THE period designated as ‘between the two evenings,’ 1 when the Paschal Lamb was to be slain, was past. There can be no question that, in the time of Christ, it was understood to refer to the interval between the commencement of the sun’s decline and what was reckoned as the hour of his final disappearance (about 6 P.M.). The first three stars had become visible, and the threefold blast of the Silver Trumpets from the Temple-Mount rang it out to Jerusalem and far away, that the Pascha had once more commenced. In the festively-lit ‘Upper Chamber’ of St. Mark’s house the Master and the Twelve were now gathered. Was this place of Christ’s last, also that of the Church’s first, entertainment; that, where the Holy Supper was instituted with the Apostles, also that, where it was afterwards first partaken of by the Church; the Chamber where He last tarried with them before His Death, that in which He first appeared to them after His Resurrection; that, also, in which the Holy Ghost was poured out, even as (if the Last Supper was in the house of Mark) it undoubtedly was that in which the Church was at first wont to gather for common prayer? 2 We know not, and can only venture to suggest, deeply soul-stirring as such thoughts and associations are.
So far as appears, or we have reason to infer, this Passover was the only sacrifice ever offered by Jesus Himself. We remember indeed, the first sacrifice of the Virgin-Mother at her Purification. But that was hers. If Christ was in Jerusalem at any Passover before His Public Ministry began, He would, of course, have been a guest at some table, not the Head of a Company (which must consist of at least ten persons). Hence, He would not have been the offerer of the Paschal lamb. And of the three Passovers since His Public Ministry had begun, at the first His Twelve Apostles had not been gathered, 3 so that He could not have appeared as the Head of a Company; while at the second He was not in Jerusalem but in the utmost parts of Galilee, in the borderland of Tyre and Sidon, where, of course, no sacrifice could be brought. 4 Thus, the first, the last, the only sacrifice which Jesus offered was that in which, symbolically, He offered Himself. Again, the only sacrifice which He brought is that connected with the Institution of His Holy Supper; even as the only purification to which He submitted was when, in His Baptism, He ‘sanctified water to the mystical washing away of sin.’ But what additional meaning does this give to the words which He spake to the Twelve as He sat down with them to the Supper: ‘With desire have I desired to eat this Pascha with you before I suffer.’
And, in truth, as we think of it, we can understand not only why the Lord could not have offered any other Sacrifice, but that it was most fitting He should have offered this one Pascha, partaken of its commemorative Supper, and connected His own New Institution with that to which this Supper pointed. This joining of the Old with the New, the one symbolic Sacrifice which He offered with the One Real Sacrifice, the feast on the sacrifice with that other Feast upon the One Sacrifice, seems to cast light on the words with which He followed the expression of His longing to eat that one Pascha with them: ‘I say unto you, I will not eat any more 5 thereof, 6 until it be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.’ And has it not been so, that this His last Pascha is connected with that other Feast in which He is ever present with His Church, not only as its Food but as its Host, as both the Pascha and He Who dispenses it? With a Sacrament did Jesus begin His Ministry: it was that of separation and consecration in Baptism. With a second Sacrament did He close His Ministry: it was that of gathering together and fellowship in the Lord’s Supper. Both were into His Death: yet not as something that had power over Him, but as a Death that has been followed by the Resurrection. For, if in Baptism we are buried with Him, we also rise with Him; and if in the Holy Supper we remember His Death, it is as that of Him Who is risen again – and if we show forth that Death, it is until He come again. And so this Supper, also, points forward to the Great Supper at the final consummation of His Kingdom.
Only one Sacrifice did the Lord offer. We are not thinking now of the significant Jewish legend, which connected almost every great event and deliverance in Israel with the Night of the Passover. But the Pascha was, indeed, a Sacrifice, yet one distinct from all others. It was not of the Law, for it was instituted before the Law had been given or the Covenant ratified by blood; nay, in a sense it was the cause and the foundation of all the Levitical Sacrifices and of the Covenant itself. And it could not be classed with either one or the other of the various kinds of sacrifices, but rather combined them all, and yet differed from them all. Just as the Priesthood of Christ was real, yet not after the order of Aaron, so was the Sacrifice of Christ real, yet not after the order of Levitical sacrifices but after that of the Passover. And as in the Paschal Supper all Israel were gathered around the Paschal Lamb in commemoration of the past, in celebration of the present, in anticipation of the future, and in fellowship in the Lamb, so has the Church been ever since gathered together around its better fulfilment in the Kingdom of God.
