Matthew 26:17-19, 26-30 (NRSV)
On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
This is the last time Jesus and his disciples would ever be together. They didn’t know. Jesus knew, but the disciples didn’t know. Being Jewish men, they were simply experiencing Passover like they had every year before.
Jesus has been spending the last 5 days filling the disciples full of information and he knows that tonight is his last opportunity. And so Jesus takes this time, this ordinary, yearly ritual that symbolizes a covenant long past, and established a new tradition. He takes this tradition and breathes new life into it.
This is why Christians celebrate holy communion with the words Jesus says in this scripture. Just like Moses did in Exodus for the Passover. Every year Jews still gather together to celebrate in the ancient tradition of remembering freedom from exile.
God frees the Israelites from slavery through Moses. God does through the death of the first born child of all the Egyptians. God frees us from slavery and sin through Jesus Christ. God does this through the death of God’s first born and only son.
Today is Holy Saturday. It’s the day where most churches have Easter egg hunts and petting zoos for kids. For the disciples it was a day full of despair, fear, and abandonment. They couldn’t do anything to help maintain and preserve the body of the man they loved and called Lord because it was sabbath. So many people would have loved the opportunity to steal the body of Jesus, just to say they could. And the disciples were powerless.
If it wasn’t for a man named Joseph of Arimathea, they would have been totally lost.
Matthew 27 tells us this story of the night that Jesus died. Keep in mind that Sabbath begins at sundown Friday and ends sundown Saturday. Also remember that most people couldn’t afford tombs for their loved ones, especially not homeless vagabonds like Jesus and his disciples.
“When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.”
The disciples couldn’t touch Jesus’s dead body. They couldn’t properly prepare his remains with oil or wrap him in the traditional burial clothing because it was Sabbath. If it wasn’t for their non-Jewish lawyer friend Joseph, who conveniently had a tomb he just purchased for himself, they would have been completely unable to help because of the Sabbath laws.
Not only that, but they were guilty by association. They were all wanted men for conspiring with Jesus. They huddled together in a house, afraid for their lives and completely unsure of what to do next. They couldn’t risk being seen with the body of Jesus because they would have likely been next. Matthew tells another story of the government officials dealing Jesus tomb and guarding it because they thought the disciples would try to steal Jesus’ body to prove that he had risen on the third day. There was no way the disciples could go anywhere and risk being seen.
Luckily for us, we know that today is not the end of the story.
We know that death does not win. We know that this new covenant that Jesus has established will guide us all for the rest of our lives. This new covenant promises eternal life and unwavering love. It promises to keep us safe and never let us fall. It assures us that God’s love for us, God’s own creations, is real and tangible. It tells us that Jesus’s message of hope, peace, justice, grace, and love will rule in the hearts of people for thousands of years to come. And there is great joy to be found in that knowledge.
Tomorrow is Easter and is my last daily blog. I cannot even begin to tell each one of you how much joy and healing has come from this experience. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for journeying along side me and some of my favorite people. You truly are a gift and a blessing in my life.