12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13 So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”16 So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
17 When it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”
22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’
28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” 30 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.
We all know the story of the Last Supper. At least we think we do. The meaning that this meal has taken on for us—the fact that it has become a ritual and the holy meal of Communion—I don’t think that’s what it was for the Disciples that night. I honestly don’t think that’s what it was for Jesus either. I think maybe the disciples had a good idea that something big was about to happen, and of course Jesus knew exactly what was about to happen. But for all of them, the meal that night—the meal many of us with re-enact tonight—that meal was a holiday meal. It was a Passover meal shared between thirteen friends…thirteen really good friends.
Jesus had gathered his 12 best friends in the world for one last dinner before he had to face the cross. And it was the Passover feast, and so it was going to be one heck of a dinner: lots of ritual, lots of meaningful things to remember from their history as a Jewish people, and of course, incredibly tasty food! Jesus was there with his Disciples to celebrate the things that mattered to them: faith and family, even when that family is made of friends.
So…why was Judas there?
You have to ask that question, because in general, we Christians don’t like Judas very much. He was a vile betrayer! Judas was one of the twelve disciples. He had been there from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He knew Jesus as well as any of the other disciples. Jesus trusted him enough to let Judas be in charge of the money that was donated to support Jesus’s ministry, the money that fed Jesus and the disciples and kept them all together so that they could minister to people all over Judea. And after all that, Judas turned around and betrayed Jesus.
So…why was Judas there?
You have to admit, it’s kind of weird to invite the guy who is about to betray you and guarantee that you will die a horrible death on the cross to a lavish holiday dinner that you are about to share with your best friends.
As Christians, we tend to revile Judas. I don’t know about you, but I have always thought of him as a smiling, slimy Yes-Man. You know, that guy who smiles at the boss while he does his own thing under the table; the guy who makes it look like he’s totally committed to the vision we are all pursuing while lining his own pockets at our expense. The thing is that we get to form our opinions of Judas in the aftermath; in other words, the things we know about Judas are the things that got found out after everything was over and the betrayal was revealed. The things we know about Judas start with our awareness that he betrayed Jesus and then we work backwards from there.
Jesus, on the other hand, met Judas before it all began. Jesus got to know Judas the exact same way we get to know all of our friends: we meet them unaware of who they are and come to like them because of who we perceive them to be. We hang out with them and laugh at their jokes, put up with their temper, and lean on their character when we are feeling low and incapable. In other words, Jesus got to know Judas just like we get to know everyone we eventually become friends with: in real time, not knowing how the story will end.
Yet Scripture tells us that by the time that Jesus was sitting with the Disciples at the Last Supper he knew that Judas would betray him. He knew that Judas was the one that would turn him in to the authorities and get him crucified. He even says so right during the Last Supper. It’s in the Scripture at the beginning of this blog post. Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him, and yet he invited Judas to the dinner.
It baffles the mind. Why invite the man who is going to betray you to the last meal you will ever eat with your friends?
The answer is right there, in the question. Jesus invited Judas to the Last Supper because Jesus invited his…friends. Judas was His friend. That’s why he was at the table with Jesus. Because Judas one of Jesus’ best friends in the world. It almost doesn’t make sense.
But it does make sense.
After all, Peter was at the table too.
Peter—that guy who was going to deny Jesus three times. Jesus knew that was coming too. Mark 14:30 says “Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
Jesus sat there through the entire dinner with Judas and Peter knowing that both of them would betray Him before the night was over. And you might think “Yeah, but Judas got Jesus killed, and Peter…he went out and did good things to create the Kingdom after Jesus was killed. Peter became a great evangelist who created the Church and Jesus knew that was going to happen…Jesus knew that too.” And that makes it look like Judas is a vile betrayer and Peter isn’t all that bad.
And I say to you—if Jesus knew what was going to happen with Peter after Jesus’ death, wouldn’t Jesus also know that Judas would die because he betrayed Jesus? Wouldn’t Jesus know that Judas would die alone, more alone than Jesus did…after all, Jesus’ mother Mary and Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross so that Jesus wouldn’t be alone when he died. Judas? Judas was alone. There was no one there for Judas when he died. No family, no friends, no comfort. And Jesus knew it was coming. Mark 14:21 says “For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”
I’m betting that Jesus knew that the disciples would never forgive Judas; that no one, not even any of us would ever forgive Judas. We revile him for what he did. He betrayed Jesus.
But so did Peter. So did every last disciple! They all ran when the Centurions came and Jesus knew they would run. Mark 14:26-31:
26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’
28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” 30Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.”
They all swore they would stay with Jesus and they all ran. Every. Last. One. They all deserted Jesus and left Him to be accused of things He didn’t do by people who hated Him. They left Jesus to be beaten and humiliated by Roman centurions while He listened for the cock to crow twice so He could know that Peter had finished denying him. The disciples ran and Jesus died.
Jesus ate his last meal on earth with his 12 best friends in the world…deserters, betrayers, and liars…every last one of them.
And that is why you and I are invited to this table tonight and every month when we celebrate this meal. Because when Jesus shares a meal, He shares it with His very best friends in the world. You and I…all of us…are invited to this specific meal, the very last one that Jesus will have on earth before He dies. And we are here because Jesus invited us…because we are His very best friends in the world…deserters, betrayers, and liars…every last one of us.
We are just like the disciples were. We are just like Judas. We betray Jesus every day. We ask Him to be a savior that fits us for Heaven and heals our illnesses and relieves our woes even as we pray for Him to keep some particular candidate that we don’t like out of the President’s office because we don’t like them. Seriously?! That’s why Jesus died? So we can have good politics? But isn’t that what Judas wanted: a political Jesus? Someone who would come into Israel and set things straight; make the world according to God’s will. That’s all Judas wanted. Admit it, we kind of want that too. And we lean on Jesus when we need Him, we call on Jesus to lead us through the darkest night, but then don’t really like it when Jesus makes claims on our time and on our money and on our spending habits and on the ways that we express ourselves. We want a convenient Jesus was can turn to in times of need, but then when Jesus turns to us because He needs us to pony up and stand with Him in a difficult time, suddenly we go all Peter on Him and deny Jesus again…and again…and again. We see Jesus taking us to that point in His ministry where things get really tough, that moment when we are asked to stand with Him when standing up with Him means that we will lose power and lose face in public. When standing up for Jesus might mean that we have to be the underdog and love our enemy when our enemy is ready to kill us…and at that moment we desert Jesus just like the rest of His disciples. In the end, we find ourselves in that “throwing stones in a glass house” space. We can’t shake our fingers at the disciples because we are just like them. We can’t throw any stones at Judas because we ARE Judas.
And that is exactly why we’re invited to the table today and every time that the Church celebrates Communion, the Holy Eucharist. Because Jesus just wants this last meal on earth with as many of His best friends that He can fit in the room…deserters, betrayers, and liars. We are His best friends in the world, and He wouldn’t have it any other way.
So take some time to celebrate the Last Supper on this night…the night before Jesus gives His life to save your life and mine. Our Savior wants to spend as much time with His best friends as He can possibly have. We owe it to Him, so let’s break this bread and drink this cup in remembrance of Him. Amen.