Jerusalem stood watch. The lighted lamps in their houses were bathed by the light of the full moon. It was Thursday, the 13th month of Nissan. We were all seated around in a circle on straw mats covered with blankets when Judas of Iscariot, who had been very quiet during supper, made a motion to get up…
Judas: Hey, guys, since this is going to last long, I think we’ve got to buy more wine…
Mark: I don’t think it’s necessary, Judas. I still have half a jar filled with wine in the kitchen.
Judas: But it’s better to have more than to be short, isn’t that right?
Jesus: What’s wrong with you, Judas…?
Judas: Nothing, Jesus. What could be wrong with me…?
Judas was very tense. So was Jesus, although he tried to hide it. I already told him that Judas had been acting strangely these past few days… Anything could happen, so I hid the knife under my tunic and gripped the handle very tightly….
Jesus: Sit down, Judas… Do you want some more sauce? It’s very good…
Jesus dipped a piece of bread into the sauce and gave it to Judas….
Judas: Thanks, Moreno… Well, then, let me buy something else…
John: Damn you, Iscariot, you’re not going anywhere!
Judas: What’s the matter with you, John…? Let me go.
Jesus: Yes, John, let him go…
John: But Jesus…
Jesus: Let him go, John… Judas, you may go, but come back soon.
Judas opened the door, placed his striped blanket on his shoulders and slowly went down the stone stairs facing the patio. Jesus remained silent momentarily, staring blankly at the black frame of the door…. It was already night.
Peter: What the hell is going on here? Speak clearly!
Mark: Hey, John, what’s with you and Judas, huh? Why didn’t you want him to leave? What’s going on here?…
Matthew: Speak out once and for all, dammit…. What is it you want, to be choked by the lamb?
I sat down again on the floor, looking at Jesus, not daring to utter a word….
Andrew: What’s wrong, Moreno? Speak up, man…
Jesus raised his eyes from the plate. He looked at us with sadness, with worry…
Jesus: When the wolf comes, each sheep goes its own way. Friends, things have become so difficult, more difficult than ever….
Jesus remained silent for a while. His wide forehead was marked with wrinkles and he was perspiring… We were all restless. Magdalene began to sob, drawing herself close to Mary…
Peter: Damn, why are you saying this now, Jesus?
Jesus: Because anyone of us could falter.
Andrew: Are you saying that because of Judas?
Jesus: No, it’s for everyone….
Andrew: Not for me, Moreno!… No, no, don’t look at me that way…
Matthew: Not for me, either… I think. I’m a coward, that’s right, but I… I….
Peter: Speak loud and clear, dammit! Fine, fine, anyone may falter… and let each be held responsible for himself! As for me, I would stick around, even if everybody abandoned you right now! I swear by my wife Rufina and all my children.
Jesus: Don’t swear, Peter.
Peter: I swear, because that’s the truth, I tell you! I’m not called Simon for nothing!
Jesus: No, Peter, you too, may falter, like anyone else. Don’t fill your mouth with too many promises…. Yes, you…. If tonight things didn’t turn out fine, you would have denied you knew us, even before the cock crowed…
Peter: Damn you, Moreno! That means you don’t know me yet! They’ll have to kill me first before I fail you! This I swear! I can bet my life on it… and you are all my witnesses!
John: Jesus, don’t be a kill-joy, man. Of course, things are going bad, but rest assured that no one here’s gonna back out.
Magdalene: I agree with John!… Gosh, Jesus, don’t look so sullen, our salad is bitter enough…
I will never forget that moment. Jesus, his legs crossed on the mat, looked at us, one by one, and when he started to talk, we felt his words coming from deep within his heart…
Jesus: Guys, I want to thank you for everything that we have had together during all this time… The road has been very short, but difficult. We have been united up to this point… You’ve been my friends, you’ve been by my side through thick and thin… Indeed, I have loved you will all my soul….
Jesus lay his hands on his knees. His eyes welled with tears…
Jesus: We’ve got to continue being united, until the end, come what may…
Mary: Jesus, son, why do you talk that way? What’s going to happen?
Jesus: We dunno, mama. But whatever happens, we must all be one and act as one… Once in the group, you’re part of the group.
Then Jesus, with his big and calloused hands, took one of the pieces of bread on the mat.
Jesus: Stay close to each other, like the grains of wheat that formed this bread… Like the seeds that were sown on the hills and the mountains and were gathered to form this dough… We must be one, like these grains that were gathered together….
