Fuller

Past, Present, and Future in Our Last Meals

March 9, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 22:14-16 (NRSV)

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

Focus

Past, present, and future are interwoven in Jesus’s last supper with his disciples. So it is for us as we experience communion with God. We look back to God’s grace poured out for us in Christ, especially in his suffering. We look forward to the time when God’s kingdom comes in full, when God’s love and justice fill the earth. And we experience God’s presence right now through the reality of the Holy Spirit. God is there for us in past, present, and future.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

Our passage from Luke today is the beginning of what we call the Last Supper, the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples before his death. Jesus knew what was coming. He knew his mortal life was about to end. Thus, he said to his disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (22:15-16).

The last photo of my mom and me, at our last meal together. Not a great photo, but I love it anyway.

When I read these verses, I remember a last meal I had about four years ago. It happened on Saturday evening of Thanksgiving weekend, 2016. My family and I gathered at my mom’s house for a casual dinner. The purpose was to enjoy some time with my mom, whose days were numbered because of cancer. We weren’t sure it was our last meal together, but we all felt it might be.

That meal was filled with such a mix of feelings and perspectives. My mom talked a lot about the past, sharing cherished memories of family times. We laughed over many of her stories, remembering sweet and silly times. But my mom also wanted to talk about the future, hers and ours. She said she knew she was about to die. She had no fear about her own future, but was sad to think of all she’d miss in our future. My mom spoke to each of her grandchildren, telling them how much she loved them and sharing her dreams for their lives. Past and future were interwoven in a precious present of memory and meaning.

The next day, it was clear that my mom had put every bit of energy she had left into our family meal. She had almost nothing left. Six days later she died. That Saturday dinner really was the last meal with my mom.

In Jesus’s last supper with his disciples, there was also a remarkable interweaving of past, present, and future. Jesus shared how much he had been looking forward to this time, this present time with those he loved so dearly. He brought up the past, not his own past, but that of the Jewish people, by mentioning the Passover, the meal in which Jews remember how God set them free from slavery in Egypt. He also pointed to the future, by saying that he would not eat the Passover again “until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:16).

In this pregnant phrase, Jesus was pointing ahead both to what he was about to do and to the distant future when the kingdom of God would come in full. Jesus was about to die, taking the role of the sacrificial lamb who brings life. Even as the lambs sacrificed in the first Passover led to life for Israel, so Jesus’s own sacrifice would lead to life abundant and eternal for all. Yet our complete freedom, our comprehensive exodus, if you will, won’t come until the reign of God comes fully on the earth.

When Christians re-enact Jesus’s last meal with his disciples, in what we call “Communion” or “the Eucharist” or “the Lord’s Supper,” we also experience the interweaving of past, present, and future. We remember Jesus’s death on the cross in the past. We experience his grace in the present through the power of the Holy Spirit. And we look forward to the time when we will share this meal with Jesus and his people in the age to come (see 22:17-18; 1 Cor 11:26). Our hearts are filled with gratitude for what Jesus did in the past even as we feel a yearning hope for what is coming in the future.

Even in the midst of a pandemic, when it’s difficult or impossible for us to share in the Lord’s Supper as we ordinarily do, we can still experience the power and meaning of this last meal. As we meditate on Scripture, we join the last meal of Jesus in our God-inspired imaginations. We remember, not just this meal, but the suffering and sacrifice it represents. As we do, the Spirit of God who is fully present stirs up new thankfulness within us, making real our communion with the Triune God. And we yearn for the future, when God’s kingdom comes in full, when we will know God even as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12), when justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream (Amos 5:24).

In this season of Lent, may we experience God’s grace in the past, present, and future, as we reflect on the suffering and death of Jesus for us.

Reflect

Can you remember any “last meals” in your own life? They may not be last in the sense of pending death. They could be last meals before someone goes away to college. Or last meals in a beloved home. What do you remember about these meals? What was special to you?

How do you understand the interweaving of past, present, and future in Jesus’s last supper with his disciples?

In your own experience of the Lord’s Supper, to what extent is this about the past? The present? The future?

Act

The next time you participate in Communion, pay attention to the past, present, and future elements. See what God has for you as you hold these together in your mind and heart.

Pray

Lord Jesus, as I reflect on your last meal with your disciples, I’m reminded of what you have done in the past. Thank you, Lord, for offering yourself as the sacrificial lamb. Thank you for taking my place on the cross so that I might be set free.

I’m also reminded of what you will do in the future, when the kingdom comes in fullness. Your grace will be triumphant. Your justice will cover the earth. Your love will eliminate hate. We will experience communion with you in a whole new way.

I am so thankful, Lord, that you are not only in the past and future, but also in the present. When we gather at your Table, you are present to us in sacrament and in the Spirit. Yet the presence of your Spirit is not limited to Communion. You are with us through your Spirit each moment of each day. You are here with me right now. I can speak with you as with a friend. What a gift! Thank you! Amen.

P.S. from Mark

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