The same night in which he was betrayed–1Co 11:23
Attention has been directed in these days of ours to what is called the method of suggestion. The power of suggestion to influence thought and conduct is one of the great themes of educational science. We are taught that beneath our consciousness there is a whole world within each of us that lies asleep, and that it depends on the suggestive touch whether it will awaken to evil or to good. Now there can be little question that in throwing in this clause, Paul is acting on the method of suggestion. He is not just stating an historic fact nor indicating a bare point of time. He is conveying to the Corinthian church by the suggestion of the betrayal-night a veiled and delicate rebuke.
Divisions in the Church
Recall the circumstances of that church at Corinth. It was in a sad and pitiable state. It was rent with such unseemly factions that any one but Paul would have despaired of it. A church is always in the most deadly peril when its divisions are felt at the Lord’s Table. It is bad enough when they interfere with service; it is far worse when they invade the ordinance. Yet at Corinth that was what had happened, and brotherly love had vanished from the ordinance and pride and selfishness and disregard of decency had reared their heads at the communion table. It was to such a church that Paul was writing when he said, “On that night in which he was betrayed. “Let them but think of that, in all the pathos of it, and it would shame them into a better spirit. How could any of them be proud again, or drunken or scornful of the poor, when they remembered that their feast was instituted in the infinite sorrow of betrayal-night. In other words, Paul flung this clause in to quicken and intensify right feeling. It was not an item of information merely; it was a call to worthier communicating.
The Wonder of Christ‘s Thanksgiving
One of the great features of the Last Supper was the prayer of thanksgiving which Jesus offered. It had its place, no less than the breaking of the bread, in the revelation which Paul had had from Christ. What was included in that thanksgiving is one of the things which God has hidden from us. We know from the Gospels that the bread and wine were blessed, but no one imagines that that was all. Clearly, there was such an outpouring of the heart, such adoration of the Heavenly Father, that none of the little band in that upper room ever forgot it to his dying day. John carried the thought of it to Ephesus. Peter recurred to it in distant Babylon. It had moved them to a depth of awe and wonder that was vivid to their last hour of ministry. Whenever they met to break the bread again on distant shores and after the lapse of years, swift as an arrow-flight their hearts went back to the wonderful thanksgiving of Jesus.
Thanksgiving Distinguishes the Lord’s Table
So powerfully has that been impressed upon the church that thanksgiving has always distinguished the Lord’s Table. In every fellowship and throughout all the ages one great mark of the Communion Service is gratitude. One of the oldest names for the feast is eucharist, and eucharist is the Greek for thanksgiving. One of the oldest traditions of the Table is that the poor should be remembered at it. And all this thankfulness expressed in name and offertory is not only the witness of our debt to God, it is the witness also of the depth of feeling that was stirred by the thanksgiving of Jesus. It is that which is written out in after ages. It is that which is testified to in every ordinance. Every time we meet to break the bread, we touch on the wonder of the upper room. We touch on the awe that filled the little company, as with the filling of the Holy Ghost, when they listened with rapt hearts and straining ears to the thanksgiving of their Master and their Lord.
The Adoring Gratitude of Christ
Now what was it that made that thanksgiving so wonderful? Well, that is a question we cannot fully answer. It may be that even if you and I had been there we could not have explained why we were moved so. But this is certain, that as the days went on and the disciples looked back upon it all, the thanksgiving grew doubly wonderful to them because of the hour in which it had been spoken. On that night in which he was being betrayed–it was on that night our Lord broke into thanks. Think of it, in such an hour as that, no room for anything but an adoring gratitude! No wonder Peter never could forget it–no wonder John never could forget it–they never could forget that joy in God in the tense agony of the betrayal-night. Had Christ been looking forward to triumph the next day they might more easily have comprehended it. Had He been ringed about with perfect loyalty –they could have understood it then. But on that night on which He was betrayed- that then, in such an hour, Christ should adore, was something that grew and deepened in its mystery the more they brooded on it in the years.
The Wonder of Christ’s Certainty
There is nothing more notable in the memorial supper than the perfect confidence of Jesus in the future. No trace of doubt can be detected in Him–no slightest misgiving seems to have crossed His heart- as He looked away from His own little company down through the ages that were yet to be. Like all great moments in our earthly life, the Lord’s Supper has a twofold reference. It reaches back into bygone days; it stretches forward to the untrodden future. And one of the singular things about our Lord which has attracted the eyes of every age is that at the Table, looking forward, He was possessed with a quiet and perfect confidence. “This do in remembrance of me,”–then He was to be loyally and lovingly remembered. “Ye do show the Lord’s death until he come,”–then His memory was to last while the world lasted. In loving hearts right through the ages, on and on till the last trumpet sounded, Christ never doubted that His Name would live in warm and powerful memorial. Had He looked with quiet confidence across the past, it would not have arrested us so much. For all the past had been leading up to Him, and He had perfectly fulfilled the will of God. But that with equal confidence, unsullied and serene, He should have anticipated all coming time is something that has always stirred the church.
