14 When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table. 15 Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. 16 For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”
17 Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. 18 For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.”
19 He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.”
20 After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people — an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you. 21 But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. 22 For it has been determined that the Son of Man must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays him.” 23 The disciples began to ask each other which of them would ever do such a thing.
24 Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them.25 Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ 26 But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. 27 Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.
28 You have stayed with me in my time of trial. 29 And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right 30 to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom. And you will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
There are a few key things to note in Luke’s account of the Eucharist. You should have noticed that Luke includes two cups, one in v.17, the other in v.20. The Passover Meal included four cups total, which were used in (essentially) toasts to God. At least, that is the nearest we can tell based on Jewish Passover liturgy from the ninth century (AD). Jewish writings from closer to Jesus’ day aren’t nearly as clear and consistent on this issue. That, plus Mark and Matthew only having one cup, led some copyists to amend Luke to match the others. But our oldest copies of Luke have what you just read. Why bring this up? Because there is a trend (I have no idea how popular it is) among some Christians to try to celebrate a Jewish-style Passover as a lead-in to Easter, using the full set of practices laid out in the ninth century. I think this is misguided and runs the risk of missing the point of Eucharist (plus, it’s just weird for Gentiles to try to appropriate cultural practices that are not their own, but I digress). There is significant language here to tie this event to the concepts of exodus, atoning sacrifice, and covenant, but embedding these within Judaic practice lessens the distinctively Christian understanding of the significance of this meal.
Luke specifically works very hard editing his source material from Mark and Matthew to make a few key points. Notice how Judas disappears in this telling of the Last Supper. In Mark and Matthew, his betrayal is the first thing discussed, it is even prior to the meal. Luke places this after the meal and in as few words as possible – and never once uses Judas’ name. Luke wants Judas out of the picture here, his betrayal is not the focus, his presence is not allowed to dominate this account. As I mentioned before, these events are not happening to Jesus, this is not the work of Judas (and the religious leaders) nearly as much as it is Jesus doing what he came to do, what he has been talking about for the better part of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus is freely choosing this cup.
The meaning of the cup is also very important and another place where adopting Seder practice and understanding don’t help us (okay, I’ll stop going on about it now, but it does bug me). While the Seder assigns meanings to each of the four cups, the meaning of this cup does not fit well with any of them (okay, really stopping now). This is a cup of blood. A cup of sacrifice. A cup of God’s wrath. Later in this chapter, we are going to read Jesus asking the Father to take away this cup and not make him drink it. But he does drink it. And so do his followers. It is also a cup of covenant. A cup of binding relationship. A cup of authority. Look at vv. 29-30. The followers of Jesus are those who share in both his authority and in his suffering. The cup is at the same time us enjoying relationship with the one who takes our place – the blood of his vicarious sacrifice fills this cup – but it is also us entering into agreement to share in that suffering, to shed our own blood in advancing this kingdom. It is no coincidence that all the men at that table (with the possible exception of John) were violently murdered just as Jesus was. They drank his cup. They drank his blood. They ate his bread. They ate his flesh.
Finally, it is also no coincidence that Luke waited until here to share with us the rivalry brewing among the apostles. Given how he suppressed Judas in this story, we might expect him to put this somewhere else so he can keep the message positive and focused. He included it here because those who would be great in the kingdom have to understand that involves drinking more deeply from the cup of suffering than anyone else. The greatest take the lowest rank. They seek out the suffering. Because in doing so they suffer redemptively and complete in their own bodies what is lacking in Christ’s suffering (as Paul explains in Col. 1.24).
If we don’t understand this, we don’t understand leadership and authority in the kingdom of God. If we don’t understand the Eucharist as sharing in the cup of Christ’s suffering, then we do not understand what we have signed up for as his followers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.