Since the beginning of 2012, there have been 12 people executed in the United States. Convicted of crime and sentenced to death, the majority of them spent somewhere between 10-20 years in jail before finally being put to death. Now, it seems that in both movies and even in real life, whenever someone has been sentenced to the death penalty and executed, there is seemingly always an interest in the prisoner’s last meal. More than once, I have heard a news anchor announce something like, “And in other news, last night, in California, Stanley Williams was put to death by lethal injection. His last meal was oatmeal and milk.”
There is something about last meals. We are so fascinated by what people choose, but why? I think it is because someone’s last meal seems to say something about them. It says something about who they are. What it says, we can’t be sure. But it says something. For example, there was a man whose last meal was one bag of assorted jolly rancher candies. Maybe it says that at heart, this young man was still just a kid inside.
This past September, Troy Davis, a black man convicted of killing an off-duty police officer, was soon to be executed for this crime. He was at the center of the news media because there was an incredible amount of doubt surrounding his case and conviction. Many were certain that the state of Georgia was about to execute an innocent man. Despite much protest, the hour drew near and Troy was offered a final meal. Do you know what he had? Nothing. He refused his final meal, because as he said, “This will not be my last meal.” And well….Troy died with an empty stomach. But that last meal and his refusal of it….it says something about who Troy Davis was. And so maybe, it says that at heart, Troy Davis was a man of hope. “This will not be my last meal.”
What would you do if you knew it was your last day on earth? Who would you spend it with? What would be the last thing you eat? Tonight, we hear about Jesus’ last meal. This is it. His last night alive. And for his last meal Jesus gathers together his twelve disciples – his closest friends – and he shares a meal with them. Which, when you think about it, says something about who Jesus is.
Jesus’ ministry is filled with stories about food. Much seemed to be centered around food. He would teach during meals, he would tell parables about banquets, and one of the most common complaints against him had to do with the people he ate with. Jesus ate with the tax collectors and sinners, that is he ate with those no one else wanted to eat with. The undesirables. The outcasts. The unloveables. Whenever Jesus sat down for a meal, he pulled up tables and chairs to include more people than society allowed room for.
And it was no different here on his last night. Because at that final meal, among all those disciples gathered at the table, there sat Judas. That’s right, good ol’ back-stabbing, betraying Judas. Jesus knew something wasn’t right. He told them, “One of you. One of you is going to betray me tonight.”
The room erupted in anxiety like when a big business says there is going to be some restructuring in the next week. Eyes start darting around the room – is it me? Is it you? No, no, it’s not me…it’s not me…..is it me?
But then Jesus goes one step further and says, “No really, it is one of you. Actually, it is one of you who is dipping your bread with me at this very moment.” You can be sure everyone was sitting on their hands faster than you could blink.
What amazes me about this story is that Jesus continues to eat with them. You would think that if you knew your life was in grave danger and the very person who would give you up was sitting at your dinner table, you would either kick them out or just leave yourself. But that’s just not who Jesus is. Jesus invites anyone and everyone to his table and he stays there with them.
What happens next is what most of us recognize as our Communion service. Still sitting with his disciples, Jesus takes bread, he blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them, saying, “Take; this is my body.” He does the same with the cup of wine. I don’t know if you hear it, but Jesus’ actions here are an echo. They echo another meal that he hosted. Earlier in his ministry, Jesus was on a hill and had been teaching all day. As evening comes the people had become hungry. The disciples said, “You know let’s just send them away. Let them go buy something for themselves to eat.” But Jesus says, “No. You give them something to eat.” But they look around and say, “But what are we going to give them?” And so Jesus took five loaves and two fish. Jesus blessed them… broke them… and then gave them to be distributed. He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it. Jesus, at his last meal, is reenacting this meal on the hillside! A meal in which five thousand people were fed.
It is a story in which all are given enough to eat. And so it is curious that for his last meal, Jesus seems to reenact this story. Perhaps it is one last reminder to his disciples that this is what the kingdom of God is like. The kingdom of God is when everyone is invited to the table, even and especially the Judas’ of the world, and the kingdom of God is when everyone gets enough to eat.
Jesus blows this table wide open. No one is excluded. No one leaves hungry. And tonight, Jesus’ last meal becomes our Christian meal. It might not look like it, but this is a very large table. There is room for everyone up here. When we gather at this table tonight, we gather with those who have gathered here before us. And we gather at this table in anticipation of those who will gather here after us. And in that, we enact the kingdom of God that Jesus came proclaiming. We gather at a table where all are welcome and all are fed.
This is Jesus last meal. And it says something about who he is. And it says something about who we are called to be. Amen.