As the disciples gathered together with Jesus to share the Passover meal, there was enormous tension in the air.
They’d already had a very strange and stressful week – the entrance into Jerusalem amidst the cheering crowds, Jesus flipping tables in the temple, Jesus’ most harrowing and apocalyptic teaching yet, numerous failed attempts by infuriated scribes and Pharisees to trick Jesus into misspeaking. Perhaps the disciples came to this Passover meal hoping for a break from the crazy, a retreat into the familiar and comforting.
The intent of the Passover meal was to recall the story of God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from the bondage of slavery. Participants would relive that fearsome night of the Lord’s judgment upon Egypt, recounting the death of a lamb for each family, and how the father of the family would then place the blood of that lamb on the doorposts of their homes. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you,” the Lord had said.
The disciples would indeed experience a night of the Lord’s deliverance, but there would be no retreat into comfort.
In the middle of the meal, Jesus ramped up the tension by predicting to the group that one of them would betray him. The disciples respond to this bomb in the same way that you or I probably would. Rather than showing sorrow or concern for Jesus, they focus on themselves; “It’s not going to be me, is it?” Judas played along, and Jesus doesn’t out him to the group. Instead, he lets the potential indictment for all of them hang in the air. They – we– are all capable of betraying Jesus.
It is into this heavy tension, into this uncomfortable possibility, into the inevitable reality of self-centeredness and betrayal, that Jesus stands up with a loaf of the unleavened bread and a cup of wine.
Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).
Judas, who would betray him, is there. Peter, who would deny him three times, is there. All of his disciples who would turn from Jesus are there. Jesus is neither naïve nor unaware of the treachery that awaits him. He almost seems to tee it up himself before he dramatically snaps the loaf of bread in two – “This is my body, broken for you” – and offers them the cup – “This is my blood, poured out for the forgiveness of your sins.” He wants it to be crystal clear, to them and to us, that it is precisely for our self-centeredness, our denial, and our sin that he came, and for which he would die. Our unlimited capacity to choose and serve ourselves over God is met by God’s greater-still capacity to give grace and forgive.
In my denomination, we take Communion (how we usually refer to the Lord’s Supper) nearly every week. Many would call it the height of their worship experience. And yet, in the familiarity, it is easy to lose sight of the tension, the sorrow and the grace of this holy meal. It takes effort and discipline to remember that Jesus intentionally and eagerly gave himself to the breaking of his body and the pouring out of his blood for MY self-centeredness and treachery; to remember that it is in seeing the blood of the Lamb over the doorpost of my heart that God graciously passes his judgment over me, so that I may be delivered from His judgment and from my enslavement to myself.
If you take the Lord’s Supper this week, take it personally. Take it in the tension. Take it in full awareness that it is the sacrament of God’s atoning sacrifice, and the emblem of God’s gracious, crazy love for the weary and self-centered, like you.
Tune in tomorrow on rootedministry.com to read Day 3 of Holy Week Meditations.
To read the first meditation: Day 1.