So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Luke 22.8-16.
I cannot say that I have ever really pondered these verses before, but now I come to do so I find them extraordinary. The first thing that intrigues me is why all the “cloak and dagger stuff” about the location of the room in which the Passover meal would be shared? Instead of arranging for a man carrying a water jar to meet the disciples and take them to the room (such a man would stand out because only women generally carried water jars) why didn’t Jesus just tell the disciples: “It’s all sorted. I’ve arranged for us to eat the Passover in the upper room at Joachim’s house, second on the left after the wine merchant’s shop on Kedron Street”? The answer must surely be that he didn’t want Judas (who he knew was going to betray him — Matthew 26.25) to be given the address in advance and then to be able to leak it to the authorities. That might have led to the Passover meal being either interrupted or not actually ever being begun; and as the passage goes on to make clear, Jesus considered this meal very important indeed.
“I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” he said. The Greek is epithumiai epethumesa — “with desire I desired” — a very Hebrew way of expressing a deep, heartfelt longing. But why such a longing? He ate meals with his disciples every day; what was going to be so special about this one? If it was simply it’s “last-ness” in terms of his eating it with his disciples, I would expect him to say “I have been really dreading having to eat this Passover with you.” So why had Jesus actually been looking forward to it?
I suppose my unconsidered answer any time up to this morning would have been: “Because it would establish the sacrament that we now call Holy Communion or the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper.” But the more I look at it, the more I see that it is something else. It is what Jesus himself gives as the reason for his longing: “For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” What does that mean?
For the Jews, the Passover was a commemoration of a past event — the day that the Angel of Death “passed over” their ancestors and God delivered them from slavery in Egypt and brought them into the promised land. But Jesus is here implying that the Passover was (and had always been) much more than that: it was a predictive symbol, a sign pointing to a great future work of deliverance … and one which Jesus knew was to take place the very next day on a cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem. There, Jesus himself, the true Passover Lamb to which all other Passover lambs had pointed, would be sacrificed; God would “pass over” all who took the blood of that sacrifice onto the door-posts of their lives (Exodus 12.7); and God would bring them out of slavery to sin and lead them into his kingdom of the age to come.
“And the only next valid Passover meal,” Jesus is saying, “will be the one I and all who belong to me will sit down and eat together in that kingdom in that age to come. After tonight all other Passover meals will be meaningless because they will be trying to foretell something which will have already happened!”
Jesus’ longed for that Last Passover, it seems, because it marked the end of the old dispensation and the start of his making all things new — for the disciples, for the world; for creation; … and for you and me. His “earnest desiring” was for his inauguration by his imminent death and resurrection of that age that is both now and yet to come.