29 March 2018
Exodus 12:1-4 [5-10] 11-14
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Not all family gatherings are happy ones. In my family they often were not. They were laboured, trying to create the happiness we lacked but wanted.
In 1999 our family visited my mom for a few days. On one of our days there my mother got us invited to my father’s sister’s for afternoon coffee. They had just returned from a holiday in Hungary in the morning of the same day, so it felt a bit awkward to invite ourselves when there were probably lots of things they had to do. In our conversation over coffee my mother then proceeded to talk about the coffee industry and how the industry exploits coffee farmers everywhere and what a terrible and unethical business it is.
That was not new information, nor was it necessarily wrong, but what made this awkward was that my uncle had spend his whole life working for one of those coffee companies, and his son-on-law was now following in his footsteps.
I am thinking of this as I think of the wonderful privilege it must have been to have received Jesus and his company. I am thinking of Jesus sending his disciples into the city to find a place for them to celebrate the Passover. And while the story sounds rather mysterious in regards to the people Jesus knows that his disciples will meet and the details he describes, I was struck by what wonderful circumstance it would be if Jesus suddenly came to my house. This is a bit of the archetype of our faith, that we are the house Jesus enters. Jesus enters our heart, our lives, and our community.
A few scripture verses come to mind:
From the Zacchaeus story: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5)
From Revelation and from my evangelical days, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (3:20)
The word of the centurion that has entered our communion liturgies, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8)
What a joy it must have been to receive Jesus and the disciples at your house!
And yet, not all was good and not all was happy. The beginning of the evening was promising but it did not end well.
The disciples fall asleep, Judas betrays Jesus, Jesus is arrested, his disciples flee.
However, it ended, as Jesus knew it would. Not only had he foretold his suffering but his prayer in the garden was that God’s will be done.
And so this night we enter into the mystery of God’s will. A will that permits the death of Jesus and yet transforms the death of Jesus into new life for Jesus and for the world.
What is striking about this night is that Jesus voluntarily and consciously gives everything for his disciples and for the world. When he institutes the Lord’s Supper he gives his disciples and the church the living Christ, his living body, which is precisely the way he comes to us today.
Jesus gives himself freely and intentionally, even though he knows that Judas will betray him, the disciples leave him, and Peter deny him.
That Jesus knows this does not cause him to reconsider his sacrifice, wondering whether his disciples may be worth his gift, his complete self-giving in life and in death, in the sacrament of washing and eating and drinking.
But I cannot help but think of Judas.
It must be said that the sin of Judas is not greater than the sin of Paul who persecuted the church, of Peter who denied his Lord, of of the disciples who fled to save their skin, the only difference being that he did not trust the forgiveness of God.
I have had a hard time judging Judas not because I consider Judas’ betrayal as insignificant but because I know that I too am capable of sin, of betrayal, of hatred, of violence. Has not been the good part of our tradition been that in the cross of Jesus we acknowledged our own culpability? Paul Gerhard wrote,
“Thy grief and bitter passion
were all for sinners’ gain;
mine, mine was the transgression,
but thine the deadly pain.”
In fact, I thought of my grandma today, who always answered, when invited to church, that she had no need to go, for she had not killed anyone. Yet it was her generation that elected and tolerated Hitler. What are the ways in which we are complicit in ways that destroy the lives of others?
Paul Gerhard does not suggest that Judas is to blame, at least no more than anyone else. Rather, Jesus suffered to save us, all of us, and only his complete surrender could accomplish our salvation.
John tells us about the Lord’s supper in the Bread of Life discourse, not in today’s reading from John 13. In chapter 13 he commands us to love one another. At the beginning of his telling of Jesus stands Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptizer. A baptism for the forgiveness of sin that Jesus undergoes not because he is sinful but to take our place, to stand in solidarity with the world God loves.
In the night of his betrayal Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, the feet of all of them, including the feet of Judas. Washing here is a sign of not only service but of love. Jesus is not afraid of the parts of us that are dirty, inside or out. I have long thought good and deeply dedicated care aides to be examples of such loving service.
Loving one another includes loving each other the way we are, despite our faults and failures. It is the love that Jesus practiced with all of his disciples, it is the love of God that purifies our life together.
It is a time when Jesus comes to visit us, just as he and his disciples came to celebrate the Passover on this night.