Christ’s View of the Centuries to Come
Of course it is possible to minimize this thought as it is possible to belittle everything about Christ. We are told that He was thinking only of His own here, and that His coming was expected in a year or two. There was no vision of the coming centuries–no thought of you and me on that evening–it was a word spoken to the disciples only till in a dozen years or so their Lord should come again. Of course there is much to be said for that view, or thinking men would never have advanced it. But deeper than any arguments in favor of it is its injustice to the spirit of the scene. And once we have grasped the spirit of the scene and turn to the life of Christ for confirmation of it, we see that it is something more than sentiment which finds the centuries in the heart of Jesus here. We learn from some of His most familiar parables how slowly and gradually the kingdom was to come. It could no more be hurried on than one could hasten the growing of the mustard seed.
We learn, too, that Jesus had an eye which ranged away beyond the bounds of Israel: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” It is that far-ranging and large spirit which you must carry into the upper room. An hour of high intensity like this was certain to be an hour of vision. If ever Christ saw imperially and magnificently, and we know from other sources that He did, would it not be on the eve before that day which was to close His earthly ministry by death? I believe, then, that in the upper room Jesus had an eye for all the ages. I believe that He was looking down the centuries to the table which is spread for you and me. And the singular thing is that with a range like that over the illimitable fields of time, Christ should have shown such quiet and perfect confidence.
Christ’s Confidence in Spite of Human Betrayal
It is that wonder which is deepened as we recall the season when it was exhibited. Do we not feel afresh the marvel of such confidence on that night in which He was betrayed? Now it was evident beyond dispute what was moving in the heart of Judas. Now at last came leaping to the surface the treachery that had been brooded on in secret. And if this was the issue of the years of fellowship–this unutterable malice of today–was it likely there would be a bright tomorrow? Christ had spared no pains on His betrayer. He had lavished His love upon him constantly. He had done everything to woo and win him, and every effort He had made was baffled. And it was then, in such a bitter hour, when He well might have lost His faith in human loyalty, that He looked forward with confidence unquenched to the loyal remembrance of the ages. Christ knew in the quiet of that evening what was involved in the treachery of Judas. Already He saw the shadow of the cross and heard the evil voices crying “Crucify him.” Yet with so much to drive Him to despair–so much to suggest to Him that He had failed–with a heart as calm as any summer sea He looked away to the loyalty of time. “This do in remembrance of me: ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” Think of it, this grand unfaltering confidence amid the despairing horrors of that night! It would have been wonderful at any time, but surely we feel afresh the wonder of it when we remember that it was exhibited on the night in which He was betrayed.
The Wonder of Christ’s Love
The Lord’s Table is a feast of love, and yet the word love was never spoken at it. It is the picture of a love that is commended to us not so much in words as in deeds. In the early church they used to have a love-feast, and the love-feast was at first associated with the communion. But gradually and with growing insight the love-feast fell into disuse. Men came to feel that they did not need a love-feast to express the love that was in Christ; it was exhibited in all its height and depth in the simple ritual of the Last Supper. Here in the quiet of the upper chamber was given the pledge of a love that was unquenchable. Here there was gathered into one swift moment the yearning and the tenderness of years. Here did there flash out as in a flame of glory the love which had been striving through the past and which tomorrow, on the cross of anguish, was to be consummated and crowned in sacrifice.
Now do you not feel the wonder of that love afresh as you recall when it was pledged and sealed? That sealing would have been wonderful at any time, but on such a night as that it passeth knowledge. Had it been some Pharisee who was betraying him, we should not have marveled at it so. But it was no Pharisee –no enemy–it was His own familiar friend in whom He trusted. Yet in the very hour of His betrayal when any other heart might have grown bitter, Christ deliberately seized his opportunity to show forth and to seal His dying love. Mazzini, that great-heart of Italy, tells us something of his sad experience. He tells us how bitter he grew–how sick of soul–when the men who had followed him fell away from him. But on that night when all forsook Him there is not one trace of hardening in Christ; on the contrary, it was that hour He chose to institute the memorial of His love. Is not this the wonder of Christ’s love, that right through that betrayal it survived? And the question is, have not we too betrayed Him since we last gathered at the Communion Table? God knows we have, yet shall we eat and drink because of a love that has survived our past- that has forgiven everything in mercy, and in mercy will not let us go.