Jesus’ Last Seven Days (5 of 7): Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”
Mark 14:12-21 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ March 11, 2018
Who doesn’t love a party? And, of all the varieties, surprise parties have to be the best kind. You receive the invitation. And in big print, it indicates the purpose of the party…it is a SURPRISE PARTY. Please park on the side street, be at the appointed location by 6:30, as the guest of honour will be arriving at 7. You arrive with your present, some food for the table and beverage. As the time draws near, the lights are dimmed. The house must appear vacant. You hide behind the couch like a 5 year old playing hide and seek and you wait for the unsuspecting person of honour, so that you can yell ‘Surprise!’ Presumably, the person does not require CPR and the party proceeds as people share food, share stories, and gather together in celebration of this special friend.
Gathering together in community over food is a deeply human activity. We do it with friends and family, and as we read throughout scripture, we discover that Jesus did it a lot as well. There are, in fact, more narratives of Jesus gathering with people around a meal more than any other activities. We might think of Jesus dining with crowds: feeding the 4,000 or the 5,000; eating with the unlikely: women, sinners and tax collectors; even dining with the Pharisees or the Saduccees, and the list goes on. I once attended a Stewardship conference where all the presenters wore chef’s hats and aprons to bring this point home ~ that Jesus gathered his friends, those who loved him, those whom he taught, and even those who hated him ~ he gathered them all at table in order for true depth and meaning of life to be found together in the abundant table of God’s grace and provision.
The feast that they were gathering together for in this morning’s text, of course, was Passover. We remember that thousands of pilgrims had travelled from far and wide, and they had come home to the place of their faith: to Jerusalem. And they had come to eat, to dine, to celebrate this feast that is first and foremost about liberation. This feast both looked back and looked forward. It looked back recalling the time of slavery in Egypt and it also looked ahead to God’s liberation of Israel. Tradition would prescribe them to gather comfortably reclining on couches to symbolize the freedom that they now enjoyed. And as they ate, they would remember. Placed on the table were a number of items: a Roasted Lamb shankbone ~ as they remember the paschal lamb sacrifice made the night before the exodus from Egypt; a roasted egg ~ a symbol, both of spring-time and renewal, and also reminding them of one of the sacrificial offerings made in the Second Temple; Maror ~ a bitter herb like horseradish which brings tears to the eyes, as they recall the bitterness of slavery times; Charoset ~ the opposite of Maror, a sweet salad consisting of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon that, when mixed together, reminds them of brick mortar, as they were forced to construct bricks for the Egyptians; Salt water ~ symbolizing the tears and sweat of enslavement ~ and paradoxically ~ also symbolizing the purity of the sea…the mother of all life; Matzah ~ an unleavened bread that was hurriedly taken, not even allowing it to rise, as their ancestors hurriedly fled slavery; and lastly, four cups of wine or juice ~ representing the four letters of the unspeakable God (YHWH) and the four biblical promises of redemption.
So…who did Jesus gather for this particular party? Who did Jesus welcome to the table? Traditionally, we think of those gathering with Jesus as being the twelve apostles ~ Jesus’ inner circle ~ his most trusted and learned students. And as we view Leonardo Davinci’s depiction of “The Last Supper”, we see this group gathered at the table: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot. Although, I wonder who was ‘really’ at the table. Over time, art historians have come to wonder about those who were actually at the table with Jesus in Davinci’s painting. For example, critics have noted the person at Jesus’ right hand is suspiciously…female. If we were to take time and examine the hands of this character, the way the person is holding their body, the shape of their face…one can put forth a plausible argument that perhaps this character is last week’s “unnamed woman” or perhaps Mary Magdalene is at the table with Jesus in this character. So who was at the table with Jesus for the party? Who was coming to dinner?
(Second slide) Over the centuries, artists and theologians continued to ponder the mystery of Holy Thursday’s dinner list. For example, a 15th Century Spanish artist known only as the Master of Perea, in a controversial painting of the Last Supper, clearly includes a diverse crowd at the Passover celebration, and a good argument is made here for Mary to be at Jesus’ left side. The painting’s controversial nature is likely why the artist does not sign it. One character that seems to be clearly included ~ both in scripture and in all the paintings every created is … you guessed it…Judas Iscariot. In Master of Perea’s painting, Judas is depicted with the black halo over his head. In Davinci’s painting, Judas is also easy to pick out.
(Third slide) One interesting way to look at the dinner list; however, is that of being a multi-dimensional representation of one person: the 12 guests were a mixture of the various components that make us human ~ our good parts as well as our bad ones ~ the faithful, the loving, the betrayer, and so on. Let me explain. So often, I think, we believe in this odd model of ‘the perfectly faithhful Christian’ that emulates Jesus and we never consider how the rest of our beings get invited or excluded or included to the guest list. I probably didn’t help this stereotype much last week when we talked about the unshakable faith of the “unnamed woman” who applied the fragrant ointment to Jesus’ body, thereby preparing him for death. The “unnamed woman” exhibited an unwavering faith in God’s grace, provision and power. But what if, when we think of those characters around Jesus’ inner circle, we also think of the ~ ‘not so perfect’ people who Jesus called and welcomed: not just the faithful but also the flawed…not just the miracle workers but also the sinners…not just the ones filled with grace, but also the ones who betrayed. As we look at Jesus’ dinner guest list, we are reminded that they were ALL there. The complete range of our beautiful and flawed humanity. All gathered around the circle. They were welcomed by Jesus to the table…Jesus stooped down and washed their feet…and they dined together.
And as we think about the varied dimensions of ourselves, what about those ‘not so perfect’ parts of ourselves that we prefer to hold back, to hide and even to hide in the ‘skeleton closets’ of our lives? We are all beautiful people who ~ at times ~ shine light, love and grace; yet we also are people who are flawed, broken, and who ~ just like Judas ~ have the capacity for betrayal. Yet as we look at the dinner list, we see that each and every dimension of our humanity is welcomed to the table: the beautiful and the betrayer, the giver and the taker, the lover and the liar. Guess who’s coming to dinner ~ All dimensions of humanity are coming to dinner with Jesus.
So…the logical question is why? Why did Jesus invite such a diverse group around the table? Didn’t Jesus deserve to have one final meal with the faithful few? A respite from all the flawed humans he loved, taught and healed? I think Jesus’ dinner list is critical…and hope-filled for us all. It is an assurance that Jesus takes all levels of our humanity into his grace; the good and the bad; and when we move towards the cross of tomorrow, it is not just the beautiful parts of our humanity that receive redemption. It is ALL components of our humanity. One of the unique parts of the Christian faith is that we have a God who becomes re-presented in the person and ministry of Jesus. It allows us a depth of understanding of God’s divinity within our humanity. And it is based on Jesus’ humanity that we can find a full and complete relationship with this God of love, grace and peace.
In the end, the Upper Room was a surprise party. It was a surprise party of many dimensions. The disciples came expecting a wonderful liberation feast remembering the past and hoping for an emancipated future. Yet, they received the surprise of their lives for that party was about more. It was about the ushering in of the reign of the Kin-dom of God. It was a surprise in who Jesus welcomed to the table. The faithful and the betrayer. All were welcomed for God’s redemptive plan is for ALL creation.
This is the message of Holy Thursday. And this is truly Good News for us all.