It is difficult to decide how much, not only of the present ceremonial, but even of the Rubric for the Paschal Supper, as contained in the oldest Jewish Documents, may have been obligatory at the time of Christ. Ceremonialism rapidly develops, too often in proportion to the absence of spiritual life. Probably in the earlier days, even as the ceremonies were simpler, so more latitude may have been left in their observance, provided that the main points in the ritual were kept in view. We may take it, that, as prescribed, all would appear at the Paschal Supper in festive array. We also know, that, as the Jewish Law directed, they reclined on pillows around a low table, each resting on his left hand, so as to leave the right free. But ancient Jewish usage casts a strange light on the painful scene with which the Supper opened. Sadly humiliating as it reads, and almost incredible as it seems, the Supper began with ‘a contention among them, which of them should be accounted to be greatest.’ We can have no doubt that its occasion was the order in which they should occupy places at the table. We know that this was subject of contention among the Pharisees, and that they claimed to be seated according to their rank. A similar feeling now appeared, alas! in the circle of the disciples and at the Last Supper of the Lord. Even if we had not further indications of it, we should instinctively associate such a strife with the presence of Judas. St. John seems to refer to it, at least indirectly, when he opens his narrative with this notice: ‘And during supper, the devil having already cast it into his heart, that Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, shall betray Him.’ For, although the words form a general introduction to what follows, and refer to the entrance of Satan into the heart of Judas on the previous afternoon, when he sold his Master to the Sanhedrists, they are not without special significance as place in connection with the Supper. But we are not left to general conjecture in regard to the influence of Judas in this strife. There is, we believe, ample evidence that he not only claimed, but actually obtained, the chief seat at the table next to the Lord. This, as previously explained, was not, as is generally believed, at the right, but at the left of Christ, not below, but above Him, on the couches or pillows on which they reclined.
From the Gospel-narratives we infer, that St. John must have reclined next to Jesus, on His Right Hand, since otherwise he could not have leaned back on His Bosom. This, as we shall presently show, would be at one end – the head of the table, or, to be more precise, at one end of the couches. For, dismissing all conventional ideas, we must think of it as a low Eastern table. In the Talmud, the table of the disciples of the sages is described as two parts covered with a cloth, the other third being left bare for the dishes to stand on. There is evidence that this part of the table was outside the circle of those who were ranged around it. Occasionally a ring was fixed in it, by which the table was suspended above the ground, so as to preserve it from any possible Levitical defilement. During the Paschal Supper, it was the custom to remove the table at one part of the service; or, if this be deemed a later arrangement, the dishes at least would be taken off and put on again. This would render it necessary that the end of the table should protrude beyond the line of guests who reclined around it. For, as already repeatedly stated, it was the custom to recline at table, lying on the left side and leaning on the left hand, the feet stretching back towards the ground, and each guest occupying a separate divan or pillow. It would, therefore, have been impossible to place or remove anything from the table from behind the guests. Hence, as a matter of necessity, the free end of the table, which was not covered with a cloth, would protrude beyond the line of those who reclined around it. We can now form a picture of the arrangement. Around a low Eastern table, oval or rather elongated, two parts covered with a cloth, and standing or else suspended, the single divans or pillows are ranged in the form of an elongated horseshoe, leaving free one end of the table, somewhat as in the accompanying woodcut. Here A represents the table, B B respectively the ends of the two rows of single divans on which each guest reclines on his left side, with his head (C) nearest the table, and his feet (D) stretching back towards the ground.
So far for the arrangement of the table. Jewish documents are equally explicit as to that of the guests. It seems to have been quite an established rule that, in a company of more than two, say of three, the chief personage or Head – in this instance, of course, Christ – reclined on the middle divan. We know from the Gospel-narrative that John occupied the place on His right, at that end of the divans – as we may call it – at the head of the table. But the chief place next to the Master would be that to His left, or above Him. In the strife of the disciples, which should be accounted the greatest, this had been claimed, and we believe it to have been actually occupied, by Judas. This explains how, Christ whispered to John by what sign to recognise the traitor, none of the other disciples heard it. It also explains, how Christ would first hand to Judas the sop, which formed part of the Paschal ritual, beginning with him as the chief guest at the table, without thereby exciting special notice. Lastly, it accounts for the circumstance that, when Judas, desirous of ascertaining whether his treachery was known, dared to ask whether it was he, and received the affirmative answer, no one at table knew what had passed. But this could not have been the case, unless Judas had occupied the place next to Christ; in this case, necessarily that at His left, or the post of chief honour. As regards Peter, we can quite understand how, when the Lord with such loving words rebuked their self-seeking and taught them of the greatness of Christian humility, he should, in his petuosity of shame, have rushed to take the lowest place at the other end of the table. Finally, we can now understand how Peter could beckon to John, who sat at the opposite end of the table, over against him, and ask him across the table, who the traitor was. 14 The rest of the disciples would occupy such places as were most convenient, or suited their fellowship with one another.
