Immediately before the preparations for the meal outlined in Matthew we have the account of the preparations for betrayal. The shared meal itself is dominated by direct statements by Jesus about treachery, and he deigns to share table with a traitor. Immediately after the words of institution Jesus tells them they will all fail him and let him down. Mark’s gospel is almost identical.
One of the startling things about Luke’s account is that the solemn words said over the cup are spoiled by a clear statement about the betrayer in their midst.
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine at the table.”
There follows, on the part of the disciples, an argument about who is the greatest.
In all accounts, bread is broken and the wine shared in the company of traitors and conspirators, cowards and vain, weak-willed failures.
And it seems to me that every communion table or altar, in every church, is the same. The bread and wine are shared, not with the perfected, but with those who just disappoint themselves and disappoint God all the time.
And what an extraordinary act of grace on Jesus part. To sit around the table with that collection of individuals and share a cup with them. Share bread with them. Say the words of the familiar liturgy of Passover and exodus with them, words that tell a story of release, and freedom and redemption.
We thought about this at breakfast this morning. Six men who have shared many years of such conversations. We wondered what would happen at communion if those who bore grudges against another were not excluded from the table, but invited to break bread together. The bread of reconciliation. The wine of redemption.
Maybe we could rescue the liturgy, from meaningless solemnity and senseless piety, and add an important edge to it if we were more open about the cast of characters who fill the pews. And the great cost of staying at the table, even with those who have let us down.
image from here