[For those tuning in from yesterday, when I wasn’t sure if I would continue these essays: I’m “at work” waiting – wading, really – through recompiles and reinforcement learning policy evaluations, so I might as well write my essay while my virtual robot chugs along.]
There’s a great bit in the surprisingly dark Doctor Who holiday episode “The Last Christmas” where someone says they don’t like Christmas because every Christmas is the last Christmas for someone, and might be the last Christmas for you in particular.
That got me thinking about the Last Supper. Today is Maundy Thursday, the last day of Lent proper. Working backwards, Easter commemorates the Resurrection, Black Saturday the Tomb, Good Friday the Crucifixion, and Maundy Thursday the Last Supper.
At the Last Supper, the final meal Jesus shared with His followers prior to His death, Jesus ritually broke bread and instituted the Eucharist, predicted his betrayal by Judas, and may also have washed the feet of the Apostles in a show of servant leadership (the Gospels differ).
While the Crucifixion and the Resurrection are critically important in the salvation of humanity (and the resolution of the problem of evil), the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist are critically important to the spiritual lives of Christians everywhere.
In it, Jesus broke bread and said, “This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me,” and after supper, he shared a cup, saying ”This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”
This is big league stuff. That text isn’t from the Gospels: it’s from First Corinthians, one of the most reliable books of the New Testament: Paul’s authorship isn’t really disputed, it’s found in the oldest copy of the Bible (the Codex Vaticanus), and it dates to like 50ish AD.
As we discussed earlier, First Corinthians documents events happening in the first few years after Jesus’s Crucifixion – but Paul says he got his info about the Last Supper from Jesus Himself, with the words: “For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you…”
My point is twofold. First, if you’re a skeptic not super interested in Christianity, sometimes you hear arguments that “Christianity” is a later invention and that maybe Jesus didn’t even exist. This is bunk: key elements of Christian worship were rolling only a year or two after He died.
You may not believe that has any meaning, of course. Christian theology itself says mysteries must be taken on faith. If you’re not willing to do that, that’s your prerogative. Just, please, don’t work backwards from your disbelief to pretend verifiable things aren’t true to give you cover.
My second point is this: the Eucharist is a key part of Christian worship. I know that many Protestants don’t place the same emphasis on the sharing of bread and wine that Catholics and Episcopaeans do, but according to Paul, Jesus thought it so important He told Paul personally.
[I want to say that Jesus knocked Paul off His horse to tell him, but I doubt that’s actually true.]
The celebration of the Eucharist, and the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus – whether you think that’s literal transubstantiation, spiritual transformation, or simply holy metaphor – are the key conduits we have to receive spiritual grace in worship.
Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper directly with His Apostles, and re-emphasized it in-person after His death and Resurrection to the Apostle to the Gentile, Paul, and His Church is still celebrating this 2,000 year old institution today.
Philip K. Dick once came to believe that we’re all trapped in 70 A.D., waiting for the return of Jesus. I certainly don’t believe that, but there is something timeless about the elements of Christian worship, which makes the rituals spiritually appropriate for all times.
So, regardless of whether you’re an active Christian, a lapsed backslider, or an interested outsider, you should attend a Mass sometime. One day, your supper may be a Last Supper, and it will be good to have shared that last meal – metaphorically, spiritually, actually – with Jesus.
Pictured: Philip K. Dick, who was quite the strange cat.