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


                                         Who? Me?

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."

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