Jesus knew it was coming. Jesus knew he was going to be betrayed, knew he was going to die. It had all started earlier in the week, when he went into Jerusalem on that donkey, with people proclaiming him king. That got everybody riled up, including Pilate and the Temple leaders. With Rome and the Temple establishment on his tail, it wasn’t going to take long. Jesus knew it was coming.
And Jesus knew how these events tended to come out, someone in his group was going to tell them where he was and when he would be alone. That would be the time to arrest him and not have the possibility of a revolt. Jesus knew that was coming too.
Instead of turning paranoid and going into a hiding place that no one knew, the gospel writer tells us, “He loved them to the end.” Jesus shared his life with others, knowing full well that someone would take his life and turn it over to his enemies. He ate with his disciples that night of Passover, knowing that he would face the fate of the firstborn of Egypt rather than the miracle of salvation, liberation, and independence.
Jesus sat at the table, and he ate of the lamb reminding them all of that fateful night when God moved. He shared with them bitter herbs to remind them of the slavery in Egypt. He dipped parsley in salt water as a remembrance of the tears shed under oppression. He ate haroset, a mixture of nuts, apple, cinnamon and wine designed to look like straw to remember the treasure houses of Pharaoh and the hope of freedom from slavery. And he ate unleavened bread with his disciples as a remembrance of the haste in which Israel left Egypt.
Before that Jesus did something extraordinary. He took the position of a servant and washed the disciple’s feet. We hear in tonight’s reading that when Jesus got to Peter, Peter refused to have his feet washed. Peter couldn’t understand how Jesus could be his servant, when Peter spent his life following Jesus. But what goes unmentioned – and that gets me all the more – is that in the middle of all this was Judas Isacariot, who John tells us had already decided to betray Jesus. Jesus washed Judas’ feet. And John tells us that Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him. Yet Jesus washed Judas’ feet anyway. And I don’t understand how Jesus could be Judas’ servant, not when Judas is going to turn on him.
And after the supper was over, Jesus passed around the bread and the cup, and told his disciples that this was his body and blood. “Do this in remembrance of me.” And Judas ate the bread. Judas drank from the cup. The one who was going to lead others to kill him received Jesus’ instructions about washing others’ feet and remembering him through breaking bread and drinking of the cup.
Tonight we celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper. And we come to the table as disciples, following Jesus through Holy Week. But we have been reminded that we come to the table not as perfect disciples, but as those who betray Jesus each day to the powers of this world. Because if we were there that night we would have seen not just Judas, who betrayed the Savior of the World, but Simon Peter who denied him and ten others who fled in fear of their lives daring not to show their faces. None of the people in the room that night could say that they didn’t betray Jesus in some form during the next 24 hours.
In Communion, we give thanks that Jesus invited us to the table. None of us is worthy of it. None of us deserves it. But in the mystery of divine grace we are invited anyway. Take the bread, drink from the cup, and do it in remembrance of the one who died and rose for us, the ones who betray him so often.