Scripture: Mark 14:12-26
It seems every generation or so there is a watershed, defining moment. These are event that burn themselves into our brain, so that even years later we feel like we can recall the details of exactly where we were when we first heard the news. Even though the event is almost twenty years old, the last one of these generation defining events was likely the September 11th attacks in 2001. No doubt many of you can remember with exacting details exactly where you were and what you were doing when you first heard of a plane crashing into the twin towers. For those a little older, perhaps you have the same vividness of memory of when you heard of the challenger space shuttle explosion. For those a little older still, you probably can remember with great detail the day that JFK was shot. Even though there are only a handful of people left who can remember, perhaps the oldest moment like this in living memory is the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even though it have been 80 years ago this December, there are still people who can remember what they were doing when they first heard the United States had been attacked.
There is an actual psychological term for this phenomenon. They are called a flashbulb memory. A flashbulb memory is a highly detailed, exceptionally vivid ‘snapshot’ of a specific moment in time and it is often created when we encounter something we know will be important or potentially life altering. We form these flashbulb memory around surprising, watershed events, but we also can form them over personal experiences as well. Just like many of us can remember where we are on September 11th, all of us have personal experiences burned into our memories because of their personal significance. Often these are events that we have a sense are important, so we remember them in great detail.
I get a sense that the events of this morning’s scripture were a flashbulb memory for the disciples. Jesus’ words at the last supper were clearly important to the disciples, because they began to pass them down immediately. In 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul, who was not in the upper room, recounts the events of the last supper. Right along with baptism, the sacrament of communion is one the earliest and most sacred rituals of worship for the followers of Jesus. In fact, in the early church, communion was the defining characteristic of Christians to the rest of the Roman world. It is clear that the events recorded in this morning’s scripture made a lasting impression on the original disciples, and the significance they found in these events have echoed through time to this very day.
All through Lent we have been specifically considering what it meant to follow Jesus from the perspective of the original disciples. Each week we have tried to consider what it was like to be in the place of the disciples. To do that today, we have to ask why was the last supper such a flashbulb memory for the disciples? What about Jesus’ words were so significant to them and by extension why are they still important to us today?
I think to understand why the events of the last supper were so important to the disciples we have to back up a bit and properly consider the events that led up to that night. The disciples had likely traveled with Jesus to Jerusalem for the Passover before this time, but it had to feel different this go around. It began on the day of the Sabbath, when Jesus went to the temple. Rather, it is better to say Jesus entered the temple with pomp, circumstance, and fanfare. There is this whole story where he tells his disciples to go get a donkey, and just like Jesus told them it is there waiting for him. Then Jesus enters the temple being greeted as a potential messiah by the zealots. All of the waving palm branches and shouting had to be exciting to the disciples. They had been following Jesus for three years, and it had to feel like something big was about to happen.
The next several days probably only confirmed this feeling to the disciples. They would have accompanied Jesus to the temple courts where he taught and where he fought with the Pharisees. Jesus came out swinging this time. Literally, as he over turned the tables and drove out the money changers. Jesus had verbally sparred with the scribes, the teachers of the law, and the Pharisees before but not like he did at this time. When we look at the teaching sections from Holy Week, Jesus is not pulling punches and he is taking on all comers. Multiple times the opponents of Jesus tried to set a trap so that they could use Jesus’ own words against him, and each time not only did Jesus avoid the trap, but he turned the tables on his opponents while managing to make it a teachable moment. All of this had to feel different for the disciples. While they may still have had different ideas of what it meant, it is likely at this point they all believed to some degree that Jesus could be the promised messiah. I imagine they had to be feeling that something was changing, that maybe Jesus was getting ready to move on to the next phase, and the he was about to fully claim his role was a messiah.
That special week builds up to the events of this morning’s scripture. The reason why Jesus and the disciples were in Jerusalem in the first place was for the Passover. The Passover feast would have already brought about heightened expectation. As we heard read the circumstances that surrounded this meal probably also elevated the disciples’ expectation that something special was to happen. The historic location of the last supper in Jerusalem puts it in the neighborhood that was more commonly reserved for the wealthy. It is likely that the furnishings and general feel of that Passover meal was a bit more than a group of simple Galileans were accustomed to. On top of that the whole night was a bit of an emotional roller coaster. First Jesus drops the bomb shell that he knows he is going to be betrayed, and he knows it is by someone in the room. Before they can even finish processing that Jesus then takes the bread and the cup.