Jesus looked at the brown and crispy bread kneaded by his mother, the unleavened bread of the great feast of the Passover…
Jesus: My friends, our fathers ate the bread of affliction in Egypt. On a night like this, they also felt anguish and fear, and gathered hurriedly for dinner, awaiting the passage of God through that land of slavery and misery…. God passed through, and the bread became the bread of freedom for them… For several months, we have announced the good news that God is on our side, that He has chosen us, the poor of this world, who have kneaded this bread with sweat and tears, to inherit the Kingdom… For many months, we have struggled, so that things might change, so that the bread would reach us… This may be our last supper together…. That’s all right, it doesn’t matter…. I leave my fate in God’s hands and my life in this bread!… When you are gathered together to share this bread, do it in memory of me…. And when you do, I shall always be with you….
Jesus broke the piece of unleavened bread into several pieces and all of us ate a piece…. Then he filled the cup before him with wine, red and fresh… reflecting the lights of the small lamps….
Jesus: How can we repay the Lord for all the good that He has done for us?… Let us raise this cup of freedom and rejoice in God’s name!… My friends, when God took our fathers from the bondage of Egypt, He took them to Mount Sinai and there, made an alliance with them. A blood compact. Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of animals… Now, there is no more need for the blood of any animal…. This wine is taken from the juice of grapes pressed and squeezed from the winepress…. It is the blood of all the innocent who have died, their eyes turned to heaven, not knowing why they died…. It is the blood of all those who have fallen in their struggle for their brothers’ freedom… I, too, pour my blood into this wine, and with this, God makes a new alliance to free the people from all forms of bondage…
Jesus handed me the cup, filled to the brim, which I passed on to Peter, then to Mary… Everyone took a gulp of the strong, sweet wine….
Jesus: Yes, it’s true, I will always be with you and you with me, as we are tonight, partaking of the same bread and drinking from the same cup. We have to love one another, and be willing to risk our life for others… Nobody has love greater than one who gives his life for his people… Yes, we must be ready to have our bodies torn into pieces, like this bread is broken; and likewise, have our blood shed just like this wine. Today, we celebrate the feast of the liberation of our people. We cannot lose hope in God… One day we, too, shall obtain our freedom…
Mary: Oh, my son, you seemed to be giving a farewell talk….
Jesus: Mama, I’ve already told you that things aren’t going well…
John: For God’s sake, Jesus, will you go straight to the point and tell us, once and for all!
Peter: There you go again!… But, what’s really going on, man?
All eyes were fixed on Jesus….
Jesus: Guys, there’s been a betrayal.
Peter: What? Whom are you talking about? About Judas, I guess?
John: Right. We were already suspicious of him. The Iscariot has been acting strange these days…. Haven’t you got eyes to see?
Peter: Where did he go, dammit? Where?
Jesus: We dunno, Peter. We dunno what his plans are…
Matthew: It could’ve been me… knowing all my connections with the people up there… But, why Judas?
We all turned to Matthew, the tax collector. His brilliant eyes seemed to be begging our forgiveness for a betrayal he had always committed whenever he stretched his hand, much more than any one of us….
Mark: Now it doesn’t matter why he did it. What matters now is that we get out of this house immediately.
Peter: That’s right. If Judas has gone to squeal on us, then they’ll be here any time…
Mark: Let’s go upstairs, there’s no time to lose!…
Andrew: To hell with you, Moreno, why didn’t you tell us beforehand! They may have been following us already!
Mark: Hurry, get your cloaks and let’s go!
Mary: But, where… where are you going?
Magdalene: Oh, Holy God, protect us!
Mark: The women will stay. No one is going to touch you. You’ll be safer here… We’ll go to the mountain, to that garden I have by the Cedron! There we can hide in the caves.
Peter: Good idea, Mark.
Mark: Say no more. We can’t spend the night here…. Listen, tomorrow, before dawn, you’re all going to Galilee. I’ll see to it that you get out of the city. You can’t stay in Jerusalem any longer, not one day more….
Magdalene: Right, to Galilee! This city is damned from all sides!
Jesus: I’m not going back to Galilee. We still have a lot to do in Jerusalem.
Andrew: C’mon, Moreno, don’t be a fool!
Mark: Jesus, they’ll grab you, once you stick out your head and if Judas has spilled the beans, then they won’t stop until they find you…
Mary: My God, how could he have done such a thing?
Mark: Stop thinking about him, Mary. Whatever it is, we’ve got to get out of here. C’mon, let’s go!
John: Peter, take these two swords with you. Anything can happen, you know.
Peter: Damn you, Judas! I could tear you to pieces!
