For at least 60 years I’ve known that Matthew 26:26-27 recorded Christ’s prayer of thanksgiving when establishing the loaf and cup as the Lord’s Supper. Yet, only when our friend Mike Brown read the passage last week for his communion devotional did I wonder: of what did the Master’s thanksgiving consist? Have you ever wondered?
To be sure, hearing God the Son preach astounded listeners with its jaw-dropping originality and authority. And hearing God the Son pray to God the Father proved equally impressive and astonishing.
Beyond being sure that Christ’s thanksgiving was specific and particular, as his teachings and prayers always were, can we approximate its content on this occasion? Perhaps a short study of other examples of prayers of thanksgiving, not necessarily in order of appearance, will answer the question.
We know, for example, that Jesus thanked God for the loaves and fish before feeding 5,000 and 4,000 men, Matthew 14:19; 15:36. We can surmise he thanked God for the Twelve that he and God chose as the kingdom’s nucleus, Luke 6:12. This is clarified when he commended the Eleven for sharing his trials, Luke 22:28.
We know that he praised God in prayer for revealing kingdom secrets to little children (people of faith), and hiding them from the “wise and learned” Matthew 11:25 (Which the little children in the temple after the Triumphal Entry embodied, Matthew 21:15-16).
Jesus also delightedly praised God after the 70 disciples returned from a preaching tour, Luke 10:21-24. That thanksgiving forecast the change coming to the religious life, made clear only in Acts 6:3-4. God empowered laymen, not priests, not even preachers, to embody the kingdom.
Jesus thanked God for always hearing him when he prayed before raising Lazarus, John 11:41-42. When invited by the men of Emmaus to share their hospitality, he “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.” The Master’s action may have focused on what the loaf-breaking would cause—the opening of their eyes to his presence, Luke 24:30. And when, during the last week, in the struggle between his destiny and its cost, he undoubtedly thanked God for helping him fulfill his destiny, despite its cost, John 12:28. In addition, his entire prayer in John 17 embodied Christ’s appreciation of the men God gave him to mature as disciples, accompanied by God’s need to protect them as they served.
With millions of other Jews, from age 12, Jesus gave thanks at each Passover for Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. And he gave thanks for the Passover Lamb in the three previous Passovers he and the disciples shared. And again, on this Thursday night, he again gave thanks, but with a new emphasis, consecrating the bread and cup as HIS SUPPER. Of what, then would his thanks consist?
We don’t now for certain, but we can hazard a likely possibility. The entire celebration focused on the Lamb Moses had ordered slain 1500 years before by each Jewish family earlier in the day of the midnight hour when blood on doorposts protected the occupants from the Death Angel Passing Over the Land.
Jesus would be thinking of that Lamb slain so faithfully each year by generations of Jews. But in the Upper Room, thinking not of that Lamb, repeatedly slain, but of HIMSELF, God’s Perfect Lamb come to sacrifice himself ONCE for all to rescue the world from sin, not merely a people from bondage.
Since he had been born for the hour ahead, and since by nine the next morning he would fulfill the purpose for which he came, it’s logical that the completion of his purpose punctuated, activated and empowered the thanks offered for the loaf and cup. The time had finally COME to be the Sacrifice God ordained; and to become the High Priest his success would provide. Think about it.