Sermon 3. Our Lord's Last Supper and His First Seasons - Quinquagesima

"And He said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer." Luke xxii. 15.

[Note] {27} THERE is something very observable and very touching in the earnestness displayed in these words of our Lord, and in the acts which preceded them. He had showed beforehand that great desire, of which He here speaks. That He had thought much of His last passover which He was to eat with His disciples, is plain from the solemnity with which He marked out the place to them, and the display of supernatural knowledge with which He accompanied His directions. "He sendeth forth two of His disciples," "Peter and John," "and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the good-man of the house," "The Master saith, My time is at hand;" "My time is at hand, I will keep the passover at thy house with My disciples." {28} "And he shall show you a large upper room furnished; there make ready." And then, "when the hour was come, He sat down, and the twelve Apostles with Him. And He said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer. For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." [Matt. xxvi. 17-19. Mark xiv. 12-16. Luke xxii. 7-18.]

You may say, indeed, that most important occurrences took place at that feast; and that these He had in view when He gave the command to prepare for it, and when He expressed His satisfaction in celebrating it. Then He washed His disciples' feet, and gave the precept of humility; then He laid down the great note of the Church, brotherly love, impressing it on them most persuasively by His own example; and then He instituted His own heavenly Sacrament, which was to remain on earth, together with that humility and love, unto the end. It is true; but still it is true also, that He chose a festive occasion as the season for these solemn and gracious acts. He closed His earthly ministry, He parted with His disciples, He entered upon His trial, at a feast. The Son of Man had come, in His own words, eating and drinking; and He preserved this peculiarity of His mission unto the end.

There must be something natural, I mean something in accordance with deep principles in our nature, in this action of our Lord's, considering how widely similar observances have prevailed, how congenial they are to us, and that He who thus acted had taken upon Him human nature in its perfection. God has given us "wine that {29} maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make him a cheerful countenance, and bread to strengthen man's heart." [Ps. civ. 15.] And these good gifts of His, by which our life is strengthened, send the soul forth out of itself in search of sympathy and fellowship; they end not in themselves, nor can be enjoyed in solitude; they create, and convey, and blend with social feelings; they are means and tokens of mutual good-will and kindness; or, to speak more religiously, they are of a sacramental nature. They are intended, by being partaken in common, to open our hearts towards each other in love; and this being the case, we may judge how fearful is the abuse of God's gifts in riot or sensuality, for it is in some sort a profanation of a Divine ordinance, a sacrilege. When then our Lord parted from His disciples in a feast, He took the most tender, affectionate, loving leave of them which could be taken.

Laban, hard man as he was, shows us this in the words in which he expostulates with Jacob, who had stolen away from him. "Wherefore didst thou flee away secretly," he says, "and steal away from me; and didst not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth and with songs, with tabret and with harp; and hast not suffered me to kiss my sons and my daughters? thou hast now done foolishly in so doing?" And when at length son and father-in-law departed from each other, "Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread; and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount. And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, {30} and blessed them. And Laban departed, and returned unto his place." [Gen. xxxi. 27, 28, 54, 55.]

And next, I hope it is no refinement to observe that the very time when the Passover was instituted was a time of departure. The Israelites indeed did not feast with those whom they were leaving; for they, ... though "they had received them with feastings," then "very grievously afflicted them;" [Wisd. xix. 16.] but still it was a solemn leave-taking on their part of the land of their captivity, and in the very form of it betokened a journey. "Thus shall ye eat it: with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste." [Exod. xii. 11.]

Another instance, and more apposite, is supplied in the history of the call of the great Prophet Elisha. Elijah, when he had left the wilderness, "found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him." Elisha understood that it was a call to follow the persecuted Prophet in his forlorn course. So he asked his leave to bid his friends farewell. "And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee." God's calls are not commands, but favours; so the Prophet said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to thee?" but Elisha, though so suddenly visited, had no intention of shrinking from the summons; he asked indeed to bid his kindred farewell, but he was not of {31} those whom our Saviour notices, who, having put their hand to the plough, look back, and are unfit for the kingdom of God [Luke ix. 62.]. He did but wish, before commencing his new life and eventful ministry, to hold a last feast with his friends; and in his mode of doing so, he showed that his mind was made up to leave his former occupations for ever. The materials of his husbandry provided him with an entertainment. "He returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him." [1 Kings xix. 19-21.]

Again, another instance occurs in the history of St. Matthew. Christ "went forth, and saw a publican named Levi sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow Me. And he left all, rose up, and followed Him. And Levi made Him a great feast in his own house, and there was a great company of publicans, and of others that sat down with them." [Luke v. 27-29.]

