maundy thursday

for Morning Prayer at Berkeley Divinity School, 3/29/18

Psalm 102
1 Cor. 10:14-17; 11:27-32
Mark 14:12-25

“Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’”

If you were one of Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel of Mark, like Pavlov’s dogs drooling at the sound of a bell, your ears would perk up when Jesus says, “Truly I tell you,” if you weren’t already listening intently. You would come to expect him to say something about the coming of the Kingdom or discipleship, or to say something to recognize the faithful gesture of someone you are used to overlooking—the poor widow who gives her two coins; the woman who anoints Jesus’ head with nard from an alabaster jar; when Jesus says, “Truly I tell you,” it is followed by something you won’t anticipate.

“One of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” In response, the disciples each seem genuinely concerned about the possibility that they could be the one who in condemning Jesus condemns himself—“Surely, not I?” We know that the one who will betray Jesus is Judas Iscariot, but the disciples do not. We also know from the verses following this passage that not one but two disciples could be named: Jesus predicts that Peter’s firm resolve will melt when tried. But Mark says, “after giving thanks he gave [the cup] to them, and all of them drank from it.” Judas, Peter, all.

Although it reads seamlessly, the reading from 1 Corinthians omits a large chunk of text in which Paul warns against idolatry, laments women who pray without their head covering (and men with long hair), and parrots back reports he has heard about the church’s disunity. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” is soon followed by “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons,” and “When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lords supper.” Because of these pitfalls, Paul bids the church to self-examination prior to participating in the bread and cup. Are you prepared?

The immediate context in which the Eucharist takes place is one of discord and confusion. Am I the one who betrays Jesus? Am I receiving the bread and cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner? These are questions we might sit with more often for the sake of ourselves, our communities, and our congregations, because they will point us to the fissures we have caused and point us to Christ. That the answers to these questions are all certainly “yes” for each of us does not negate the confusion and discomfort they may cause or the necessity of asking them. Holy Week offers jarring encounters in which the certainty of hope is suspended and comfort questioned, and we are left in the lurch. But even in the midst of this confusion, we are assured that we are one by the concrete presence of Jesus’ body and blood in our mouths and throats. That is our comfort.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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