"And when the time came, He sat down with His 12 apostles and He said to them, I have longed and longed to share this paschal meal with you before my passion..."
The vision of Calvary was before Him, but tonight He was happy - tonight He would draw the last three years together into one condensed expression of mankind's privileged relationship with God. The meaning of tonight would only become clear as it passed through the horror of Friday, the despair of Saturday and the explosion of hope of Sunday - at which point the contemplation of His resurrection would lead them back full circle to the events of tonight, for therein lay the definition of their relationship with Him and with each other for all time to come.
The apostles were in good spirits. The triumphant march into Jerusalem on Sunday had been a real high for them. They had revelled in the applause of the crowds - they had laughed with glee at the helpless anger of the temple elite, the Pharisees. His kingdom was at last coming! Their kingdom! For were they not His trusted lieutenants, His inner circle? They conversed animatedly among themselves whilst waiting for their paschal supper to begin...confident, exited. The future was theirs. Not for the first time, they set about arguing about the various positions of honour each would occupy now that Jesus seemed poised to accept the political power that was His for the asking. Even the Romans showed signs of fear that the tidal wave of His popularity might well sweep them back up the Tiber.
Jesus knew that it was time for a reality check. What they, with their tunnel vision, wanted so desperately would never come to pass. But, in the long run, what they would achieve and possess would make their current dreams ephemeral, without substance... like chaff in the winds of time.
Suddenly, he stood up from the table and walked over to the pitcher and basin, which stood near the door of the chamber where they had washed their hands upon entering. He took the implements in His hands, crossed the room once more and dropped to His knees before an astonished Peter. He was clearly preparing to wash Peter's feet, gesturing him to remove his sandals. Peter protested...was this a joke? He was not amused. Only slaves washed people's feet...it was no joke. Jesus knew who He was and He knew who Peter was, and who he would eventually become. In effect, Jesus was saying, "Welcome to another world, a better world, a world wherein to lead and to govern means to serve, to respond personally to people's most basic needs."
The unspoken question before all of them was...if the ministry of a king is that of a slave, what can be said of the ministry of that king's servants? The answer to this question would define the ideal of the ministerial priesthood in which they were about to share.
It came as a surprise, but it should not have done so. Throughout His public life, He was a man for others. The antithesis of the proud, arrogant, self-centred paragons of church and state that challenged Him at every turn.
A second major departure from the usual traditional paschal supper took place almost immediately. He returned to the table. The apostles still dazed, not knowing whether to put their freshly washed feet back into their sandals or to savour the moment it was. They were soon distracted by Jesus. After all, He did not have all night, and before leaving the upper room, He planned to speak to them at some length about the ramifications of what He had just done.
But now, now was the moment He had waited for. He went to His place at the table, centred the bread and wine in front of Him - all eyes were upon Him. The silence spoke of concentration. He lifted His eyes to heaven, "Take and eat, this my body", did they hear and appreciate every word He spoke after that? ...I think not. Some did because it was all carefully recorded for posterity, but I think that for most of them, the flashbacks must have been running one after the other. The raising of Lazarus, the changing of the water into wine at Cana. The feeding of the multitudes and those words, once so confusing, "the bread that I will give will be my flesh for the life of the world". It was happening! Faith was suddenly more certain than reason. They saw and yet did not see, but what they did not see was somehow more real than was the object of their sight.
The impossible was transparently true!