All his meals, all of ours

Holy Thursday, March 28 2024
1 Corinthians 5.7b-8; John 13:1–17, 31b–35
Scots Kirk, Lausanne

On the side of a hill,
on the shore of a lake,
in the home of an outcast,
at the end of a journey,
Jesus in food and drink
offered to his followers
fellowship with himself
and a foretaste of the new creation.

Most memorably of all,
on the night of his arrest
he took bread
and said thanks to God
and broke it
and shared it with his friends.

Then he took the cup
and gave it to them.

Not my words, I’m sorry to say, but words taken from New Ways to Worship, a small book of 125 pages published for the Church of Scotland in 1980.

They remind us that the Last Supper was precisely that: the last in a series of meals where Jesus sat at table with followers and friends, with sinners and tax-collectors.

There was nothing unusual in this, if we leave to one side the tax-collectors and the prostitutes. Where two or three are gathered together, there is usually food and drink in the midst of them.

Fast food, a quick meal consumed in an airport or railway station in solitary splendour, may count as food in a generously extended sense of the term. But a society in which eating alone was the norm would be a strange society indeed: one not easily distinguished from solitary confinement. Ordinarily, we share food and drink with family and friends, and in so doing, we share life.

In table fellowship in first-century Palestine, Jesus of Nazareth is doing the same, with the twist that the life he shares is not ordinary.


We speak of the Last Supper, but it is not absolutely but only relatively last. As New Ways to Worship says, it’s the last meal Jesus shares “on the night of his arrest”, on the night before he dies.

The Gospels tell us of other meals, after his death. He appears to his startled disciples and asks if they have anything to eat, and they give him a piece of broiled fish. He cooks breakfast for them beside the Sea of Galilee. Most memorably of all, he sits at table with Cleopas and his wife, breaks bread, and blesses, and gives the bread to them.


But I want to talk rather about another series of meals Jesus shares after his death: a series of which our supper tonight is only one among multitudes.

It is a rule of the Church of Scotland that the Lord’s Supper must be presided by a minister of word and sacrament. But this is only a human rule.

In the best-selling sequel to his Gospel, Luke writes: “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.” (Acts 2:46) In the earliest church, followers of Jesus still met in houses, and the Lord’s Supper was a real meal, and not the attenuated symbol it shortly became; and the meal was naturally presided by the host.

But there is a very real sense in which, then or now, this meal is presided neither by a minister nor a householder. CH3 has a fine communion hymn by George Wallace Briggs – strangely dropped in CH4, for reasons known only to the compilers and the Holy Spirit (who probably disapproves).

Briggs puts it like this:

“Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest;
nay, let us be thy guests; the feast is thine;
thyself at thine own board make manifest,
in thine own sacrament of bread and wine.”

He’s borrowing here, I think, from the Emmaus story. But his second verse takes us directly to the Last Supper:

“We meet, as in that upper room they met;
thou, at the table, blessing, yet dost stand;
‘This is my body’; so thou givest yet;
faith still receives the cup as from thy hand.”

Christians in the Reformed tradition agree with Christians in other traditions about the real presence of the risen Christ in this sacrament. We may argue fiercely about how to speak of his presence, but this is Christ’s sacrament, not ours. It is the risen Christ who gathers us around this table and in offering us bread and wine offers us himself and his new, risen life.

No eye sees this. No ear hears it. It is a truth that passes all understanding, for the simple but sufficient reason that we do not yet know what it means to be risen, because we have not yet died.

But it is at the heart of what we do tonight, and a truth that should ramify into every part of our imperfect lives.


John is alone of all our Gospels in not telling us what Jesus did in taking bread and wine on the night before he died. Instead, and characteristically, the fourth Gospel tells us what this means.

John has Jesus take a towel and wash the feet of his disciples, a task usually assigned, in the better sort of household, to a slave. As I have done, Jesus says, so you must do. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. As I have made myself a slave for you, so you must make yourselves slaves for all.

Let me end, therefore, with the final verse of another fine hymn, contributed by Percy Dearmer to the revised and enlarged edition in 1931 of Songs of Praise.

“All our meals and all our living
make as sacraments of thee,
that by caring, helping, giving,
we may true disciples be.
Alleluia, alleluia!
we will serve thee faithfully.”

Amen. May it be so!

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