The words which the Master spoke as He appeased their unseemly strife must, indeed, have touched them to the quick. First, He showed them, not so much in the language of even gentlest reproof as in that of teaching, the difference between worldly honour and distinction in the Church of Christ. In the world kingship lay in supremacy and lordship, and the title of Benefactor accompanied the sway of power. But in the Church the ‘greater’ would not exercise lordship, but become as the less and the younger [the latter referring to the circumstance, that age next to learning was regarded among the Jews as a claim to distinction and the chief seats]; while, instead of him that had authority being called Benefactor, the relationship would be reversed, and he that served would be chief. Self-forgetful humility instead of worldly glory, service instead of rule: such was to be the title to greatness and to authority in the Church. 15 Having thus shown them the character and title to that greatness in the Kingdom, which was in prospect for them, He pointed them in this respect also to Himself as their example. The reference here is, of course, not to the act of symbolic foot-washing, which St. Luke does not relate – although, as immediately following on the words of Christ, it would illustrate them – but to the tenor of His whole Life and the object of His Mission, as of One Who served, not was served. Lastly, He woke them to the higher consciousness of their own calling. Assuredly, they would not lose their reward; but not here, nor yet now. They had shared, and would share His ‘trials’ 16 – His being set at nought, despised, persecuted; but they would also share His glory. As the Father had ‘covenanted’ to Him, so He ‘covenanted’ and bequeathed to them a Kingdom, ‘in order,’ or ‘so that,’ in it they might have festive fellowship of rest and of joy with Him. What to them must have been ‘temptations,’ and in that respect also to Christ, they had endured: instead of Messianic glory, such as they may at first have thought of, they had witnessed only contradiction, denial, and shame – and they had ‘continued’ with Him. But the Kingdom was also coming. When His glory was manifested, their acknowledgement would also come. Here Israel had rejected the King and His Messengers, but then would that same Israel be judged by their word. A Royal dignity this, indeed, but one of service; a full Royal acknowledgement, but one of work. In that sense were Israel’s Messianic hopes to be understood by them. Whether or not something beyond this may also be implied, and, in that day when He again gathers the outcasts of Israel, some special Rule and Judgment may be given to His faithful Apostles, we venture not to determine. Sufficient for us the words of Christ in their primary meaning.
So speaking, the Lord commenced that Supper, which in itself was symbol and pledge of what He had just said and promised. The Paschal Supper began, as always, by the Head of the Company taking the first cup, and speaking over it ‘the thanksgiving.’ The form presently in use consists really of two benedictions – the first over the wine, the second for the return of this Feast-day with all that it implies, and for being preserved once more to witness it. Turning to the Gospels, the words which follow the record of the benediction on the part of Christ seem to imply, that Jesus had, at any rate, so far made use of the ordinary thanksgiving as to speak both these benedictions. We know, indeed, that they were in use before His time, since it was in dispute between the Schools of Hillel and Shammai, whether that over the wine or that over the day should take precedence. That over the wine was quite simple: ‘Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, Who hast created the fruit of the Vine!’ The formula was so often used in blessing the cup, and is so simple, that we need not doubt that these were the very words spoken by our Lord. It is otherwise as regards the benediction ‘over the day,’ which is not only more composite, but contains words expressive of Israel’s national pride and self-righteousness, such as we cannot think would have been uttered by our Lord. With this exception, however, they were no doubt identical in contents with the present formula. This we infer from what the Lord added, as He passed the cup round the circle of the disciples. No more, so He told them, would He speak the benediction over the fruit of the vine – not again utter the thanks ‘over the day’ that they had been ‘preserved alive, sustained, and brought to this season.’ Another Wine, and at another Feast, now awaited Him – that in the future, when the Kingdom would come. It was to be the last of the old Paschas; the first, or rather the symbol and promise, of the new. And so, for the first and last time, did He speak the twofold benediction at the beginning of the Supper.
The cup, in which, according to express Rabbinic testimony, the wine had been mixed with water before it was ‘blessed,’ had passed round. The next part of the ceremonial was for the Head of the Company to rise and ‘wash hands.’ It is this part of the ritual of which St. John records the adaptation and transformation on the part of Christ. The washing of the disciples’ feet is evidently connected with the ritual of ‘handwashing.’ Now this was done twice during the Paschal Supper: the first time by the Head of the Company alone, immediately after the first cup; the second time by all present, at a much later part of the service, immediately before the actual meal (on the Lamb, &c.). If the foot-washing had taken place on the latter occasion, it is natural to suppose that, when the Lord rose, all the disciples would have followed His example, and so the washing of their feet would have been impossible. Again, the foot-washing, which was intended both as a lesson and as an example of humility and service, 25 was evidently connected with the dispute ‘which of them should be accounted to be greatest.’ If so, the symbolical act of our Lord must have followed close on the strife of the disciples, and on our Lord’s teaching what in the Church constituted rule and greatness. Hence the act must have been connected with the first handwashing – that by the Head of the Company – immediately after the first cup, and not with that at a later period, when much else had intervened.
All else fits in with this. For clearness’ sake, the account given by St. John may here be recapitulated. The opening words concerning the love of Christ to His own unto the end form the general introduction. Then follows the account of what happened ‘during Supper’ – the Supper itself being left undescribed – beginning, by way of explanation of what is to be told about Judas, with this: ‘The Devil having already cast into his (Judas’) heart, that Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, shall betray Him.’ General as this notice is, it contains much that requires special attention. Thankfully we feel, that the heart of man was not capable of originating the Betrayal of Christ; humanity had fallen, but not so low. It was the Devil who had ‘cast’ it into Judas’ heart – with force and overwhelming power. Next, we mark the full description of the name and parentage of the traitor. It reads like the wording of a formal indictment. And, although it seems only an introductory explanation, it also points to the contrast with the love of Christ which persevered to the end, 30 even when hell itself opened its mouth to swallow Him up; the contrast, also, between what Jesus and what Judas were about to do, and between the wild storm of evil that raged in the heart of the traitor and the calm majesty of love and peace which reigned in that of the Saviour.
