It seems every year I want to stand in the middle of the mall and yell for people to put on the pause button and reclaim Thanksgiving Day. Not the Thanksgiving Day defined by a traditional Thanksgiving menu featuring turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie and images of pilgrims dressed in black and white. Because, regardless how many people think otherwise it is not about the meal. Besides, this was not even close to the menu those who first gathered for that first feast would have claimed. On the first feast turkey was any type of fowl that the pilgrims hunted. Pumpkin pie wasn't on the menu because there were no ovens for baking, but they did have boiled pumpkin. Cranberries weren't introduced at this time. Due to the diminishing supply of flour there was no bread of any kind. The foods included in the first feast included duck, geese, venison, fish, lobster, clams, swan, berries, dried fruit, pumpkin, squash, and many more vegetables.”[i] This is probably not what will be on your table on Thursday. And as much as we enjoy getting together, it is not even just about time with family. While our Thanksgiving celebrations brings us together, at its heart, it brings us together to as a time to remember what God has done and claim a spirit of day as a day to be thankful, truly thankful to God.
The Bible talks about a day of thanksgiving. It was to be a time when the people of God were to gather together to tell stories of God’s faithfulness; to take time to remember and celebrate; to claim a time for real thankfulness. Each year the Hebrew people would claim the Feast of the Unleavened Bread – the Passover – to remember the acts of God that brought them out of slavery in Egypt. In Mark 14, we hear the story of Jesus and his disciples heading into Jerusalem for their time of celebration and remembrance together. We pick the story up in verse 12. 12On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus' disciples asked him, "Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?" 13So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14Say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' 15He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." 16The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
It is clear that Jesus has made prior arrangements with the owner of the house. Some of you may remember we asked Sue Long some months ago to create a dramatic monologue where she played the role of the wife of the man. In her presentation she reminded us that rooms like the upper room would have rented for a premium. The fact that this man not only makes the room available but also had it furnished and ready for them was remarkable. Can you imagine how the disciples must have felt when they heard what Jesus said to them? What he is describing was probably more than these simple men could have been able to conceive. It would be like going into one of the beautiful homes in our city and telling them that you needed a there dining room, kitchen, and all the food and equipment you would need to prepare a Thanksgiving meal for you and your friends. Despite what they must have been thinking, they did exactly as they were told. They found the man carrying water. He would not have been the owner, but rather one of the servants of the house. They followed him home and everything was ready, just as Jesus said. They went in and finished the preparations. The disciples would come with an expectation of celebration, only to learn that this night would change their lives -and the world -forever.
We pick the story back up in verse 17 and hear Jesus bring them a difficult word. 17When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me." 19They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?" 20"It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."
They were together and it must have felt great. They were in Jerusalem, the City of David, and the home of the Temple. They were together, celebrating the Passover Feast. They had come for a time of remembrance and celebration and now the words of Jesus turn to a prophecy of betrayal. If you have ever experienced an awkward conversation over the table you could claim just a hint of the difficulty of this moment. It seems that we sometimes forget that these disciples were not just Biblical heroes; they were first and foremost followers in this one named Jesus. They walked with him, talked with him, listened to his teachings, watched him perform unexplainable miracles…they ate together, slept together, laughed together. This band of disciples was those closest to Jesus. This promise of betrayal was almost more than they could bear. But remember it was this band to which Jesus would entrust the future of the Church. He had more for them. They will soon realize that they are sharing what will be their last meal together. But there is one more act Jesus must lead them through together; one more symbol he would give them to sustain them – and us.
We pick back up in verse 22. 22While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." 23Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. 24"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. 25"I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God." Jesus takes the images and elements from the Passover story and recasts them so that his disciples, so that we who follow after them, might understand the remarkable thing he was about to do on the cross. He wanted them to understand that he was going to be the lamb, sacrificed for the sake of others, for the forgiveness of sin, to be Savior of the world. Jesus tells his disciples that his body will be broken, that his blood will be shed for the many. The word used for “the many” in the Greek is best understood as the mass of the ordinary – every day kind of people. People like us. Jesus transforms the Passover Feast to a meal of thanksgiving for the great act of God that breaks the bounds of slavery and gives new hope and new life – is now for us!
In a few moments we will move together to the table and claim a service of remembrance and celebration. There is no turkey and dressing, no football or parades. It is a simpler table, set with bread and wine to help us gather to remember what God has done. We will remember: This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (I John 4:9-10) We will remember that in John’s account of Jesus’ baptism we hear John the Baptist proclaim; 29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. We will remember that because of Jesus we can know forgiveness and redemption. We will declare with I John 3 1How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! In moments we will come to a meal of thanksgiving. It is time to remember. It is time to celebrate. It is time to claim an authentic moment of thanks to God.
The passage closes in verse 26; When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. In the hours and days ahead the disciples will witness the words of Jesus come to fruition. They will witness his trail and crucifixion. They will see the wonder of Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection. They watched as God moved. They watched as God made the way of redemption and salvation. And later, when they gathered as the church, they remembered. Come to a meal of thanksgiving. Our time of remembrance and celebration awaits us.
[i] Near quotation of Wikipedia entry on “Thanksgiving (United States) and verified with articles from History.com, available online on November 20, 2009.