Nay, may we not say that our Lord Himself had commenced His ministry, that is, bade farewell to His earthly home, at a feast? for it was at the marriage entertainment at Cana of Galilee that He did His first miracle, and manifested forth His glory. He was in the house of friends, He was surrounded by intimates and followers, and He took a familiar interest in the exigencies of the feast. He supplied a principal want which was interfering with their festivity. It was His contribution to it. By supplying it miraculously He showed that He was beginning a new life, the life of a Messenger {32} from God, and that that feast was the last scene of the old life. And, moreover, He made use of one remarkable expression, which seems to imply that this change of condition really was in His thoughts, if we may dare so to speak of them, or at all to interpret them. For when His Mother said unto Him, "They have no wine," He answered, "What have I to do with thee?" [John ii. 3, 4.] He had had to do with her for thirty years. She had borne Him, she had nursed Him, she had taught Him. And when He had reached twelve years old, at the age when the young may expect to be separated from their parents, He had only become more intimately one with them, for we are told that "He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them." [Luke ii. 51.] Eighteen years had passed away since this occurred. St. Joseph (as it seems) had been taken to his rest. Mary remained; but from Mary, His Mother, He must now part, for the three years of His ministry. He had gently intimated this to her at the very time of His becoming subject to her, intimated that His heavenly Father's work was a higher call than any earthly duty. "Wist ye not," He said, when found in the Temple, "that I must be about My Father's business?" [Luke ii. 49.] The time was now come when this was to be fulfilled, and, therefore, when His Mother addressed Him at the marriage feast, He answered, "What have I to do with thee?" What is between Me and thee, My Mother, any longer? "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand." [Mark i. 15.]

And hence the words which I have quoted were but {33} the introduction to others like them, in which He seemed to put His Mother from His thoughts, as being called to the work of a divine ministry. When He was told that His Mother and His brethren stood without, and sent unto Him, calling Him, He seemed to answer, that henceforth He had no mother and no brethren after the flesh, for He was called on to fulfil His own precept, as fulfilling all righteousness, and to "hate His father and mother, and brethren and sisters, yea, and His own life also." [Luke xiv. 26.] "He answered and said unto him that told Him, Who is My Mother? and who are My brethren? and He stretched forth His hand towards His disciples, and said, Behold My Mother and My brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven" (about whose "business," in His own former words, He was then engaged), "the same is My brother and sister, and Mother." [Matt. xii. 48-50.]

At another time, when "a certain woman of the company lift up her voice, and said unto Him, Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked," He answered, "Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it." [Luke xi. 27, 28.]

Nor is there any token recorded in the Gospels of His affection for His Mother, till His ministry was brought to an end, and we know well what were the tender words which almost immediately preceded "It is finished." His love revived, that is, He allowed it to appear, as His Father's work was ending. "There stood by the cross of Jesus, His Mother, and His Mother's sister, Mary {34} the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His Mother, and the disciple standing by whom He loved, He saith unto His Mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy Mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home." [John xix. 25-27.]

He took leave then of His Mother at a feast, as He afterwards took leave of His disciples at a feast. But there is perhaps a still closer connexion between the feast of Cana and His Paschal Supper, and, as we are already engaged in the subject, it may be allowable to proceed with it.

It will be observed, then, that though He was bidding farewell to His earthly home in the one, and His disciples in the other, yet in neither case was He leaving them for good, but for a season. His Mother He acknowledged again when He was expiring; His disciples on His resurrection. And He gave both the one and the other intimations, not only that He was then separating Himself from them, but also that it was not a separation for ever.

Observe, He said to His Mother, "What have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come." Perhaps this implies that when His hour was come, then He would have to do with her again as before; and such really seems to be the meaning of the passage. "What have I to do with thee now? I have had, I shall have; but what have I to do with thee now as before? what as yet? what till My hour is come?" He says here that His hour is not yet come, but just before His {35} passion He said, "The Master saith, My time is at hand;" and again, "Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners;" [Matt. xxvi. 18, 45.] and it was during His passion that He acknowledged His Mother again. While His work was in progress, He turned from His Mother; but in alluding to an hour that was to come, He gave her to understand that her separation from Him was to end in that hour.

And moreover let this too be observed, that on several occasions, the evil spirit, whom He was about to cast out, used towards our Lord the same phrase which He used towards His Mother. "There was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with Thee, Thou Jesus of Nazareth? art Thou come to destroy us?" [Mark i. 23, 24.] It is observable, too, that in another instance the devils alluded to the destined time. "They cried out saying, What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of God? art Thou come hither to torment us before the time?" [Matt. viii. 29.] They knew a time was coming when He was to reign, and they to be punished; but they miscalculated it, and thought that because His work was not yet done, their torment was not yet to begin. And as when they said, "What have we to do with Thee, before the time?" they implied that they should have to do with their Judge when the time came, and merely meant to say, "What have we to do with Thee yet?" so when our Lord says to St. Mary, "What have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come;" He too means, "What have I to do with Thee, {36} as I once had, as yet,—before that hour?" and implies that in that hour He should have to do with His Mother again. And similar to this is His language to St. Mary Magdalene, when He says to her after His resurrection, "Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended to My Father;" [John xx. 17.] implying, as we may reverently infer, that leave would be given to her after His ascension. He withdrew Himself only for a time.