If what Satan had cast into the heart of Judas explains his conduct so does the knowledge which Jesus possessed account for that He was about to do. Many as are the thoughts suggested by the words, ‘Knowing that the Father had given all things into His Hands, and that He came forth from God, and goeth unto God’ – yet, from evident connection, they must in the first instance be applied to the Foot-washing, of which they are, so to speak, the logical antecedent. It was His greatest act of humiliation and service, and yet He never lost in it for one moment aught of the majesty or consciousness of His Divine dignity; for He did it with the full knowledge and assertion that all things were in His Hands, and that He came forth from and was going unto God – and He could do it, because He knew this. Here, not side by side, but in combination, are the Humiliation and Exaltation of the God-Man. And so, ‘during Supper,’ which had begun with the first cup, ‘He riseth from Supper.’ The disciples would scarcely marvel, except that He should conform to that practice of handwashing, which, as He had often explained, was, as a ceremonial observance, unavailing for those who were not inwardly clean, and needless and unmeaning in them whose heart and life had been purified. But they must have wondered as they saw Him put off His upper garment, gird Himself with a towel, and pour water into a basin, like a slave who was about to perform the meanest service.
From the position which, as we have shown, Peter occupied at the end of the table, it was natural that the Lord should begin with him the act of foot-washing. Besides, had He first turned to others, Peter must either have remonstrated before, or else his later expostulation would have been tardy, and an act either of self-righteousness or of needless voluntary humility. As it was, the surprise with which he and the others had witnessed the preparation of the Lord burst into characteristic language when Jesus approached him to wash his feet. ‘Lord – Thou – of me washest the feet!’ It was the utterance of deepest reverence for the Master, and yet of utter misunderstanding of the meaning of His action, perhaps even of His Work. Jesus was now doing what before He had spoken. The act of externalism and self-righteousness represented by the washing of hands, and by which the Head of the Company was to be distinguished from all others and consecrated, He changed into a foot-washing, in which the Lord and Master was to be distinguished, indeed, from the others – but by the humblest service of love, and in which He showed by His example what characterised greatness in the Kingdom, and that service was evidence of rule. And, as mostly in every symbol, there was the real also in this act of the Lord. For, by sympathetically sharing in this act of love and service on the part of the Lord, they who had been bathed – who had previously become clean in heart and spirit – now received also that cleansing of the ‘feet,’ of active and daily walk, which cometh from true heart-humility, in opposition to pride, and consisteth in the service which love is willing to render even to the uttermost.
But Peter had understood none of these things. He only felt the incongruousness of their relative positions. And so the Lord, partly also wishing thereby to lead his impetuosity to the absolute submission of faith, and partly to indicate the deeper truth he was to learn in the future, only told him, that though he knew it not now, he would understand hereafter what the Lord was doing. Yes, hereafter – when, after that night of terrible fall, he would learn by the Lake of Galilee what it really meant to feed the lambs and to tend the sheep of Christ; yes, hereafter – when no longer, as when he had been young, he would gird himself and walk whither he would. But, even so, Peter could not content himself with the prediction that in the future he would understand and enter into what Christ was doing in washing their feet. Never, he declared, could he allow it. The same feelings, which had prompted him to attempt withdrawing the Lord from the path of humiliation and suffering, now asserted themselves again. It was personal affection, indeed, but it was also unwillingness to submit to the humiliation of the Cross. And so the Lord told him, that if He washed him not, he had no part with Him. Not that the bare act of washing gave him part in Christ, but that the refusal to submit to it would have deprived him of it; and that, to share in this washing, was, as it were, the way to have part in Christ’s service of love, to enter into it, and to share it.
Still, Peter did not understand. But as, on that morning by the Lake of Galilee, it appeared that, when he had lost all else, he had retained love, so did love to the Christ now give him the victory – and, once more with characteristic impetuosity, he would have tendered not only his feet to be washed, but his hands and head. Yet here, also, was there misunderstanding. There was deep symbolical meaning, not only in that Christ did it, but also in what He did. Submission to His doing it meant symbolically share and part with Him – part in His Work. What He did, meant His work and service of love; the constant cleansing of one’s walk and life in the love of Christ, and in the service of that love. It was not a meaningless ceremony of humiliation on the part of Christ, not yet one where submission to the utmost was required; but the action was symbolic, and meant that the disciple, who was already bathed and made clean in heart and spirit, required only this – to wash his feet in spiritual consecration to the service of love which Christ had here shown forth in symbolic act. And so His Words referred not, as is so often supposed, to the forgiveness of our daily sins – the introduction of which would have been wholly abrupt and unconnected with the context – but, in contrast to all self-seeking, to the daily consecration of our life to the service of love after the example of Christ.
And still do all these words come to us in manifold and ever-varied application. In the misunderstanding of our love to Him, we too often imagine that Christ cannot will or do what seems to us incongruous on His part, or rather, incongruous with what we think about Him. We know it not now, but we shall understand it hereafter. And still we persist in our resistance, till it comes to us that so we would even lose our part in and with Him. Yet not much, not very much, does He ask, Who giveth so much. He that has washed us wholly would only have us cleanse our feet for the service of love, as He gave us the example.
