrible, but for now we were praising our God and remembering our Rescuer. Our God had brought our ancestors out of Egypt—surely he could save his Son. My voice rose louder as we reached my favorite part: “Tremble, o earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.”
And then, as the praise ended, Jesus carved the lamb, the sound of the knife loud in the sudden silence, and the meal began and we talked and laughed, happy in the presence of good friends and good wine. I could not remember an unhappy Passover, and this one was no exception.
 But it could not last. After a while, when the meal was almost over, Jesus cleared his throat loudly, and we all fell silent as we turned towards him. The sight of him wiped the smile from my face: I could see pain once again on his face, in his eyes, and when he spoke, I could hear it in his voice.
“I tell you this truly: one of you will betray me.” And that was it. All he said. I sat back in shock as the table exploded around me.
They were all asking him the same question: “Is it I, Lord?”
Jesus answered, and we immediately fell silent to hear him speak: “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.” That told us nothing. We had all been dipping bread into the bowl with him. I caught John’s eye, sitting next to him, and motioned that he should ask Jesus who it was. He did, quietly, and Jesus answered, but I could not hear him over the noise. I could see the puzzlement and fear on John’s face as Jesus dipped the bread he was holding it into the bowl and handed it to Judas, lying on the other side of him.[2] Judas asked him something, but I could hear neither his question nor Jesus’ answer—Judas, however, went white.
Then Jesus said to Judas, loudly enough for all to hear, “Do what you are doing quickly.” And Judas left without a word, hurriedly and nervously. I was puzzled, but James, sitting next to me, whispered that he might be going out to buy supplies for the rest of the festival, and I nodded. That was probably it. He had our money, anyway.
Jesus gave us no time to think about it, in any case. He cleared his throat again, and once we were all looking at him, he took up one of the remaining pieces of bread and broke it. I started, looking at the last piece of lamb, still on the plate. This was new.[3] This was not part of the ceremony. He said, “Take this bread and eat: this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And then, while we were still eating it, uncertain and confused, he poured a new cup of wine and, holding it up, said, “This cup is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Drink.” And we did, still confused, but not daring to ask what he meant. Indeed, we did not have time, for he immediately began teaching us again.
“I will soon leave you,” he said, “and where I am going, you cannot follow.” I jerked, and a fragment of dismay left my mouth before I could stop it. Jesus continued, “I will give you a new commandment: that you love one another, just as I have loved you. That is how people will know that you are my disciples.”
As soon as he finished speaking, I said, “Lord, where are you going?” And why could we not follow? As if I would not follow wherever he went.
Jesus answered, shaking his head and smiling sadly as if he had read my thoughts. “Where I am going you cannot follow now. But you will follow after.”
I asked again. “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!” I would, if it came to that—and Jesus seemed certain that it would.
“Simon, Simon,” Jesus said, shaking his head, and I flushed angrily. Not Peter, now, not “rock,” but Simon again. “Satan demanded that he have you, the he might sift you like wheat.” What? Me? Sifted? The room was dead quiet except for Jesus’ voice, which continued calmly, clearly, sadly. “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Turned? I would not turn! I replied indignantly, “Lord, I will go with you to prison and to death!” My breath caught in my throat when Jesus only shook his head.
“Will you die for me, Simon? I tell you the truth, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”[4] Before I could say anything, he began speaking again, as if he had not just told me that I would betray him! I found it hard to sit still, to pay attention, but I forced myself to. “When I sent you out with nothing, no money-bag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” A few of the disciples, unsure of the right answer, said no. He continued. “But now let the one who has a moneybag, or knapsack, or sandals, take them. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. [5] For I tell you that the Scriptures about me shall soon be fulfilled, and I will be counted as a criminal.”
 A sword? We would need a sword? Suddenly I remembered the two swords I had seen, and, pointing to them, I said, “Look, Lord! There are two swords here!” I stood and walked over to them, taking one off the wall and feeling the weight of it in my hand. I had always imagined holding a sword.
Jesus sighed and said, “It is enough.”[6]

