There are multiple accounts of Jesus’ final meal with his disciples in the gospels along with various allusions to it in the epistles. Both the synoptics and the Gospel of John consistently portray the movement from the upper room into a garden. While there are important discrepancies between the gospels regarding what Jesus said and did during the meal and in the garden, there are noticeable similarities. In every account there is a sacred meal which Jesus shares with his followers and then, in the garden, he is betrayed and abandoned. This transition signifies something about how we fellowship one another.
While recognising that the gospel texts are different I want to focus on the Marcan account of both the last supper and the garden of Gethsamane because Joseph Smith’s translation of the Marcan account. According to the JST of Mark 14, the disciples are asked to remember ‘this hour that [Jesus] was with [them]‘ when they presumably meet together to share this sacred meal in the future. For Kathleen Flake this alteration shifts the focus of the meal away from the cross and toward Jesus’ fellowship with his disciples. That is, we should remember him feasting with and caring for his disciples. But, I take, it, if we are to remember him as he was ‘in [that] hour’ then we must also remember him as being keenly aware of the trial [peirasmos] that awaited him in the garden and on the cross.
Jesus’ preparations for the meal suggest that he was keen to share this time with the disciples. The meal served a variety of functions but Mark’s gospel is principally concerned with fidelity. The meal is sombre, in part, because of Jesus’ announcement that one of them will betray him. This meal then is not only an anchor to their faith (a moment which they must look back upon in their subsequent discipleship) but it also works to galvanize and sensitize the discipleships to the need for continued faithfulness to Jesus. In short, it seems to me that this meal was partially intended to bind this group of followers together through a commitment to follow Jesus and to be with each other. Judas becomes the foil which makes the necessity of this fidelity even more stark. Taking this view of the sacramental meal gives new insight into why Jesus was disappointed with his disciples for failing to watch with him ‘one hour'; their inability to be with him, in one sense, neglected the shared promise they had just enacted as part of the sacred meal. Subsequently, the disciples all flee for their lives; in one particularly stark image we see one young follower leaving all he has to get away from Jesus (e.g., he ran naked away from their would-be captors).
What might this view of the sacrament ask of us today? Perhaps, the sacrament should not only be a time for us to reflect on the Saviour’s suffering and, by implication, our sins. Rather, as we imagine being with Christ as he prepares for the trials and suffering which lay ahead, perhaps even yearning for support, we might also be able to see more clearly those who are coming to Church in order to seek the same. As I discussed in the last post, if we take Luke’s vision of the sacrament seriously then the sacrament reveals to us that Christ is present in everyman then through the sacrament we should be able to see each, like Jesus, preparing for suffering and seeking strength.
The key point of this narrative segment which moves from meal to garden is that our commitment to strengthen, to support, and to fellowship is not fulfilled during the meal but it is something which must be performed outside the safety of the upper room (read: chapel). In other words our promise to care for and protect others in their trials requires that we go with them into the darkness of the world outside.
While the sacrament is clearly an important time for us to reflect, repent, and renew our commitment to serve God it should also be a time when we become even more aware of the suffering of those with whom we worship. Hence, it could become a time when we become even more aware of our commitment to serve each other outside of the shelter provided by our meetinghouses. To be faithful to the covenants of fellowship made during the sacrament, that fellowship must extend from the meal to the garden.
1. Although the abandonment of Jesus is certainly played down in John the author retains Peter’s denial.