They were clean, these disciples, but not all. For He knew that there was among them he ‘that was betraying Him.’ 35 He knew it, but not with the knowledge of an inevitable fate impending far less of an absolute decree, but with that knowledge which would again and again speak out the warning, if by any means he might be saved. What would have come, if Judas had repented, is as idle a question as this: What would have come if Israel, as a nation, had repented and accepted Christ? For, from our human standpoint, we can only view the human aspect of things – that earthwards; and here every action is not isolated, but ever the outcome of a previous development and history, so that a man always freely acts, yet always in consequence of an inward necessity.
The solemn service of Christ now went on in the silence of reverent awe. None dared ask Him nor resist. It was ended, and He had resumed His upper garment, and again taken His place at the Table. It was His now to follow the symbolic deed by illustrative words, and to explain the practical application of what had just been done. Let it not be misunderstood. They were wont to call Him by the two highest names of Teacher and Lord, and these designations were rightly His. For the first time He fully accepted and owned the highest homage. How much more, then, must His Service of love, Who was their Teacher and Lord, serve as example of what was due 38 by each to his fellow-disciple and fellow-servant! He, Who really was Lord and Master, had rendered this lowest service to them as an example that, as He had done, so should they do. No principle better known, almost proverbial in Israel, than that a servant was not to claim greater honour than his master, nor yet he that was sent than he who had sent him. They knew this, and now also the meaning of the symbolic act of foot-washing; and if they acted it out, then theirs would be the promised ‘Beatitude.’
This reference to what were familiar expressions among the Jews, especially noteworthy in St. John’s Gospel, leads us to supplement a few illustrative notes from the same source. The Greek word for ‘the towel,’ with which our Lord girded Himself, occurs also in Rabbinic writings, to denote the towel used in washing and at baths. Such girding was the common mark of a slave, by whom the service of foot-washing was ordinarily performed. And, in a very interesting passage, the Midrash contrasts what, in this respect, is the way of man with what God had done for Israel. For, He had been described by the prophet as performing for them the service of washing, and others usually rendered by slaves. Again, the combination of these two designations, ‘Rabbi and Lord,’ or ‘Rabbi, Father, and Lord,’ was among those most common on the part of disciples. The idea, that if a man knows (for example, the Law) and does not do it, it were better for him not to have been created, is not unfrequently expressed. But the most interesting reference is in regard to the relation between the sender and the sent, and a servant and his master. In regard to the former, it is proverbially said, that while he that is sent stands on the same footing as he who sent him, yet he must expect less honour. And as regards Christ’s statement that ‘the servant is not greater than his Master,’ there is a passage in which we read this, in connection with the sufferings of the Messiah: ‘It is enough for the servant that he be like his Master.’
But to return. The foot-washing on the part of Christ, in which Judas had shared, together with the explanatory words that followed, almost required, in truthfulness, this limitation: ‘I speak not of you all.’ For it would be a night of terrible moral sifting to them all. A solemn warning was needed by all the disciples. But, besides, the treachery of one of their own number might have led them to doubt whether Christ had really Divine knowledge. On the other hand, this clear prediction of it would not only confirm their faith in Him, but show that there was some deeper meaning in the presence of a Judas among them. 48 We come here upon these words of deepest mysteriousness: ‘I know those I chose; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth My Bread lifteth up his heel against Me!’ It were almost impossible to believe, even if not forbidden by the context, that this knowledge of which Christ spoke, referred to an eternal foreknowledge; still more, that it meant Judas had been chosen with such foreknowledge in order that this terrible Scripture might be fulfilled in him. Such foreknowledge and fore-ordination would be to sin, and it would involve thoughts such as only the harshness of our human logic in its fatal system-making could induce anyone to entertain. Rather must we understand it as meaning that Jesus had, from the first, known the inmost thoughts of those He had chosen to be His Apostles; but that by this treachery of one of their number, the terrible prediction of the worst enmity, that of ingratitude, true in all ages of the Church, would receive its complete fulfilment. 50 The word ‘that’ – ‘that the Scripture may be fulfilled,’ does not mean ‘in order that,’ or ‘for the purpose of;’ it never means this in that connection; and it would be altogether irrational to suppose that an event happened in order that a special prediction might be fulfilled. Rather does it indicate the higher internal connection in the succession of events, when an event had taken place in the free determination of its agents, by which, all unknown to them and unthought of by others, that unexpectedly came to pass which had been Divinely foretold. And herein appears the Divine character of prophecy, which is always at the same time announcement and forewarning, that is, has besides its predictive a moral element: that, while man is left to act freely, each development tends to the goal Divinely foreseen and foreordained. Thus the word ‘that’ marks not the connection between causation and effect, but between the Divine antecedent and the human subsequent.
There is, indeed, behind this a much deeper question, to which brief reference has already formerly been made. Did Christ know from the beginning that Judas would betray Him, and yet, so knowing, did He choose him to be one of the Twelve? Here we can only answer by indicating this as a canon in studying the Life on earth of the God-Man, that it was part of His Self-examination – of that emptying Himself, and taking upon Him the form of a Servant – voluntarily to forego His Divine knowledge in the choice of His Human actions. So only could He, as perfect Man, have perfectly obeyed the Divine Law. For, if the Divine had determined Him in the choice of His Actions, there could have been no merit attaching to His Obedience, nor could He be said to have, as perfect Man, taken our place, and to have obeyed the Law in our stead and as our Representative, nor yet be our En-sample. But if His Divine knowledge did not guide Him in the choice of His actions, we can see, and have already indicated, reasons why the discipleship and service of Judas should have been accepted, if it had been only as that of a Judæan, a man in many respects well fitted for such an office, and the representative of one of the various directions which tended towards the reception of the Messiah.
