Today is Spy Wednesday, and tomorrow the Christian church celebrates Maundy Thursday, Jesus' gathering with his twelve apostles to eat their final meal. Or were there only twelve apostles present? While Matthew 26 has Jesus eating with the twelve apostles, Mark 14 has Jesus speaking of a large upper room. Well, you could get thirteen at squeeze into my living room, which is not very large, so why have a large one unless there were more than just the apostles at the supper? We know that some women were with Jesus, and so, as the Passover is a meal for the assembled community, male and female, why would Jesus have excluded his own mother and other treasured women, such as Mary Magdalene? Moreover, Mark's Gospel says that Jesus was eating the meal with his disciples, a group wider than the twelve. So I believe that a larger group was present at the supper.
The basis of the idea that only the apostles were present at the Last Supper is that it was then that Jesus instituted the priesthood, which has been traditionally male, so women could not have been present, but that is a weak argument, for the last supper was the first Eucharist, the ceremony in which the Christian community bands together. At this all members are welcome, so it is necessary that there were both women and men present at the supper.
So what is the significance of the Last Supper for Christianity? Like its sister faith, Judaism, Christianity is a community religion, and both of these faiths believe that religion involves being member of sacred community centred round God. Judaism is a faith founded on God's covenant with the sacred people of Israel; while Christianity celebrates the new covenant with all humankind instituted by Christ. Each of these faiths has its covenant meal; the Jews have the Passover feast to celebrate their liberation from slavery in Egypt; the Christians have their own Eucharist to celebrate Jesus' death and resurrection in which God took upon himself what the powers of evil could throw at him and came out victorious at the resurrection. The Jews celebrate the Passover once a year; Christians celebrate the Eucharist almost everyday, Good Friday being the exception.
Jesus must have enjoyed table fellowship with his disciples, where the assembled group gathered around their master, humans congregating around the incarnate word of God.But at the Last Supper a change was wrought. As this was to be the final meal that he would eat before his death he announced that the meal was to be in memory of him and that the bread and wine were his body and blood. The word for memorial is anamnesis, which mean a reliving, so the implication is that somehow Jesus' presence is relived in the Eucharistic ceremony and the church has taken this to mean that he is present in the sacred elements of bread and wine. This is a doctrine that puzzles many people, but I think it necesssary to assert that religion can and does contain elements of mystery, for it deals with realities that are beyond the reality of the physical world.