…on the night he was betrayed
Readings for Mass of the Lord's Supper: Exodus 12:1-8,11-14; Psalm 116; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15
By the time of the last supper, it is all finished for Jesus. The preaching mission has ended; he is, in effect, on death-row. He is about to face a show-trial of a kind which is not unfamiliar. People in these extreme situations often go to pieces or become absorbed in their own affliction. Yet Jesus’ words and actions shape the meaning of what will happen to him in a way quite unlike anyone else.
Jesus is about to be led into a trap, but before being given over in betrayal, he gives himself over to the disciples. He puts himself into their hands when he takes and breaks bread. ‘This is my body…this is my blood…take it’. Those who sit down to eat with him, who will themselves soon betray, deny and abandon him, find that Jesus has already abandoned himself to them, before they abandon him to others. He has made a covenant with them, and this covenant is a kind of forestalling of the betrayal. Jesus makes room in advance for all that will happen to him. Those who will abandon him are, in an important way, frustrated as betrayers. It is as though there is nothing for them to do. The victim has already given himself to them; their work is over. Whatever they do is rendered powerless, because nothing they can do destroys or removes the covenant already made.
Jesus has made of his betrayers something they could never make of themselves. He has turned them into his guests. In Jesus God has promised a kind of fidelity that he will never turn his back on. A constant open door, if you like, a continual welcome. What we are being told is that God’s promise anticipates and outlives betrayals. The most complete betrayal is anticipated in a simple and unfathomable gesture of acceptance. Future betrayals – our betrayals - are also encompassed by this sign, we too may be transformed from betrayers to guests.
The last supper is the climax of Jesus’ hospitality to the sinner and the outsider throughout his ministry. Repeatedly Jesus sits down among those who have done nothing to deserve his company. What they need to do is to remain seated and listen to their unexpected host. The covenant is just the final guarantee of the same hospitality. God’s last word is, ‘do not be afraid, I will not withdraw my love from you, there is nothing you can do to destroy that tender care’. There is no promise that people will not be unfaithful to each other, but there is an assurance that a welcome is always offered us, a welcome whose roots are deeper than we can guess.
The readings for the Chrism Mass - Isaiah 61:1-3a,6a,8b-9; Psalm 89; Revelation 1:5-8; Luke 4:a6-21 - are available here