Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"The Accusing Bread"

 Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish."  St. John 13:26

He was a friend, one whom Jesus had trusted.  He had been with all of them for a long time, now.  They had wandered together over so many dusty roads and talked of everything in the world. He had seen the miracles and heard those thrilling talks.  He had left everything else behind, devoted himself to this man Jesus, the promised Messiah.  They had all done that—it was what bound them together.  A ragtag bunch, drawn from all sorts of directions—but they had this in common.  They had all committed their futures to him

And this night, they kept the Passover together.  It was a family meal, a celebration that bound together people who depended on each other.  Still today, to be invited by a Jewish family to celebrate the Passover with them is a great honor, a sign of deep and respected friendship.  They would, of course, celebrate it together.  They had all left their own families behind, back in Galilee.  They only had each other

This would be a very special Passover—they all must have sensed that.  Things seemed to be moving quickly now.  There had been that great tumult with the Palms on Sunday, and a series of confrontations with the temple authorities.  Jesus seemed especially focused, set on something big that lay ahead of him.  It was natural that it would happen now, in the Holy City, at the Passover.  The Passover, in their time at least, was oriented to what God would do in the last days.  He would make new kingdom, raise up an everlasting ruler.  The whole world would be made new.  And from all that they could see, Jesus was the one, and a glorious future lay ahead.

But Judas knew more than the rest of them about all that.  He thought he was only one who knew how it would really turn out, but he was wrong about that.  Jesus knew too.  He knew what Judas would do.  He knew what was in his heart.  But He invited him to the Passover anyway.  He gave him a seat at the table.

We’re not told exactly why Judas did it.  Saint John suggests he was greedy.  That was true, I’m sure, but I think it must have been about more than that.  Thirty pieces of silver was no great sum of money.  In a sense, it doesn’t matter so much.  What all the Gospels stress is that Judas was of the inner circle, that He was trusted by Jesus and all the rest of them, that he belonged at the Passover table just as much as Peter, or John.  They said the same prayers, and ate from the same bowl.

Jesus knew that the time had come, and he announces it to all of them.  “One of you will betray me.”  Here, among us who all know each other so well, among us who trust each other with our very lives—one of you will betray me.  They are all shocked—think of that moment, which is caught so memorably for us in Leonardo’s great fresco of the Last Supper.  They are all shocked—except for Jesus and Judas.

It will be the one who takes the bread that I have dipped in the dish, Jesus says, and then he hands it to Judas.  It’s a gesture of fellowship, a sign of trust—we only feed those we love with our own hands.  And for a moment it’s not clear what will happen.  We see the Accuser and the Accused.  Which one is which? Hard to say.  Jesus accuses Judas of something he has not yet done.  Judas is about to accuse Jesus of crimes which he never committed.  As this bread is passed from one set of hands to the other, time hangs in the balance.  There is a choice.  “What will this bread be for you, Judas?  Will it be your condemnation?  Or will it be your salvation?”  By accepting this bread are you accepting this sign of peace and friendship?  Or are you accepting the accusation I level against you, your heart set on my betrayal?” 

As soon as the bread was in Judas’ hand, the Gospel tells us, Satan entered him.  “Your accusation is dead on, Jesus, and I will not turn aside.   I will betray you.  He goes out into the night.

In receiving the bread, Judas’ true character is betrayed, made clear for all of us to see.  With the bread, Jesus looks into Judas’ eyes pleadingly.  With the bread, we know who Judas is, and we know what Judas is going to do.

It is not the same with us?  The bread that He gives to us, the wine He pours out for us, they betray us, too.  We are gathered here because we belong to Jesus.  We have walked together for many years, and He has welcomed us to the table.  And yet, none of us is innocent, none of us can say to Jesus, “I have done you no harm.”

When we receive His Body and Blood in a few moments, Jesus will look each of us in the eye and say, "this is my body, given for you."  Jesus, present in bread and wine, not just as a symbol, but really truly present, comes here with full knowledge of each and every one of us.  In bread and wine, he accuses us, by our sins, of being the ones who broke his body and shed his blood.  He will accuse us of our hardness of heart, our cruelty, our hypocrisy. And when the bread and wine are poured, he also offers us a choice. Do you receive this bread and wine as a token of friendship, this offer of forgiveness, this gift of peace and a new beginning?  Or do you accept this bread and wine as one already intent on continuing in your betrayal?   As the exhortation says, “For, as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord's Body.  Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord.” 

When Jesus hands us bread and wine, he is offering a gift, but Jesus is also trying to remind us of something—of who we are, and why we need that gift. The Body and the Blood always accuse us and convict us—why else would there be a broken body and shed blood if it weren’t for the sins we all share?  But if we believe in the one who offers us the gift, and if we desire his forgiveness, the accusation gives way to a feast with forgiven friends.

 If you desire a change, a new beginning, a gift of grace and friendship, then by all means, stretch out your hands to take the Body of Christ.  If you want your faith to be strengthened, and if you hope to live more deeply as a child of God, then drink deeply of the Blood of Christ.  Come, and be known, forgiven, and renewed.

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