Places of the Passion: The Upper Room
Topic: Biblical Verse: Matthew 26:17–26:29
April 14, 2022
“Places of the Passion: The Upper Room”
Thirteen years ago in 2009, on April 11, a middle-aged woman walked out from behind a theater curtain. Her appearance was rather disheveled and as she took the stage, the audience sort of collectively rolled their eyes and let out this sigh of disappointment. Her hair was not very pretty, and her dress was not very flattering. From outward appearances, it looked like just another person trying to make themselves into a celebrity. No one expected much from this individual based on how she looked. And then, she started to sing – wow, did she ever sing! She sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables. The eye rolling was transformed into jaw dropping, rapt attention that was laser-focused on this woman. After her song, the audience exploded with applause. The video clip of her singing became the most watched YouTube video at that time (susan boyle 2009 audition - Search (bing.com). Her first recording broke all sales records. And the name of this immensely talented person who completely surprised everyone with her amazing singing? Her name is Susan Boyle. She appeared on Britain’s Got Talent on April 11, 2009, and her life has never been the same since. Bullied as a child for being different and called “Susie Simple,” it wasn’t until she was in her 50s that she was diagnosed as having “Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism that affects an individual’s social and communication skills… often linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions” (The Truth About Susan Boyle's Time In A Mental Health Clinic (nickiswift.com). Things are not always what they seem. As it was with Susan Boyle, so it is with the bread and wine that we eat and drink here at the Lord’s table. Our Lenten journey continues as we follow Jesus to all the places of his Passion. On the night we call Maundy Thursday of this Holy Week, we follow Jesus to the Upper Room where he first celebrated this holy meal. This becomes the theme for preaching this evening. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
In the context of the Passover meal, which annually commemorates God’s mighty deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt, Jesus does a new thing. He takes the unleavened bread that is so central to the meal and gives it to his disciples with these words: “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26b). And then he took a cup, after giving thanks, gives it to his disciples with these words: “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27b-28). Luke’s account tells us that this cup was “after they had eaten” (Luke 22:20). This is significant. There are a number of cups of wine to be drunk in the Passover meal, but the cup after the meal is the third cup, called the “cup of redemption.” The redemption marked by the Passover meal, the deliverance of God’s people through the blood of the lamb painted on the doorposts and lintels of their homes in Egypt (Exodus 12:1-14), was now being fulfilled in the blood of Jesus himself, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). This is the same Jesus, the Lamb of God, who comes to us in his holy Supper this evening. With our eyes we see only bread and wine, but there is more here than meets the eye.
Passover is all about deliverance from enemies; from Pharaoh and his taskmasters in Egypt. With Passover, the deliverance was from enemies “out there,” but now at the Last Supper, Jesus reveals that the enemy isn’t out there somewhere. The enemy is right there in their midst. Jesus, who is true God and true man, certainly knew that Judas was going to betray him, as the Gospel lesson for this evening makes clear (Matthew 26:20-25). This was in direct fulfillment of a prophecy: “And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver” (Zechariah 11:12). But Jesus also knew that the other disciples would all desert him, again in direct fulfillment of a prophecy: “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7; Matthew 26:31). Jesus knew all these things, and yet every one of those disciples had a place at the table. No one was excluded or refused by Jesus, not even Judas. This is what is so amazing about the Last Supper! One will betray him with a kiss for thirty pieces of silver. One will deny him three times. All of them will abandon him when the going gets tough. But in the midst of weakness, greed, selfishness, and fear, they all had a place at the table. No one was left out.
This is good news for you and me today: there is a place at the table – the Lord’s table – for each one of us as well. In the midst of our own weakness, greed, selfishness and fear, Jesus invites us to look not at our own sinfulness, but at the redemption which he has won for us through the shedding of his blood. Things are not always what they seem. What may look quite ordinary can, in fact, be completely extraordinary. The Lord’s Supper is like this. We take Jesus’ words at face value: “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26b). “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27b-28). Jesus does not say that the bread and wine symbolize or represent his body and blood. He simply says “this is.” In a wonderful and mysterious way, the Jesus of that Upper Room who suffered, died and rose again for our salvation, comes to us in this blessed Sacrament and gives to us his very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine which we eat and drink. What the Lord promises, he also provides. His Word is all powerful and accomplishes what he says it will (Isaiah 55:10-11). The Word of the Lord Jesus which stilled the storm (Matthew 8:23-27), which fed 5000 with five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14:13-21), which healed the sick, cast out demons (Matthew 8:14-17, 28-34; 9:1-8), and raised the dead (Matthew 9:18-26), comes to us in a way that we can grasp and understand: ordinary elements of bread and wine. Jesus does not come to us in his all-powerful majesty and glory. If he did, we would fall over dead with fear. No, Jesus comes down to our level. He condescends to what we can grasp. He comes not to condemn, but to save. He comes with mercy and grace to help in time of need.
Jesus’ words remind us that this holy Supper is a foretaste of that heavenly banquet yet to come: “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). And so we celebrate this Holy Communion, this Lord’s Supper, this Eucharist, until Christ comes again to make all things new in the Father’s kingdom. Until then, we gather each week here at the Lord’s table because all things are not yet new. Even with the blessing of faith in Jesus, we still struggle; we endure suffering, pain, and heartache. Sin still clings closely. That is exactly why we should come regularly and often to receive Christ in this holy meal. Recognizing our own weakness and need, we come because we have a place at the table. Jesus has invited us to the table where he is Host and we are guest.
Come to the table. Jesus invites you. Amen.