Matthew’s gospel frames the last Passover with Jesus’ predictions of betrayal (Matthew 26:20-25) and denial (vv. 31-35). Just as Paul tells of that last Passover and first Supper to teach how to eat at the Lord’s table, it seems Matthew does the same.
Like Paul’s letter, Matthew’s narrative warns us against eating unworthily, by showing us others who did.
Judas ate with betrayal in his heart. And maybe even a smile on his face, as he swiped his bread in the dish when Jesus did.
For all their bravado and declarations of fidelity, Peter and the other ten broke bread and drank the cup, with doubts eating away at them.
Even though the meal is beset with restlessness, Jesus is the calm in the center of the storm.
For those who desire higher salaries and posts, he offers thanks for God’s gifts. “Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it [and] gave it to his disciples” (Matthew 26:26 NET).
In the midst of a sinful crew, he offers forgiveness of sin, they among the many. “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27c-28).
For those with a troubled present, the Lord speaks of a glorious future. “I tell you, from now on I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).
For the heavy of heart, Jesus sings a hymn of praise and celebration. “After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:30).
And after prayers, and eating, and singing, he gets up to go do the will of his Father on the Mount of Olives, setting yet another example for the slow-minded.
On every side, men fail. Sleep at the moment of vigilance. Eyelids heavy from weak flesh when a ready spirit is demanded. A false greeting. A treacherous kiss.
And though they can swing a sword — which is but another failure — they cannot make the tongue confess their Lord.
But the Lord is steady still. His emotions reel from the task, but his mind is set on the cross. He puts it all in his Father’s hands, and rises to meet the betrayers and accusers.
For this has he come. The weakness of his own men is all the more reason to carry through.
He knows that more will eat unworthily at his table. But still he presides. Still he offers the full course of God.
Because he is sure that “the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink,” nor of ambition and politics and greed and vice, “but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).