It is at this point I have to wonder just what the disciples were thinking. Jesus lays out what he knows is about to happen to him right in front of the disciples. Did they understand at all? Did it all go over their head or did they have an inkling that they were witnessing something special? We can speculate but we cannot know, but what we do know is that in hindsight the disciples realized the importance of that night.
According to psychology one of the factors that is needed to form a flashbulb memory is an element of surprise. A flashbulb memory is often formed by a deep emotional reaction to something that we were not fully expecting. The disciples likely got this surprise just a few hours after the end of this morning’s scripture. When they sat down for the Passover meal with Jesus, they had no idea that this supper was to be the last supper. They had no clue what was going to happen in the garden. They likely could not have fathomed how an arrest could have escalated so quickly to an execution. I imagine in those dark hours after the crucifixion the disciples replayed in their mind the events that led up to that time and as they did this the flashbulb memory solidified over the events of the last supper. As they considered exactly what happened on the cross, how could they not fixate on the fact that Jesus said “this is my body” and “this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.” From the disciple’s point of view, I think this event was significant for several reasons, and as we consider it I think there are two reasons that really rise to the top. These two significant reasons are still insights that we can learn from today.
The first insight comes from how much of a surprise this all was to the disciples. Jesus knew what was in store for him in Jerusalem, but the disciples did not. Remember the first half of the week was highlight after highlight. Going into the Passover meal, the atmosphere among the disciples must have been electric, and then it all went downhill so quickly. Life came at them fast, and they were left feeling lost, confused, and anxious. However, much later upon reflection all of the disciples likely realized that they should not have been without hope. After all, Jesus had told them this was going to happen. Leading up to it all going down, Jesus had predicted his death and resurrection in advance. On the night he gave himself up for us, Jesus said in this scripture that he would be betrayed. He said that his blood was the blood of the covenant which will be poured out for many. He told his disciples right there in this morning’s scripture that just like the Passover lamb was sacrificed to save the Israelites, his blood would be spilled to save the whole world. After Jesus was arrested the disciples were in a dark place, but they still had a reason for hope even if they had missed it.
In our own lives, from time to time we will also find ourselves in situations where life comes at us fast. We will find ourselves in times where one minute everything was going as good as possible and the next we are knocked on the ground lost, confused, and anxious. During those times we can feel hopeless, but we can learn from the disciples that we always have a reason for hope. In the midst of our crisis and panic, any reason for hope can feel distant, but just like the sunrise breaks through the darkness of night, our hope that God is with us and will see us through can break through. Only in hindsight were the original disciples able to see this, but we can learn from them. We can confidence and assurance that God will never fail us and that we will find ourselves in the light again.
The second insight comes from how much the disciples emphasized remembering the night of the last supper. Again, the act of Eucharist, of breaking bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Jesus goes so far back that even the apostle Paul wrote about it. The original disciples had the moments of this morning’s scripture stuck in their mind, and from the very beginning the made remembering that moment part of Christian worship and fellowship. When we partake in the sacrament of communion we join two millennia worth of disciples in the same act. The reason why this is act of remembrance is so important is because things in life are so easy to forget. We need acts of remembrance to keep us grounded. We need acts that remind us who we are and who we belong to as God’s people so that when our lives are thrown out of sorts we have not lost our way. Acts like communion are a means of grace where we experience God’s love again. They act as a compass that keep us oriented in the right direction no matter what else happens in our lives. Communion, as instituted by Jesus at the last supper, reminds us that his body, represented by the broken bread, suffered on our behalf because of God’s great love. It remind us that his blood, represented by the cup, was spilled as blood of the covenant. It reminds us that the crucifixion was not the end of the story, and salvation is coming.
This whole week is an act of remembrance. It is why we wave palm branches today, it is why we will gather together again on Thursday and Friday. May these next seven days not just be another week, but may it be a holy week that you remember the mighty acts of Jesus Christ. This is especially true, if you are going through a lot right now. If this is a time where you feel lost, confused, or anxious then may you especially pause this week to remember. May you reflect on your own flashbulb moment when Jesus filled you with hope, and may you hold to that hope through what you are currently experiencing. May we all take the time to remember the passion and sacrifice that Christ made for us, so that in a week’s time we can properly celebrate what comes next. . .