Insert text here.
A holiday meal; a disloyal colleague and the pain of betrayal; strange, new talk from Jesus about brokenness and blood; a promise of hope; a hymn to sustain--we call it "The Last Supper".
When evening had come, Jesus sat down with the twelve. As they were eating, He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me." They were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, "Lord, is it I?"
Jesus answered, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born." Then Judas answered, "Rabbi, is it I?" He said to him, "You have said it."
As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." Then he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying "Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
"I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Matthew 26:20-30 NKJV, condensed
Judas Iscariot had signed on to follow the long-waited Messiah, not a sacrificial lamb. Like others who followed Jesus, Judas believed their Teacher could accomplish anything. He had the strength to subdue all enemies because his power came from the Almighty. But Jesus didn't seem inclined to subdue anyone. Instead he sounded more and more like he was going to submit to earthly authorities and die, right there before their eyes.
Betrayals are done in secret, rarely to someone's face. Under the pretense of a lasting friendship Judas was now operating behind Jesus' back, hoping to gain an advantage with the element of surprise. But the surprise was that Jesus was not going to be surprised.
There's nothing good about the word. Betray connotes disloyalty, duplicity, treachery, breaking faith with someone, selling out, informing, two-timing; it means to deceive, trick, double-cross, dupe, abandon, expose, unmask, lay bare, hand over. It's a failure to safeguard and preserve a person's trust. So how could it happen that at this special holiday meal Jesus announced, "One of you will betray me." This was not typical table talk.
On the surface, the response of the other disciples might be surprising. They did not point to Judas and say, "We knew it was you!" Instead, they each questioned if they were the guilty one! Suggesting that maybe in all of our hearts, we know that we are capable of such treachery. The disciples were deeply grieved, and shocked; there was one among them whom Jesus said it would have been better if he had never been born! "You couldn't be talking about me, could you," Judas inquired?
Clearly, Jesus had not turned out to be the kind of Messiah many people had envisioned. But why did Judas, a trusted disciple, decide to assist those who plotted against his Master? Was he bitter over hopes dashed and years wasted? Did he feel misled? Maybe Jesus moved too slowly for him and he simply intended to force Jesus' hand in setting up his kingdom. Did Judas think he knew better than God how things should be done!
Yes, Rome occupied the Jewish territories, but there is a more powerful enemy. Amid the intensity of the moment, Jesus proceeded to offer redemption, not from the oppression of Rome, but from sin. The unleavened bread at the Passover meal symbolized the mighty deliverance of God's people from slavery in Egypt. Jesus took some of that bread and prayed over it. Then he broke it into pieces and distributed them among his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Jesus also held up a cup of wine. After giving thanks he passed the cup to his disciples, saying "Drink from it, all of you. It is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."
His body broken, his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins; feed on him and drink from the cup of God's salvation--with these images Jesus introduced a new covenant with exciting possibilities for the world. His words of forgiveness possess the power to heal and cleanse, those inside the room and everyone on the outside, too. We might say that God's dream is that the forgiven become forgivers, too.
There's no way for us to measure the degree of pain in that room caused by the disloyalty of one of their members. Judas not only betrayed Jesus, he sold them all out. It was a nail to the heart, possibly as hurtful as the crucifying nails of the soldiers.
Jesus didn't dwell on the pain. Instead, he made one final promise to his faithful followers. Some distant day, when all talk of death is over, they will sit together and eat this meal anew in the kingdom of God. It won't be like the present moment with a cloud hanging over their heads, but in the safety of their Father's house on the other side of these troubled waters. Next time, in the new Jerusalem! They could drink to that idea.
On that note, they sang a hymn. They were heading down a terrifying stretch, not knowing what would happen next. But Jesus said sing, so in the darkness they made music. They sang a psalm like David of old, praising their Shepherd God, the one who leads beside still waters, across green pastures, through the shadows in the valley of death, and beyond the presence of their enemies. Yes, they would sing a song to the rock of their salvation and, in that expression of faith, find strength.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Name a song from which you derive strength or inspiration.
Picture in your mind a small group of people, one you are familiar with--a workplace gathering, a holiday meal with extended family, a committee meeting, a volunteer project. In your mind watch as the leader of that group announces in all seriousness, "Someone in this room is going to say something nasty and derogatory about our group when they leave here today!" Observe as individuals glance around at each other with questioning eyes. Discuss the group dynamics within a situation like that, and how words of betrayal affect the way people look at, and respond to, each other?How does this exercise help us understand what was happening in that upper room with Jesus and his disciples?
Judas is known for one thing. He betrayed our Lord. He must have done many other things throughout his life, but we know him as a turncoat. How common is it to remember someone for the worst they ever did?If you were going to be known for just one thing, what would it be?
Judas was not only plotting with the enemy, he was eating like a friend from the same dish as Jesus. What is wrong with that picture?Share something from your own experience about the pain or regrets of betrayal.
There's a transition in this text from the shock of knowing there was a traitor among them, to the distressing images of Jesus' body being broken and his blood poured out. How do these two parts of the story fit together?
"Lord, am I the one! You talking to me?" It's easy to see the sins of others, but when did you know in your soul that you were the one who messed up?
Take! Eat! Drink! That's all Jesus asked of his disciples in that upper room. Their job was simply to receive. Why, or why isn't the sacrament of holy communion really that simple? The same could be said for forgiveness of sins. When we confess what we have done or failed to do, our job is simply to receive God's forgiveness. Is confession and atonement really that simple? Why or why not? God is a generous and gracious giver. How good a receiver are you?
Look over the book of Psalms in the middle of the Bible and find some verses that speak to your situation. There are Psalms for every mood and need. Look for something that would help sustain you next time you hit the inevitable bump in the road. Make note of it so you will have "a song to sing in the darkness."