A Promise in the Midst of Betrayal

Tonight, we focus on the last supper. Indeed, it was the last time Jesus would break bread with his disciples, for he would never see daylight again as a free man. In this absolutely mind-blowing twist on the traditional Passover meal, bread and wine were fused with Jesus’ words, “this is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, shed for you.” He was telling them his body would be broken and his blood would be shed. For his followers. For you. And me. And that somehow, some way, his person was present in bread and wine. The meaning was not fully understood, not by a long shot, but how do you quickly grasp a truth like that – a promise of such magnitude?

The meaning becomes so much clearer when we examine the context of Jesus’ words. Consider what happens right before and after this “no strings attached” meal of love. Moments before Jesus’ timeless words of institution, Jesus announced that one of them would betray him. Sure enough, shortly before the meal, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, had met with the high priest to seal Jesus’ fate.

And after this supper, Jesus would discover that Judas wasn’t the only disciple who would fail him. They all fell asleep during his darkest hour, at precisely the time when the all too human Jesus was afraid and wanted someone to stay awake with him. But the disciples’ shortcomings don’t end there, as we know. Peter shared in this meal and would be off denying Jesus in just a few minutes. Three times. And the disciples would go on to largely abandon Jesus.

And these…are the good guys, the devoted ones.

The bad guys? They killed Jesus, and in the most agonizing way.

Think of it. The meal of God’s promise of unconditional love for us is given precisely where betrayal occurs; it is bookended by nothing but the worst the human race has to offer, and that includes his own followers. In this short time, we see cowardice, fear, betrayal, hatred and violence. And right in the middle of this toxic stew of human behavior are these words:

“This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood shed for you.”

A lifeline for people who have all kinds of issues. A meal for those people that they might have life.

Do you see why this promise matters? It matters because human frailty is so profound. If the good news we need as humans rests on our shoulders, we’re in trouble. God help us all!

God did help us all. More than help. God saved us all. I want you all to see why God’s unequivocal promise is so important. Jesus words were not preceded by conditions: he did not say, “this is my body and blood given for you if you’re faithful to me.” If that were the case, the supper would be for no one. The promise of God’s sacrificial love for us is so important because human fidelity cannot sustain our relationship with God. This is God’s work! God alone can save us.

The reason Jesus was killed is proof of both God’s unconditional love and the folly of humans. The powers that be – religious leaders included – were built upon the idea that the world was filled with people who didn’t deserve good news; who didn’t deserve any of the fruits of society, the dignity of respect or the company of God. Conveniently, those same people making those judgments thought themselves to be worthy of such things. And they killed Jesus because he believed that everyone is worthy of God’s love and life, not because they have it all together – they surely don’t – but because God loves them and can alone give them good news. And this very reckless and unequivocal love Jesus lived to his very last breath, even asking God to forgive the people who put him to death. Why? “They know not what they do.”

And so, those disciples, who famously didn’t get it, who were not there for Jesus when he needed them, who even denied and abandoned him – THOSE DISCIPLES – God built his church upon. And the rest is history, as they say. All because God gave his life for us that we may live.

So, don’t ever say to yourself, “I’m not good enough for God.” “I don’t deserve God’s love.” Let God be the judge of that. God’s decision has already been rendered:

“This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood shed for you.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Pastor John is Mt. Carmel’s Senior Pastor.

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