April 19, 2019

Meditation on Luke 22

Transition from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday

For just about all Christians, there’s no more memorable part of the gospel than the account of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. The words spoken at that moment are among the most oft-quoted in the history of humanity. “This is my body… this is my blood… do this in remembrance of me.” These words make us a people. They tell us who and what we are. They give us strength. They both lay us low and lift us up. They are words of deep mystery. And yet they reassure us in their directness. They describe the very riches of God in the simplest of human experience: Bread, wine, body, blood.

This gift of thanksgiving, this sign of grace, this seal of God’s love that we long for was something Jesus longed to share with us. The Greek tells us that Jesus said, “With desire I have desired to share this Passover with you” — two forms of the same intense word. He knew all along that the time would come when his followers would see the Passover not as something that happened in the distant past, but as a present reality in their own lives. He knew the gift of God, and he knew the price that would be paid for it.

And that word price is something that we see elsewhere in this story, isn’t it? The one who was to betray Jesus also knew something about the price of things. Many of us remember a couple of weeks ago how Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with the extravagant gift of expensive perfume. His presence in her home called forth from her a response, and that response was worship. Judas was also there, but he was unable to worship— only criticize, thinking of the price of the perfume, and what he could’ve done with it.

And here we see that, even closer to the crossroads of eternity, Judas was once again concerned with price. “What will you give me?” … Matthew has him asking those who want to do away with Jesus— “What will you give me if I deliver him to you?” Here in Luke, we don’t hear the question, but we see that it was asked, for Jesus was betrayed, and—with a kiss—money was exchanged.

So we remember Jesus’ words when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. But we usually forget the price Judas was paid beforehand, and how he earned his keep afterward. And perhaps we’re comfortable letting Judas be Judas, and later, letting Peter be Peter when he denied knowing Jesus. These two people aren’t us, after all.

But, of course, they are. That’s why they’re in the story. We may not deny knowing Jesus with our words, but we too often deny him with our actions and our attitudes toward the least of these, our sisters and brothers in this world. The poor go hungry, entire communities thirst for clean water, the sick suffer without access to healthcare, and prisoners languish with nary a visit from us. The Peter we see before the rooster’s crow is alive and well in today’s Christians.

And Judas thrives in a church that connives with the rulers of this world to gain influence or take control. Better the thirty pieces of silver from the power structures than the ignominy of the cross, we think.

But we will be proven wrong on the third day. Suffering and shame are not the enemies, but it is our coöperation with those who inflict them that separates us from God. Yet that separation need not be the last word, for a table has been spread—a table at which all are present: the bold and the reticent, the faithful and the betrayer, the one who is quick to speak up for Jesus and the one who says they never knew him. None are denied a place, and it reminds me of the words of the 23rd Psalm: Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.

One commentator I read was jarred by these hateful words inserted into a psalm of reassurance, as though the psalmist were feasting while those around the psalmist were starving. But the passion of our Lord teaches us something else: If God spreads a table before us in the wilderness— prepares a meal for us with our enemies looking on— we are free to do as Jesus did: Invite them to join us. Peter and Judas were both at Jesus’ table last night. One was redeemed in the end, and one was not. It is not ours to decide which is which.

PRAYER

Strengthen, O Lord, all who place their hope in you. Take care of us in all our negligence. As we make life difficult for each other, we thank you for sharing our burdens.

Be merciful to us despite our broken promises. Help us forgive those who have disappointed us; heal the bitterness toward us of those whom we have disappointed. Look upon our good intentions, and help us to live up to them. Yet when we deny you in word or deed, when we betray you through our selfishness and misguided loyalties, be with us still.

Do not deny us a place at your table, but in your sacrifice on our behalf, may we find the wholeness we are unable to obtain for ourselves. When we become tired, when our arms sink under the weight of our obligations, and our feet are unable to keep up, help us to hope in you, even when hope itself appears to have died. We ask this in your Name, O Jesus Christ. Amen.

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