Maundy Thursday – April 18, 2019 – Luke 22:14-30 – Trinity, Winchester
On the night he was betrayed, in an act of ultimate servitude, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and sat down at table with them, the very friends who would betray him. Even as he faced death, due in part to their actions, he served them a meal that would become the source of his relationship with them long after his earthy body was gone.
Imagine with me, if you will, the scene. Jesus is going around the table offering himself to each of his friends. “This is my body, this is my blood.”
To James and John, who have been with him from the beginning, “This is my body, given for you.” To Andrew and to Thaddeus, “This is my blood, shed for you.”
To Matthew, Bartholomew, Philip, and Simon, “I am broken for you.” To Thomas, who always was a bit of a glass half-empty guy, “This is my body. You will believe.” Then Peter. Jesus knows he will deny him. Even so, he hands him the bread. “Remember this, Peter.”
And lastly, Judas Iscariot. The man who is about to set this whole thing in motion. “Take, eat, remember me.”
These twelve are about to fall asleep on him. One will deny him and one will sell him out. But he wants them to know, even though they cannot quite understand it yet, that he will always be with them. No matter what.
Just as Jesus shared this holy meal with his apostles before his death, he shares it with us tonight in the fullness of his resurrection. Alas, betrayal, it seems, is in our blood, too. Like the first disciples, we still falter, we still fail. These twelve turned their back on Jesus, but our hearts still dare to overthrow him.
If you need examples, I’ve got plenty. We don’t always love our neighbors as ourselves. We reject our brothers and sisters because they are different from us. We unwittingly contribute to the destruction of the earth and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. We don’t recycle. We tell racist jokes, and, when given the chance, use people as stepping stones to our own success. We spend our money on sex, drugs, and war, while the least of God’s people starve and freeze in the streets.
Our failure is so ubiquitous that we even built into our liturgy formal ways to acknowledge it: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed.” “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.”
These prayers are about admitting that we mess up. We are not worthy to approach the Lord’s altar and receive his body and blood except through God’s great mercy. We can’t get there on our own merit, and yet Jesus still bids us come.
It makes me think of the final scene of the movie Places in the Heart. Maybe you’ve seen it. The whole cast of characters sits together in the pews of a little country church passing trays of bread and wine.
The viewer is surprised to see that every character in the movie is present and accounted for in the final scene. Not only the main characters, or the pious characters, or the innocent characters. The congregation of the faithful is not even limited to the characters that remain living at the story’s end. The scene includes everyone. Living and dead. White and black. Young and old. Betrayed and betrayer.
In one pew sits a husband next to the wife he cheated on. In another pew sits the local sheriff along side the young black man who was lynched for accidentally shooting him.
This must be the definition of “mystic sweet communion” if there ever was one. Even with all that baggage of sin, betrayal, and broken trust, all are welcome at God’s table.
Even you. Even me.
Jesus invites us to his holy table not because the Eucharist magically inoculates us from the temptation of sin, but because it calls us back into relationship with God. Jesus genuinely wants our company. No matter what we do or how far we stray, Jesus calls us into deeper relationship because he loves us—all of us—no matter what.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine acting so lovingly toward anyone who would do me so much harm. Serving them a meal certainly seems a step too far! Holding a grudge, shutting people out, and refusing to forgive them sounds much more like our culture these days.
But the truth is, even when we can’t bring ourselves to be civil, much less forgive; even when we can’t imagine serving a meal to those who betray us; Jesus sees our choices, knows who we are, and loves us anyway because he understands what it feels like to be a human. We don’t have to serve a meal. Jesus offers us his meal.
All we have to do is come. Receive God’s grace right from the source. It will transform your life. It will wash away your sins. It will free you from sin and death.
All you have to do is come.
Well, there is one more thing. When you’re finished, go forth, and make him known.