Today’s reading commences with a reference to the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This is a Jewish Festival dating from the time of the Passover – the escape of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. It involves the removal of yeast from every part of the house. Yeast is a symbol in the Bible for sin. The idea is that in preparation for the Passover you forsake any contact with sin, just like Mardi Gras and Lent.
There is a massive irony here. The religious season is all about the removal of sin from the people. But there is sin aplenty up at the Temple Mount. The religious leaders are all intent on killing Jesus, whose death will, unbeknownst to them, remove sin forever from those who look to him with eyes of faith.
This chapter reads like a spy story, or a World War Two thriller. The disciples are on a secret mission to find a room using a special spoken password, and a man recognised by the sign of a jar of water. There is a room prepared by a dark agent whose name we never find out.
A secret invasion is being planned. The good army will land secretly and take up positions in enemy territory. But there will be betrayals and secret midnight raids, sword-fights, men escaping with not even their clothing, and finally we’ll discover that there is a traitor among us. In fact, there may be more than one.
Who will win? Will the forces of good overcome the evil forces, or will the powers of evil finally thwart the joyful coronation of the True King? Will the people ever be liberated, or will the Dark Power stalk the land forever?
Because much of this chapter and the next are so dark, so fearful, Mark begins the story with a little prologue – a play, a short drama, that prefigures the actual ending, so that we don’t need to panic as the darkness deepens; we will know how it ends, and the ending is safe, and good.
That play was so reassuring that it has been re-enacted literally millions of times since, and continues to be, every day of the week, thousands of times around the world. The Mousetrap is said to be the longest-running play in history, having been playing continuously in London since 1952, but it’s record is nothing beside this little play. We call it the Eucharist, or Communion, or the Lord’s Supper.
Jesus played the main character in the play, breaking bread from a single loaf, and passing out wine to be drunk from a common cup. Those precious, ancient words, repeated millions, if not billions of times since: Take, eat; this is my body. … Drink! This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.
I love the Eucharist, above all else. I miss it when I can’t partake of it. To walk up to the altar, to see in the face and hands of the ones distributing the bread and the wine, the very face and hands of Jesus. To hear his words.
This is the body of the Lord Jesus Christ broken for you, Graham. He carried your sins to the cross, so you can go free.
This is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, given for you, Graham, for the forgiveness of your sins, because he loves you, so very, very much.
Sometimes, when I’ve sat down, or still coming back to my seat, I wonder if I could just unobtrusively go around and join the line again, and come back for a second run. How many times could I do it before someone notices and tells me I’ve had enough.
Enough?! Never enough!
This passage is bookended with betrayals. We know about Judas’s betrayal, but there is Peter’s as well. Remember what Papias said about this Gospel being written as a result of Peter telling Mark all about these events, and Mark writing them down faithfully?
What amazes me is the extent to which Peter’s failures are highlighted. He clearly didn’t try to hide his own failings. Such is the love of Christ, and so complete his forgiveness, that those who are forgiven do not mind their sins becoming known. Jesus removes not only the guilt but the shame also. This is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, given for you, for the forgiveness of your sins, because he loves you.
Peter tells Mark how he failed Jesus at the hour of prayer, falling asleep (v37). He tells how he cursed and swore and disowned his Lord. Peter tells how when they were caught out, “they did not know what to say to him” (v40). I sometimes don’t know what to say to him, either, when I’ve failed him badly; when I’ve let the side down and I know it. But always Jesus is gentle. He forgives. “Rise! Let us go!” he says (v42).
We walk sadly away with Peter today, conscious of our frequent failures. Jesus is still in the Judgement Hall of Caiaphas. He’s being beaten, kicked, spat upon, and utterly rejected. And he knows that all of his disciples have let him down, too. He will get no sleep tonight. Peter’s denial comes at the third cockcrow, while Jesus is still being interrogated and beaten. The next chapter will tell us that “very early in the morning”, he’ll be handed over to Pilate.
Forgive me, Jesus, that I did not always stand up for you, when I could have.
This is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, given for you, [Your Name] for the forgiveness of your sins, because he loves you, so very, very much.