We are not in circumstances to judge whether or not Christ spoke all these things continuously, after He had sat down, having washed the disciples’ feet. More probably it was at different parts of the meal. This would also account for the seeming abruptness of this concluding sentence: 53 ‘He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth Me.’ And yet the internal connection of thought seems clear. The apostasy and loss of one of the Apostles was known to Christ. Would it finally dissolve the bond that bound together the College of Apostles, and so invalidate their Divine Mission (the Apostolate) and its authority? The words of Christ conveyed an assurance which would be most comforting in the future, that any such break would not be lasting, only transitory, and that in this respect also ‘the foundation of God standeth.’
In the meantime the Paschal Supper was proceeding. We mark this important note of time in the words of St. Matthew: ‘as they were eating,’ or, as St. Mark expresses it, ‘as they reclined and were eating.’ According to the Rubric, after the ‘washing’ the dishes were immediately to be brought on the table. Then the Head of the Company would dip some of the bitter herbs into the salt-water or vinegar, speak a blessing, and partake of them, then hand them to each in the company. Next, he would break one of the unleavened cakes (according to the present ritual the middle of the three), of which half was put aside for after supper. This is called the Aphiqomon, or after-dish, and as we believe that ‘the bread’ of the Holy Eucharist was the Aphiqomon, some particulars may here be of interest. The dish in which the broken cake lies (not the Aphiqomon), is elevated, and these words are spoken: ‘This is the bread of misery which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. All that are hungry, come and eat; all that are needy, come, keep the Pascha.’ In the more modern ritual the words are added: ‘This year here, next year in the land of Israel; this year bondsmen, next year free!’ On this the second cup is filled, and the youngest in the company is instructed to make formal inquiry as to the meaning of all the observances of that night, 56 when the Liturgy proceeds to give full answers as regards the festival, its occasion, and ritual. The Talmud adds that the table is to be previously removed, so as to excite the greater curiosity. We do not suppose that even the earlier ritual represents the exact observances at the time of Christ, or that, even if it does so, they were exactly followed at that Paschal Table of the Lord. But so much stress is laid in Jewish writings on the duty of fully rehearsing at the Paschal Supper the circumstances of the first Passover and the deliverance connected with it, that we can scarcely doubt that what the Mishnah declares as so essential formed part of the services of that night. And as we think of our Lord’s comment on the Passover and Israel’s deliverance, the words spoken when the unleavened cake was broken come back to us, and with deeper meaning attaching to them.
After this the cup is elevated, and then the service proceeds somewhat lengthily, the cup being raised a second time and certain prayers spoken. This part of the service concludes with the two first Psalms in the series called ‘the Hallel,’ when the cup is raised a third time, a prayer spoken, and the cup drunk. This ends the first part of the service. And now the Paschal meal begins by all washing their hands – a part of the ritual which we scarcely think Christ observed. It was, we believe, during this lengthened exposition and service that the ‘trouble in spirit’ of which St. John speaks passed over the soul of the God-Man. Almost presumptuous as it seems to inquire into its immediate cause, we can scarcely doubt that it concerned not so much Himself as them. His Soul could not, indeed, but have been troubled, as, with full consciousness of all that it would be to Him – infinitely more than merely human suffering – He looked down into the abyss which was about to open at His Feet. But He saw more than even this. He saw Judas about to take the last fatal step, and His Soul yearned in pity over him. The very sop which He would so soon hand to him, although a sign of recognition to John, was a last appeal to all that was human in Judas. And, besides all this, Jesus also saw, how, all unknown to them, the terrible tempest of fierce temptation would that night sweep over them; how it would lay low and almost uproot one of them, and scatter all. It was the beginning of the hour of Christ’s utmost loneliness, of which the climax was reached in Gethsemane. And in the trouble of His Spirit did He solemnly ‘testify’ to them of the near Betrayal. We wonder not, that they all became exceeding sorrowful, and each asked, ‘Lord, is it I?’ This question on the part of the eleven disciples, who were conscious of innocence of any purpose of betrayal, and conscious also of deep love to the Master, affords one of the clearest glimpses into the inner history of that Night of Terror, in which, so to speak, Israel became Egypt. We can now better understand their heavy sleep in Gethsemane, their forsaking Him and fleeing, even Peter’s denial. Everything must have seemed to these men to give way; all to be enveloped in outer darkness, when each man could ask whether he was to be the Betrayer.
The answer of Christ left the special person undetermined, while it again repeated the awful prediction – shall we not add, the most solemn warning – that it was one of those who took part in the Supper. It is at this point that St. John resumes the thread of the narrative. 60 As he describes it, the disciples were looking one on another, doubting of whom He spake. In this agonising suspense Peter beckoned from across the table to John, whose head, instead of leaning on his hand, rested, in the absolute surrender of love and intimacy born of sorrow, on the bosom of the Master. Peter would have John ask of whom Jesus spake. And to the whispered question of John, ‘leaning back as he was on Jesus’ breast,’ the Lord gave the sign, that it was he to whom He would give ‘the sop’ when He had dipped it. Even this perhaps was not clear to John, since each one in turn received ‘the sop.’
