Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday Last Supper

It is of course incorrect to say Thursday Last Supper.  The supper happened after dark and thus was at the beginning of Friday.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke this is the Passover meal (e.g., Mark 14:16).  Similar to when Jesus sent for a donkey, Jesus either foresees that a man with a jar will appear and lead some of his disciples to a master with an upper room, or Jesus has prearranged it. They go and prepare the Passover meal, which would involve killing a lamb and preparing it.

John seems to picture a slightly different scenario.  In John, the morning Jesus is crucified seems to be the morning before Passover (e.g., John 18:28; 19:14, 31).  If we take these comments in John straightforwardly, then, Jesus would be crucified at about the same time as the Passover lambs were being sacrificed for dinner that night, and Jesus' last supper would not be a Passover meal but a meal the day before Passover.

Thursday seems to be the day when Judas arranges to betray Jesus.  We've seen plays and heard speculation that Jesus might have made such arrangements with Judas, to try to trigger God's hand.  But none of the gospels remember the story this way, and Allison has convinced me that, even from a secular historical perspective, such collective memories should generally be trusted.  Every tradition before us remembers it as a betrayal.

Was Judas himself trying to force God's hand? Was Judas upset because Jesus corrected him, if it was he who objected to the woman with perfume?  Had Judas come to the conclusion that Jesus was not the messiah and he was turning him in?  This is the stuff of novels.  It's just hard to know given the evidence we have.

I am more convinced than ever that, even from an objective historical approach, Jesus knows he is about to die.  For example, Allison points out the collective memory of all our materials that Jesus faced his death as an act of will, of obedience.  He knows Judas has betrayed him.  He knows he is going into the city to die.

The memory of Jesus' words at that last meal, even in Paul who knows Peter and has direct access to the earliest memories (1 Cor. 11), already understands Jesus' death as a sacrifice.  The Synoptics do not remember Jesus speaking much about himself in this way--Jesus as a means of salvation does not seem to have been a major theme of his ministry.  But they do remember a trace--Mark 10:45.  Jesus is dying for Israel's redemption.  The intrinsic comparison of Jesus to a Passover lamb seems there from the very beginning.

The earliest memory in Paul also remembers "new covenant" imagery from that final meal. Such language was around among the Essenes and the Dead Sea community.  So again, even from an objective historical perspective, I find it very plausible that Jesus spoke in such terms.  John especially remembers Jesus talking about the coming of the Spirit at this last supper.  This fits in the same milieu and would naturally explain the prominence of Spirit-imagery in the thinking of the earliest Christians.

They are already in the city when they eat their meal.  They go to Gethsemane to pray. Where is Judas?  Jesus knows.  He knows what is coming.  He doesn't run.  He wrestles, but he stays put.

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