Then whoso does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whoso does an atom’s weight of evil will also see it. (Al Quran 99:8-9)
By Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
The Last Supper is the evening that Jesus, may peace be on him, spends with his disciples, in Jerusalem. We have several different accounts in the New Testament, but, for our puposes today, let us stick with the Gospel of Mark, which was the first of the four canonical gospels to be committed to writing. It describes the Last Supper as follows:
When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”
They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”
“It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:17-26)
In this account of the Last Supper, the Christians read that Jesus, may peace be on him, is allegedly preaching a New Covenant and describing that the whole purpose of his life is to die on the cross, for sins of others, for vicarious atonement.
This description of the Last Supper, is also the foundation of one of the seven Sacred Sacraments of Catholicism, namely Eucharist.
But, just a few verses later in the same chapter, we have the description of the Garden of Gethsemane:
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! (Mark 14:32-41)
Jesus’ heartfelt prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, most famous as the place where, according to Biblical texts, Jesus and his disciples are said to have prayed the night before Jesus was put on cross, tell us that he did not want to die on the cross.
If we take the account of the Garden to be true and avoid any convoluted interpretation of his prayers to God Almighty to rescue him from ignominious death on the cross, then the account of Last Supper, of bread being Jesus’ body and drink being his blood, of the New Covenant, becomes nothing more than a fiction created at a later time.
According to Luke 22:43–44, Jesus’ anguish in Gethsemane was so deep that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:39-42)
Did Jesus, before his death, institute a new Passover meal in which his martyrdom with its separation of body and blood was symbolized by the meal with its separation of bread and wine? On the one hand, Paul certainly mows about such an institution in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. But, on the other, John 13-17 has a last supper with Jesus and his disciples that is neither the Passover meal nor any type of institutionalized symbolic commemoration of his death. Neither the Gospel of Thomas nor the Q Gospel exhibits any awareness of a Last Supper tradition. Finally, the case of Didache 9-10 is especially significant. It describes a communal and ritual eating together, from the second half of the first century, with absolutely no hint of Passover meal, Last Supper, or passion symbolism built into its origins or development. I cannot believe that those specific Christians mew all about those elements and yet studiously avoided them. I can only presume that those elements were not there for everyone from the beginning–that is, from solemn, formal, and final institution by Jesus himself. “What Jesus created and left behind was the tradition of open commensality seen so often earlier, and what happened was that, after his death, certain Christian groups created the Last Supper as a ritual that combined that commensality from his life with a commemoration of his death. It spread to other Christian groups only slowly. It cannot be used as a historical event to explain anything about Jesus’ own death.
1. John Dominic Crossan. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. Harper Collins, 1995. Pages 146-147.