This is not the meal we usually remember. In this Gospel of Mark, there is bickering – boasting. There are questions of honour and faithfulness, and predictions we would rather not consider: “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” Typically, we paint this last supper with much broader strokes – in much brighter colours – we prefer John’s account – all deference and foot-washing – but for Mark, the gloom of Friday’s events is already taking some of the shine off these celebrations, and Jesus words at the conclusion of this feast would seem to do more harm than good to the mood around the table; “this is my body – this, my blood” – but here finally the disciples begin to grasp the seriousness of their enterprise.
All this talk of the coming kingdom of God – love your neighbour as yourself – Jesus urging one and all to be ready for the change that God promised – is here revealed as life and death stuff. God’s pledge to redeem creation is surely going to be a risky project. This meal we celebrate as Sacrament is the churches present reminder of what is to come; new life from certain death, and the constant, living presence of God in our midst. We hear those words – this is my body – this, my blood”- as hopeful and joyful. To us, this meal is a sign of the promise kept. But for those first disciples, those words must have seemed utter madness.
Mark describes a night of tension that is followed by hours of tragedy and despair – and this too we would do well to remember – for it puts our redemption in the present tense. God’s promise – God’s messenger – God’s anointed are here to address our uncertainty, our failures, our doubts and our darkness. No problem is too ordinary that it does not merit God’s attention; no meal is to common that it cannot be blessed; no person so lowly that God’s flesh and blood cannot embrace them and refresh them.
That is hope – and our delight; but on this night, for twelve frightened friends, there is only confusion and fear. Their hope comes only after the dawn – and the dawn is three days away.