Compline 8 April 2020
Preacher: Fiona Barnard, Honorary International Chaplain
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
Thanks be to God.
I wonder if you like putting photos of your dinner plate on facebook. I never do, because my culinary repertoire is extremely limited and mostly unrecognisable as food. However, what I do like to capture, are pictures of people around the dinner table. Birthday meals, wedding meals, anniversary meals and just meals, meals with family and friends and the unsuspecting who just happened to say “yes” when I invited them. Because meals are so much more than calories and fuel. So much more than the delightful interaction of salt and sweet, bitter and sour, smooth and soft, crunchy and chewy.
Jesus tells his friends he has eagerly desired to eat this meal with them. I wonder why. It cannot simply be because he is very hungry and tired, though he undoubtedly is. Or because he is partial to unleavened bread and bitter herbs and wine, though he may be. It is not just because this Passover meal retells God’s salvation, when his people were rescued from slavery in Egypt all those years ago – though the significance of that story must nourish Him as he contemplates the rescue he will accomplish through his death. Jesus has longed for this meal not only because it is a foretaste of God’s kingdom when the poor and the vulnerable, the outcast and the outsider will eat to their hearts’ content, a banquet long prophesied in the Old Testament – though that too must give him great hope as he glimpses the goal of his work beyond the immanent suffering.
I think Jesus has longed for this meal because it is with his friends. He loves them. He has journeyed with them for years. They are his natural choice of guests for this most special of festival meals. As he faces death, they are the ones he wants to be with. They are his community. And you enjoy community with food. Food and togetherness. Food and chat. Food and stories. Food and laughter. As he chews the succulent meat, as he winces at the bitter herbs, as he enjoys the wine, he looks around the table at his friends. Grateful. Grateful for the times they have spent together. Grateful for the unique relationship with each one. Grateful for every personality. Grateful for this one last time as he faces the loneliness of death.
Near him is one to whom he is especially close. And then there is Peter, often the group’s spokesperson, quick-tempered, stumbling, whole-hearted. And all the others. Such a motley crew, transformed through those years together into a community. Even Judas, the group treasurer. Who would suspect anything awry with him? Yet at the very heart of this friendship circle he is a traitor. At the very moment of intimacy and celebration, he will reject Jesus’ last silent appeal to change his mind. He will leave the party. He will go out into the night. But not before Jesus has passed him bread, dipped in a common bowl, a gesture reserved for the most honoured of guests, the most treasured of friends.
During these days of social distancing and self-isolation, talk of shared meals is painful. I received this picture earlier, which seemed to sum it up for me. You may be getting your food on a plate placed outside your door in Agnes Blackadder or DRA. You may be alone in your house, missing dreadfully the company of family and friends. You may be struggling as you contemplate this holy week and Easter detached from the traditions and ritual which have fed your soul. You may be feeling the limits of technology and even zoom. But look at this picture: the friends of Jesus may be scattered. But the food is still there. The food that looks back in thanksgiving to a God who creates and saves. The food that looks forward to the banquet to end all banquets when God’s kingdom comes in all its fullness. The food that nourishes us when we are tired and hungry.
And Jesus is still there: the writer to the Hebrews says this: “But we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” This week, wherever you are, however you feel: look at this Jesus. He tasted death for you.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.