“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed.” That is how Paul first describes this night, but there were a lot of other things that happened on that night, a night we often call Maundy Thursday. The evening began with a meal. It was the time of the Passover feast that OT celebration where God’s people remembered how they were spared from the angel of death as he passed over their homes on the eve of their Exodus from Egypt. And, if you look at our gospel lesson this evening, from the book of Mark, you see that there was a lot of preparation, a lot of work, that went into this night as that special meal didn’t just fall out of the sky fully prepared by angelic caterers. No, this supper was carefully and purposefully rooted in its Old Testament customs and traditions, and, on this night, Jesus wanted to share that meal with his disciples, which is why some of his final steps led to an upper room.
A lot of meticulous care went into preparing that setting we know as the upper room, that room was ceremonially swept the day before to make sure every last crumb of yeast had been removed. Which likely meant that when Jesus told two of his disciples to go into the city and find an owner who would show them “a large upper room, furnished and ready.” Those disciples were probably rather excited about that, you see Jerusalem at the time of the Passover was a happening place. Josephus, the historian, tells us that Jerusalem’s population swelled to some two million people during Passover. Mainly because it was forbidden according to the Jewish Mishnah (this Jewish rule book) to take the main dish of the Passover, the Lamb, outside the city walls. So, everyone had to be in and eat in Jerusalem. Finding a room big enough and already ready for 12 disciples and Jesus would’ve been no small feat.
But, on this night, Jesus took care of it. Just like on Palm Sunday, when he sent two disciples to find a specific donkey with her colt nearby, so, here, Jesus sent two disciples with specific instructions to make sure this night – our Savior’s last night – went according to his plan. And just check out Jesus’ instructions that led to this upper room.
He sent John and Peter, into Jerusalem with directions that were fail-safe, even though they might seem bewildering and vague to you and me: “Go into the city,” Jesus said, “and there a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him” Now, how were these plans fail-safe? Surely, there would be countless men carrying jars of water around. Not really, at that time and in that culture, men simply didn’t fetch the water needed for drinking or for the elaborate Passover meal ritual washings. So, this man carrying water…he stood out. John and Peter found him. They followed him, met the owner of the house that he entered, and said to the owner, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” And, like Jesus said, this owner showed them a large room upstairs. So it was that there they made preparations for the Passover. And, “when evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve.”
Now, if we were to carefully piece together all the gospel accounts about this evening we learn that there was a tad bit more to this night than just Jesus’ desire to celebrate that Passover with his disciples. There was some urgency to this night. In the gospel of Matthew we read that Jesus told his disciples that his “time was near.” Soon that plan of salvation would lead our Savior to his true final steps. To the scourging. To the spitting. To the stone pavement and the trial before Pontius Pilate. To the Via Dolorosa—the road of sorrows. To the center cross on Golgotha, where God’s Lamb would forever finish the messy business of washing away the stench of humanity’s sin. Yours and mine included.
So it was that tonight, on this night, Jesus needed, wanted, desired, a secluded spot, a safe place, hidden away from the crowds and unknown to his enemies, where he could enjoy a few final hours of fellowship with the Twelve one last time before his cross. It was a special night for our Lord and Savior, but I don’t think Jesus’ disciples got the memo. The disciples, on this night, argued about who was the greatest. On this night, no one of them bothered to stoop low and wash Jesus’ feet, rather he washed theirs. On this night, those same disciples shouted empty promises of loyalty as Jesus predicted his coming suffering. On this night, no one expressed sympathy about that suffering, they only worried about themselves and whether they’d be the one to betray him. And, finally, on this night, they all abandoned Jesus. They left him arrested and in the hands of his enemies.
All that brings us back to those words of our lesson. “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed.” All this work, all this time, all this preparation, was this what it was all for? Did some of Jesus’ last footsteps bring him to this upper room simply so he could be betrayed? I mean, you know the story. As they were eating, Jesus dipped his bread in the same bowl as Judas, a sign that he was the one who would betray him, and then Jesus said to Judas, a man he later would call friend, “Judas, what you are about to do, do quickly.” And off Judas went, all but assuring that Jesus would die.
But notice, as all of this was going on, as the disciples embarrassed themselves in both their words and their actions, and as Judas plotted to betray his Savior, what did Jesus do? He broke bread and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Then he took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
These are so often the words we consider on this night. We travel to the upper room with Jesus and the disciples in spirit because we yearn to hear how Jesus gave this visible gospel as a tangible gift for believers of every age, something we can see, smell, taste, and touch. It’s a beautiful thing…In a little bit, many of us will stand here and receive that gift of Christ’s body and blood in and with the bread and wine, and a weight as heavy as hell itself will be lifted off of our shoulders by our Savior’s guarantee. A guarantee you will hear from either me or one of the other pastors as we pass by, look you in the eye, and assure you that Jesus’ body and blood was given for you, and “shed for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.”
On this night, these are the words your Savior wants you to hear. “And because he picked a night like this, when he was betrayed and his disciples were just awful, know that there then is no reason for you and me to delay receiving this divine meal. Don’t think you must come up to this table only when you are at your best – that day will likely never come. Jesus didn’t give this meal to perfect people but to sinners just like you and me.
The now sainted Professor Daniel Deutschlander, who served at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, wrote about this night and about this meal. Here is what he said:
“When I begin to see again the horror of what I deserve, I will come to your table, Lord, for what I can never ever deserve. I come not because I am holy but because you are. I come not because I merit anything but because you merit everything. I come at my worst, a beggar about to become rich. I come with death in my bones and on my soul to receive life for now and forever. I come aching in heart and soul as I make confession. And still I come with joy unbounded; for I am invited by your gracious Word and promise. So I come looking at you and away from myself to receive, to receive, and to receive, all that you are and all that you have done for my salvation.”
So, it is on this night we too can come at our worst, and Jesus gives us his best. He gives you himself, body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins. So, come forward tonight all you who are broken and beaten by your sin. Confess your sin and receive complete forgiveness in Christ’s body and blood. That is the invitation and with it is the promise, the certainty, that Jesus has claimed you for his own. Whether you are old or young, a man or a woman, a child or infant – to each Jesus comes, to one no less than to the other and declares that this, this night is for you.
For you Jesus gave his body and blood. For you he brings forgiveness and salvation, so that you will never again be separated from him, not now, not tomorrow, not in the hour of death, and certainly not on the day of judgment. Here is his body, here is his blood, and here is his promise for all eternity. “Take and eat. Take and drink. This is for you. Do this in remembrance of him, the last Passover lamb, your Savior, Jesus. Amen.