And now let us turn to that other most sacred and sad feast to which the text relates; sad because it was designed to introduce, not His ministry, but His passion, yet in this respect agreeing with the feast in which He began to manifest His glory, that it was a feast of valediction, a sort of sober carnival, before He entered upon His trial. We shall find, as in the former feast, that He intimated both that He was leaving those with whom He had hitherto companied, yet that it was for a time only, not for ever.

To His Mother He had said, "What have I to do with thee?" and now to His Apostles, "Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek Me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come, so now I say unto you." On this, "Simon Peter said unto Him, Lord, whither goest Thou?" and when our Lord answered him, that whither He went, he could not follow Him then, the zealous and impatient Apostle persisted, "Lord, why cannot I follow Thee now?" [John xiii. 33, 36.]

On the other hand, He promised that the separation should be but for a season. As to St. Mary, He had {37} said, "Mine hour is not yet come;" so He said to St. Peter, in the passage just cited, "Whither I go thou canst not follow Me now, but thou shalt follow Me afterwards." And as at His first feast, He had seemed to turn from His Mother's prayer, while He granted it, because of the time, so to His Apostles He foretold, at His second feast, what the power of their prayers should be hereafter, by way of cheering them on His departure. "Ye now therefore have sorrow, but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. In that day ye shall ask Me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My Name, He will give it you." [John xvi. 22, 23.] And again, "Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard of My Father, I have made known unto you." [John xv. 14, 15.] In the gifts then promised to the Apostles after the Resurrection, we may learn the present influence and power of the Mother of God.

Such seems to be the connexion between the feast with which our Lord began, and that with which He ended His ministry. Nay, may we not add without violence, that in the former feast He had in mind and intended to foreshadow the latter? for what was that first miracle by which He manifested His glory in the former, but the strange and awful change of the element of water into wine? and what did He in the latter, but change the Paschal Supper and the typical lamb into {38} the sacrament of His atoning sacrifice, and the creatures of bread and wine into the verities of His most precious Body and Blood? He began His ministry with a miracle; He ended it with a greater.

These are thoughts wherewith to enter upon that solemn season of the year, when for a time we separate from each other, as far as may be, and from the other blessings which God has given us. Pass a few days, and, like Abraham, we shall have been called to quit things visible and temporal for the contemplation and the hope of God's future presence. Come the fourth day from this, and, like Moses, we shall have gone up into the Mount, to remain there forty days and forty nights in abstinence and prayer. We shall be called, as it were, out of sight; for though our worldly duties will remain and must be done, and our bodily presence is in the world as it was, yet for a season we must be, more or less, cut off from the intercourse, the fellowship, the enjoyment of each other, and be thrown upon the thought of ourselves and of our God. Earth must fade away from our eyes, and we must anticipate that great and solemn truth, which we shall not fully understand until we stand before God in judgment, that to us there are but two beings in the whole world, God and ourselves. The sympathy of others, the pleasant voice, the glad eye, the smiling countenance, the thrilling heart, which at present are our very life, all will be away from us, when Christ comes in judgment. Every one will have to think of himself. Every eye shall see Him; every heart will be full of Him. He will speak to every one; and every one will be rendering to Him his own {39} account. By self-restraint, by abstinence, by prayer, by meditation, by recollection, by penance, we now anticipate in our measure that dreadful season. By thinking of it beforehand, we hope to mitigate its terrors when it comes. By humbling ourselves now, we hope to escape humiliation then. By owning our faults now, we hope to avert the disclosures of that day. By judging ourselves now, we hope to be spared that judgment which mercy tempers not. We prepare now to meet our God; we retire, as it were, to our sick room, and put our house in order. We "remember our Creator in the days of our youth" and strength, "while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, in which is no pleasure;" ere "the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bow themselves, and the doors are shut in the streets, and the daughters of music are brought low, and desire fails: or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern." [Eccles. xii. 1, 3, 4, 6.] We leave the goods of earth before they leave us.

Let us not shrink from this necessary work; let us not suffer indolence or carnal habits to get the better of us. Let us not yield to disgust or impatience; let us not fear as we enter into the cloud. Let us recollect that it is His cloud that overshadows us. It is no earthly sorrow or pain, such as worketh death; but it is a bright cloud of godly sorrow, "working repentance to salvation not to be repented of." [2 Cor. vii. 10.] It is the hand of God which is upon us; "let us humble ourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt {40} us in due time." [1 Pet. v. 6.] Whoso dwelleth under the defence of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. He shall defend thee under His wings, and thou shalt be safe under His feathers, His faithfulness and truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for any terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day; a thousand shall fall beside thee, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee ... For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways." [Ps. xci. 1, 4-7, 11.]

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