[1]The proper reconciling and ordering of the gospel accounts of the Last Supper is difficult but entirely possible. See Hendriksen (Luke 959-60) for the Order of the Passover Feast. The washing of the feet (John 13:1-20) likely occurs before the meal has actually started. The meal then begins with a prayer of thanksgiving and the drinking of the first cup of wine. Hendriksen (Luke 961) links this to Luke 22:17-18: Lenski, however (Luke 1043), links the same verse to the final cup of wine, immediately before the general eating of the lamb begins. It is, to a large extent, irrelevant which is true, because in any case Jesus’ prediction of betrayal would have come afterward, while everyone was eating freely. In summary: the washing of the feet is first. Then, before the eating of the lamb, is the cup of wine mentioned in Luke 22:17-18. Then, during/after the general meal, is the revelation of a traitor and the majority of Jesus’ teaching. Towards the ending of the meal, which would normally be formally ended by the master of the house to eat the last morsel of lamb, Jesus “proceeded to do something entirely new” (Lenski (Luke 1045). It is at this point that the Passover transitions into the Last Supper (Hendriksen (Luke 960) and, according to some commentators (Lenski, Luke 1044), the Sacrament of communion. 
[2] Hendriksen (Matthew 906) says that all at the table would have likely dipped bread in the bowl with Jesus at some point. John’s account, then, does not conflict with this but comes after: John asks, “Who is it?” and Jesus tells John specifically, “It is he to whom I give this bread.” (Hendriksen, John Vol. 2, 247).
[3]Both Lenski and Hendriksen agree that “at this point Passover passes over into the Lord’s Supper.” (Lenski Matthew 1023, Hendriksen Matthew 908). Lenski goes into greater detail, saying, “We shall be safe in assuming that the institution of the Lord’s Supper came at the close of the somewhat ample period of freely eating the Passover food… So about the time the housefather would have gone over to number nine [the ninth stage of Passover], the eating of the last morsel of the lamb, thus stopping all further eating, Jesus proceeded to do something that was entirely new.” It is unclear whether Jesus then, after this, ate the last portion of lamb and continued on with the traditional Passover ceremony. Lenski identifies the singing of hymns mentioned afterward in Matthew 26:30 with “the second part of the hallel, Ps. 115-118, perhaps also the last part, Ps. 120-137, with which the Passover was usually concluded.” Passover was likely ended in the usual manner, but it is still important to note that Christ instituted a new ceremony with new meaning in the midst of the old one.
[4]This section is my best attempt at combining John 13:36-38 with Luke 22:31-34. It is important to note that Lenski sees two predictions of denial: one, recorded by Luke and John, in the upper room, and another, recorded by Matthew and Mark, on the way to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 1035). Mark and Matthew both specify the time as being after they had left the room to go to the Mount of Olives. They also both include that the rooster will crow three times. By contrast, Luke and John certainly seem to place the prediction while they are still in the upper room, with a significant amount of discourse still to be done before leaving, and neither of them mention the double crow and are likewise very similar in language. Given this, Lenski’s interpretation seems preferable to one that conflates the two into one.
[5]Commentators disagree sharply on the proper translation of this section. Most seem to agree that Jesus is talking about a shift, a change in the daily life and work of disciples following his death. The disagreement stems from what Jesus means by his talk of buying a sword (Luke 22:36). Hendriksen (Luke 976) states that the sword cannot mean a literal blade for use in self-defense: instead, the sword is to be taken figuratively as a symbol of courage, of which the disciples will need all they can muster.  Lenski (Luke 1068-9), however, contends that “purse, wallet, sword are not to be allegorized into something spiritual… The injunctions are concrete and simply use specific examples to indicate a complete course of conduct.” Additionally, he adds that “A sword would be needed for protection” from bandits and brigands in their travels. Nolland (Luke 1076) agrees, saying “The sword is thought of as part of the equipment required for the self-sufficiency of any traveler in the Roman world… Protection of one’s person is in view.” I have sided with Lenski and Nolland for this reason:  the purse, bag, and sandals are actual, useful items—items that would be absolutely necessary for Christians traveling through the new, hostile world after Christ’s ascension. There is no reason to allegorize or symbolize them into something else. The sword is in no way separated from these things but is included among them, and Jesus gives no hint that we are to treat the sword differently than the other things. There is a clear reference here to Luke 9:1-6, where Jesus told them the exact opposite (do not take a cloak, moneybag, etc., with no mention of swords) and at that time, the disciples “did not lack anything” despite not bringing these things. This will now not be the case. Before, God provided for the disciples even though they lacked basic necessities. Now that Jesus tells them to bring those things when they did not need them previously, the implication is that God will not provide in the same way. Bring money, sandals, a knapsack, because you will need these things: money and the knapsack to protect against starvation, and sandals to protect against rough terrain and consequent injury. The implication is that God will no longer provide for these things as directly and immediately as he did before. The sword, then, comes as a logical continuation. Before, God protected you from bandits in the same way he protected you against starvation. Both would prevent you from doing God’s work: therefore, both need to be avoided. The sword serves the same purpose as the money-bag and sandals: protection.
[6]The controversy over Luke 22:36 is continued here. Most agree that they are referencing two, actual, Roman short-swords. Hendriksen (Luke 977) sees Jesus’ reply as “curt and decisive,” picturing Jesus as frustrated by the disciples’ inaccurate understanding—they think that he is speaking of actual swords, and his “It is enough” is meant to cut the conversation short before further misunderstandings can be formed. Nolland (Luke 1077) also sees it as expressing frustration, but for a different reason: Jesus is talking about actual swords, but the focus is not on acquiring them (as the disciples believe) but on “the need for the disciples to cope with hitherto unexperienced and therefore yet unexpected difficulty. The Apostles seem to settle for the detail (having swords) without any real readiness to grapple with what the call to have swords means for them.” Lenski (Luke 1070) agrees that Jesus says it “to end the matter,” only because nothing more can be said on this point. Additionally, Lenski offers a possible explanation for where the two swords come from. It is not likely that they mean knives used in the Passover—the word consistently means “sword” and not “knife.” It is even more unlikely that on this night, Passover night, two of the disciples would have come armed to the feast. The most likely explanation is this: “‘Lo, two swords here!’ means that they hung right there in the upper room and belonged to the owner of the house. Peter took one of them on leaving.” I lean more towards Lenski’s interpretation (see above footnote), and also accept his explanation of the origin of the swords, given Peter’s demonstrated ineptness with the blade and the lack of other plausible explanations.

This is, rightly speaking, the last of the Passover's. Before this Passover ends, Jesus does something new, something that hadn't been done before, and turns it into Communion. It becomes something similar, but greater: We do not eat the sacrificial lamb, but  the very body and blood of God Himself, given for us for the forgiveness of our sins. 

Like this post? Check out the full work, Simon, Who Is Called Peter! It combines the readability of First-Person narration with biblical and scholarly accountability in the form of copious footnotes, allowing you to see the world of the New Testament through the eyes of Jesus' most notorious disciple.

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