At present, the Supper itself begins by eating, first, a piece of the unleavened cake, then of the bitter herbs dipped in Charoseth, and lastly two small pieces of the unleavened cake, between which a piece of bitter radish has been placed. But we have direct testimony, that, about the time of Christ, ‘the sop’ which was handed round consisted of these things wrapped together: flesh of the Paschal Lamb, a piece of unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. This, we believe, was ‘the sop,’ which Jesus, having dipped it for him in the dish, handed first to Judas, as occupying the first and chief place at Table. But before He did so, probably while He dipped it in the dish, Judas, who could not but fear that his purpose might be known, reclining at Christ’s left hand, whispered into the Master’s ear, ‘Is it I, Rabbi?’ It must have been whispered, for no one at the Table could have heard either the question of Judas or the affirmative answer of Christ. 66 It was the last outgoing of the pitying love of Christ after the traitor. Coming after the terrible warning and woe on the Betrayer, 67 it must be regarded as the final warning and also the final attempt at rescue on the part of the Saviour. It was with full knowledge of all, even of this that his treachery was known, though he may have attributed the information not to Divine insight but to some secret human communication, that Judas went on his way to destruction. We are too apt to attribute crimes to madness; but surely there is normal, as well as mental mania; and it must have been in a paroxysm of that, when all feeling was turned to stone, and mental self-delusion was combined with moral perversion, that Judas ‘took’ 68 from the Hand of Jesus ‘the sop.’ It was to descend alive into the grave – and with a heavy sound the gravestone fell and closed over the mouth of the pit. That moment Satan entered again into his heart. But the deed was virtually done; and Jesus, longing for the quiet fellowship of His own with all that was to follow, bade him do quickly that he did.
But even so there are questions connected with the human motives that actuated Judas, to which, however, we can only give the answer of some suggestions. Did Judas regard Christ’s denunciation of ‘woe’ on the Betrayer not as a prediction, but as intended to be deterrent – perhaps in language Orientally exaggerated – or if he regarded it as a prediction, did he not believe in it? Again, when after the plain intimation of Christ and His Words to do quickly what he was about to do, Judas still went to the betrayal, could he have had an idea – rather, sought to deceive himself, that Jesus felt that He could not escape His enemies, and that He rather wished it to be all over? Or had all his former feelings towards Jesus turned, although temporarily, into actual hatred which every Word and Warning of Christ only intensified? But above all and in all we have, first and foremost, to think of the peculiarly Judaic character of his first adherence to Christ; of the gradual and at last final and fatal disenchantment of his hopes; of his utter moral, consequent upon his spiritual, failure; of the change of all that had in it the possibility of good into the actuality of evil; and, on the other hand, of the direct agency of Satan in the heart of Judas, which his moral and spiritual ship-wreck rendered possible.
From the meal scarcely begun Judas rushed into the dark night. Even this has its symbolic significance. None there knew why this strange haste, unless from obedience to something that the Master had bidden him.
Even John could scarcely have understood the sign which Christ had given of the traitor. Some of them thought, he had been directed by the words of Christ to purchase what was needful for the feast: others, that he was bidden go and give something to the poor. Gratuitous objection has been raised, as if this indicated that, according to the Fourth Gospel, this meal had not taken place on the Paschal night, since, after the commencement of the Feast (on the 15th Nisan), it would be unlawful to make purchases. But this certainly was not the case. Sufficient here to state, that the provision and preparation of the needful food, and indeed of all that was needful for the Feast, was allowed on the 15th Nisan. 70 And this must have been specially necessary when, as in this instance, the first festive day, or 15th Nisan, was to be followed by a Sabbath, on which no such work was permitted. On the other hand, the mention of these two suggestions by the disciples seems almost necessarily to involve, that the writer of the Fourth Gospel had placed this meal in the Paschal Night. Had it been on the evening before, no one could have imagined that Judas had gone out during the night to buy provisions, when there was the whole next day for it, nor would it have been likely that a man should on any ordinary day go at such an hour to seek out the poor. But in the Paschal Night, when the great Temple-gates were opened at midnight to begin early preparations for the offering of the Chagigah, or festive sacrifice, which was not voluntary but of due, and the remainder of which was afterwards eaten at a festive meal, such preparations would be quite natural. And equally so, that the poor, who gathered around the Temple, might then seek to obtain the help of the charitable.
