Week of March 24: Understanding the connection between the Lord's Supper and servanthood
By Dr. Hal Brady
For week of March 24
Lesson Scripture: Luke 22:14-30
The three previous lessons have dealt with the theme of hope from the apocalyptic style and imagery of Daniel. The next six lessons will feature narratives and reflections on hope in the light of Jesus’ resurrection.
C.H. Robinson recognizes that there are Christians who do not accept the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, yet he writes the following:
“Whether we are prepared or not to accept the occurrence of the Resurrection as a fact of history, we cannot deny the influence that a belief in it has exercised in the world. We cannot deny that it has brought life and immortality to light as no other belief could conceivably have done…”
If Jesus’ resurrection has done what Robinson suggests, ask class members to identify several hindrances that may keep people from accepting this event as a fact of history.
Today’s lesson, however, is being taught on Palm/Passion Sunday and we will appropriately study Luke’s account of the Last Supper and how our hope comes from the Table and Jesus’ emphasis on servanthood. The basic question is, how can we overcome our burning desire to serve ourselves first and others last?
First, understand the connection between the Lord’s Supper and Jesus’ teaching on servanthood at the Table!
When we come to the Table to participate in the Lord’s Supper, what do we think about? Do we think about sharing in a memorial meal or participating in Christ’s resurrection or confessing our sin and receiving forgiveness or sharing with others in a new community or anticipating a glorious kingdom future or do we think about something much more mundane? If we are truthful, after asking for forgiveness, many of us must admit that we often think about things much less noble and lofty.
The same was true, however, of those first apostles gathered with Jesus around the Table in the Upper Room. Of all things, they were thinking about which of them was the greatest. We are told than an argument broke out among them as to who should be regarded as the greatest (22:24). Luke doesn’t tell us why the argument broke out only that it did.
But Jesus would have none of that kind of thinking among his followers! He drew a sharp contrast between greatness as the world understands it (power as it is typically exercised in the world) with the way of greatness that is to be understood and practiced by them. Jesus said, “But I am among you as one who serves” (22:27). The key word to what Jesus is saying is “serves.” Scholars tell us that “serves” translates a Greek verb that describes the action of a table servant. So Jesus stands among them as one who “serves tables.” The meaning of this is clear. Jesus sees greatness in terms of service rendered. The one who is great is the one who serves.
Note that in verse 20 Jesus refers to “the New Covenant of my blood.” Prior to our understanding of the Lord’s Supper, we need to grasp what covenant making meant to a Jewish Jesus and his disciples on Passover.
The point of the Old Testament Covenant making is always to fashion a new community. Simply stated, God intended that his covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses and the children of Israel and Jeremiah would result in a new community.
Thus the Lord’s Supper is an act of covenant making in that long line of Jewish traditions. The Supper’s chief aim is a new community made new by the remembrance of a life given and a service rendered for our sake. It is also a new community made new by the Table’s specific commission to go and do likewise.
When we truly understand the Lord’s Supper as covenant making, we can rise above our various differences and squabbles as individuals and communities and be joined together in the meal’s resounding gratitude. It is such gratitude that enables us to follow the example of Christ and to live our lives in a sacrificial service to God and others.
Second, we can overcome our desire to serve ourselves first and others later by imprinting the servanthood example of Jesus on our minds and hearts!
Jesus defined greatness in a new way—not a childish way which is the way of materialism, not in a barbarian way which is the way of force, not in a Grecian way which is the way of intellect, not in a Roman way which is the way of rank, not even in a peculiarly American way which is the way of success. No, Jesus defined greatness in God’s way, which is the way of servanthood, unmistakably expressed in the symbols of bread and wine shared at the table. Jesus said, “But I am among you as one who serves” (22:27).
You may be thinking, “Preacher, that’s old stuff. I’ve known about Jesus and servanthood at the table and beyond a long time. It’s just old, old stuff.”
So why bring it up again? Because as John Killinger observed, “This culture has a way of separating greatness and service.”
The third way we can overcome our desire to serve ourselves first and others later is to affirm our Christian calling as those who serve!
At the table, Christ bids us to come and offer our lives in the same servanthood as he offered his life. That, in itself, is grace, so amazing, so divine. Imagine! God entrusts the task and challenge of being the Body of Christ on earth to us—his far less than perfect modern-day followers. Yet we are called to serve in the same sacrificial way as Jesus served. It is our Christian calling that enables us to serve God and others in the correct priority.
Lastly, notice that today’s scripture lesson and the table both begin and end with references to the kingdom of God. The same Jesus who began eating the meal with his disciples at the table has promised to eat a future meal with them (including us) when the kingdom is finally fulfilled. Thus, we find much hope in the table’s reunion with Christ. Hear me now! Because we as disciples are assured of places at that table, without doubt, we will become more courageous servants of that greater kingdom.
Discuss the meaning of the Lord’s Supper in light of today’s lesson.