Mark: We’ll take the shortest way… Take it easy, women, nothing’s gonna happen to you…. And don’t you ever tell anyone where we are! Not even the angels from heaven!… C’mon, guys!… And let’s disperse, we’re not going in groups! Hurry!
We left hurriedly, without looking back, like our fathers had done the night the Lord passed by Egypt, with his strong hands and extended arms, to take them from the pharaoh’s bondage.
The moment Judas left the place where they were gathered, Jesus felt an even greater tension during that Paschal supper. When he spoke of “betrayal,” the horizon began to close shut. His faith in the liberating God would, from that moment, be more arduous, more painful and more dramatic for him. It is within this framework that a new alliance would be initiated, some new ties for the community of those who would continue the plan that he had barely started.
It was the custom during the Paschal supper for whoever presided over the celebration – the head of the family, or the mother or the eldest in the group – to observe the practice of explaining the ritual step by step to the rest. It was a custom faithfully observed by everyone. The youngest of the group kept on asking the eldest the symbolic meaning of prayers, the lamb, the bread… Jesus’ words during this occasion, giving the bread and wine a very special meaning, fitted well into this custom. Jesus’ action was not isolated from the ceremony. It was completely in consonance with the traditions of the supper that whoever presided over it should explain the meaning of the bread and the wine they were partaking of that night.
Typical of the Israelite mentality, as in other oriental people’s mentality, is the belief that eating together unites the people dining together. Being together at such a time has a serious and profound meaning: it joins one and the other, a sign of communion that remains beyond dinnertime. It is within this environment that Jesus and his friends were brought up. Once the bread was blessed to start the meal, by whoever presided over the table – in this case, Jesus – the community was formed and remained constituted. On the other hand, it was customary in all similar occasions, that whoever presided – generally the head of the family – should break the bread and give a piece to each of the members of the family. The same could be said of the wine. It was common to use one common cup, passed from one hand to another during supper and from which everyone drank. These gestures were not special nor “mysterious.” They were common practices and all who dined with Jesus that night had experienced it since childhood. It was furthermore understood that by partaking of the bread and wine everybody shared in the blessing given before distributing the food.
Jesus broke the bread, distributed it among the group and did the same with the cup of wine. In the “broken” bread, Jesus gave a sign of a life shared to the extreme, until the very end, until death if necessary. In the red wine, Jesus offers a sign of the blood shed for others, given generously to fertilize the earth for the coming of the Kingdom of God.
The Eucharist, celebrated to the present by Christians, repeats the gestures and signs made by Jesus on that Paschal night, and should be understood in the same light. It is about a table communion which becomes the communion of life. We cannot confine communion to the eating of the Bread and the drinking of the Wine. Communion must happen in life. One must remember that the first Christians did not understand their Eucharistic celebrations as a mere formal repetition of what Jesus did on Maundy Thursday only, but also as a continuation of their community life with him, as living through a time of food shared together, with all the profound significance it had for them.
Of the texts that have come to us regarding the last supper and the words pronounced by Jesus that night, which the Christian Church celebrates in memory of the Eucharist, the most ancient of these texts is not found in gospels. It is what Paul has in his first Letter to the Corinthians (11:23-25). It is here where Paul speaks of a “new alliance.” A central moment in the history of Israel was when Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of heifers sacrificed on Mount Sinai and consecrated the Israelites as people of God (Ex 24:1-8). Jesus, when he offered his life, started a new alliance between God and people. An alliance, because the life of Christians is a commitment, a handing over. New, because with Jesus all ancient religious forms have been surpassed.
In explaining the meaning of the bread and wine, as was customary during the Paschal meal, Jesus “offers” his life for others. In Jesus’ time, it was already understood that the death of an innocent – a boy, a woman, victim of injustice – had a “value” as ransom for the people. These deaths were a cry before God. A cry of intercession for the community. This idea appears in the Book of the Maccabees, written about a hundred fifty years before Christ. In the mind of the faithful followers, it was understood that the death of a just person drew God’s finger closer to history, bringing it a liberating fecundity and the pardon of sins of people. Jesus knew he was the prophet, the messenger of the Kingdom of God; at the same time, he had this clear premonition that his life would end in a violent manner. When he was reflecting on the meaning of his death, he responded with the current ideas of the world he lived in. In the words of the prophet Isaiah (Is 53:1-12) about success and failure, humiliation and reward, pain and hope, Jesus found light in the midst of that night of uncertainty where his heart fervently turned to God from whom he expected everything.
(Mt 26:26-35; Mk 14:22-31; Lk 22;19-23 and 31-38; Jn 13:21-38; 15:4-15)