The departure of the betrayer seemed to clear the atmosphere. He was gone to do his work; but let it not be thought that it was the necessity of that betrayal which was the cause of Christ’s suffering of soul. He offered Himself willingly – and though it was brought about through the treachery of Judas, yet it was Jesus Himself Who freely brought Himself a Sacrifice, in fulfilment of the work which the Father had given Him. And all the more did He realise and express this on the departure of Judas. So long as he was there, pitying love still sought to keep him from the fatal step. But when the traitor was at last gone, the other side of His own work clearly emerged into Christ’s view. And this voluntary sacrificial aspect is further clearly indicated by His selection of the terms ‘Son of Man’ and ‘God’ instead of ‘Son’ and ‘Father.’ ‘Now is glorified the Son of Man, and God is glorified in Him. And God shall glorify Him in Himself, and straightway shall He glorify Him.’ If the first of these sentences expressed the meaning of what was about to take place, as exhibiting the utmost glory of the Son of Man in the triumph of the obedience of His Voluntary Sacrifice, the second sentence pointed out its acknowledgment by God: the exaltation which followed the humiliation, the reward as the necessary sequel of the work, the Crown after the Cross.
Thus far for one aspect of what was about to be enacted. As for the other – that which concerned the disciples: only a little while would He still be with them. Then would come the time of sad and sore perplexity – when they would seek Him, but could not come whither He had gone – during the terrible hours between His Crucifixion and His manifested Resurrection. With reference to that period especially, but in general to the whole time of His Separation from the Church on earth, the great commandment, the bond which alone would hold them together, was that of love one to another, and such love as that which He had shown towards them. And this – shame on us, as we write it! – was to be the mark to all men of their discipleship. As recorded by St. John, the words of the Lord were succeeded by a question of Peter, indicating perplexity as to the primary and direct meaning of Christ’s going away. On this followed Christ’s reply about the impossibility of Peter’s now sharing his Lord’s way of Passion, and, in answer to the disciple’s impetuous assurance of his readiness to follow the Master not only into peril, but to lay down his Life for Him, the Lord’s indication of Peter’s present unpreparedness and the prediction of His impending denial. It may have been, that all this occurred in the Supper-Chamber and at the time indicated by St. John. But it is also recorded by the Synoptists as on the way to Gethsemane, and in, what we may term, a more natural connection. Its consideration will therefore be best reserved till we reach that stage of the history.
We now approach the most solemn part of that night: The Institution of the Lord’s Supper. It would manifestly be beyond the object, as assuredly it would necessarily stretch beyond the limits, of the present work, to discuss the many questions and controversies which, alas! have gathered around the Words of the Institution. On the other hand, it would not be truthful wholly to pass them by. On certain points, indeed, we need have no hesitation. The Institution of the Lord’s Supper is recorded by the Synoptists, although without reference to those parts of the Paschal Supper and its Services with which one or another of its acts must be connected. In fact, while the historical nexus with the Paschal Supper is evident, it almost seems as if the Evangelists had intended, by their studied silence in regard to the Jewish Feast, to indicate that with this Celebration and the new Institution the Jewish Passover had for ever ceased. On the other hand, the Fourth Gospel does not record the new Institution – it may have been, because it was so fully recorded by the others; or for reasons connected with the structure of that Gospel; or it may be accounted for on other grounds. 75 But whatever way we may account for it, the silence of the Fourth Gospel must be a sore difficulty to those who regard it as an Ephesian product of symbolico-sacramentarian tendency, dating from the second century.
The absence of a record by St. John is compensated by the narrative of St Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 v 23-26, to which must be added as supplementary the reference in 1 Corinthians 10 v 16 to ‘the Cup of Blessing which we bless’ as ‘fellowship of the Blood of Christ, and the Bread which we break’ as ‘fellowship of the Body of Christ.’ We have thus four accounts, which may be divided into two groups: St Matthew and St. Mark, and St. Luke and St. Paul. None of these give us the very words of Christ, since these were spoken in Aramæan. In the renderings which we have of them one series may be described as the more rugged and literal, the other as the more free and paraphrastic. The differences between them are, of course, exceedingly minute; but they exist. As regards the text which underlies the rendering in our A.V., the difference suggested are not of any practical importance, 76 with the exception of two points. First, the copula ‘is’ [‘This is My Body,’ ‘This is My Blood’] was certainly not spoken by the Lord in the Aramaic, just as it does not occur in the Jewish formula in the breaking of bread at the beginning of the Paschal Supper. Secondly, the words: ‘Body which is given,’ or, in 1 Corinthians 11 v 24, ‘broken,’ and ‘Blood which is shed,’ should be more correctly rendered: ‘is being given,’ ‘broken,’ ‘shed.’
If we now ask ourselves at what part of the Paschal Supper the new Institution was made, we cannot doubt that it was before the Supper was completely ended. 77 We have seen, that Judas had left the Table at the beginning of the Supper. The meal continued to its end, amidst such conversation as has already been noted. According to the Jewish ritual, the third Cup was filled at the close of the Supper. This was called, as by St. Paul, 78 ‘the Cup of Blessing,’ partly, because a special ‘blessing’ was pronounced over it. It is described as one of the ten essential rites in the Paschal Supper. Next, ‘grace after meat’ was spoken. But on this we need not dwell, nor yet on ‘the washing of hands’ that followed. The latter would not be observed by Jesus as a religious ceremony; while, in regard to the former, the composite character of this part of the Paschal Liturgy affords internal evidence that it could not have been in use at the time of Christ. But we can have little doubt, that the Institution of the Cup was in connection with this third ‘Cup of Blessing.’ 79 If we are asked, what part of the Paschal Service corresponds to the ‘Breaking of Bread,’ we answer, that this being really the last Pascha, and the cessation of it, o