February 5, 2023
Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church, UCC
I Corinthians 11:23-26
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
The words above were recorded by the Apostle Paul. They were handed down to him either directly by a mystical experience with Christ, or they were handed down to him by the original disciples, whom he came to know and spend time with.
These are the earliest words used to introduce Holy Communion. I’ve always thought that it’s an unusual opening line – “On the night Jesus was betrayed . . .” It could have started, On the night of the Last Supper . . . or “On the night before the Cross . . .
I usually say, “Jesus was sharing a Passover meal with his friends, when during the meal he took bread, gave thanks for it, and broke the bread.” The fact that it was a Passover meal seems more important to that night then the fact that Jesus was betrayed.
Or, it could have at least started, “It was Thursday night of Holy Week, the night before the Cross, and Jesus was gathered in the Upper Room to share the yearly Passover meal with his disciples.” And yet, the original version of these words used by the earliest Christians began, “On the night when Jesus was betrayed . . .” And for 2000 years, that’s been the open line for Holy Communion. Who am I to alter it?
Afterall, Jesus was betrayed on the night of the Last Supper. Judas handed him over to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver. What’s the life of the Messiah worth? 30 pieces?
And what’s worse, he betrayed him with a kiss. That was the sign to the soldiers of who they were to arrest – the one Judas kissed. – that adds to the betrayal doesn’t it?
You can also say that he was betrayed by others that night. Peter, James, and John fell asleep when Jesus asked them to be with him and pray for him. Imagine how Jesus felt when he looked over and found them asleep? “You can’t stay awake with me for one hour?”
Peter denied he’d ever known Jesus – 3 times, 3 betrayals of his dear friend.
You can also make a case that Jesus was betrayed on Good Friday. According to the accounts, only one of his disciples stayed with him on that day. Only John is at the foot of the Cross. Isn’t that some form of betrayal by the others, abandoning him in his hour of agony and despair?
What makes these betrayals all the more profound is that Jesus poured his heart and soul into his disciples. He loved them when they understood what he was all about, and – He loved them when they barely had a clue.
The more we love, the more a betrayal hurts.
On the night of the Last Supper, he even washed the feet of his disciples, including Judas. And then he gave each and every one of them holy communion, including Judas.
The more we pour ourselves into a relationship, the deeper the wound of betrayal is.
Maybe that’s why Paul started out with this: “On the night in which Jesus was betrayed.” He’s contrasting the imperfect love of the disciples with the perfect love of Christ.
Illustration. One of the churches I served had something unusual at the top of their steeple. This church had a rooster at the top. There was also a wrought-iron railing at the front door, with a rooster on both railings, formed out of the iron. The church was built on 1747, so I contacted the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston and asked them if they’d ever seen this before, and if so, what did it mean. They said it was occasionally done, and it was to be a reminder to not deny Christ out in the world. After Peter denied he ever knew Jesus for the 3rd time, what happened next? – A rooster crowed. The rooster was a reminder not to deny Christ when you leave the safe confines of the church.
Perhaps the mention of betrayal in the communion litany is the same kind of warning and reminder? “Don’t betray your calling once the service is over. Don’t betray Christ.”
But I think it’s more than that.
Betrayal is part of the human experience. If I asked for a show of hands of how many of you have never been betrayed in some way or another? I’ll bet there’d be very few or no hands in the air. Sooner or later we all experience betrayal.
- It may be as simple as someone we thought was a friend, some we thought liked us, and then we find out they’ve been talking behind our backs and putting us down. “I thought we were friends.”
2. Breaking a confidence seems to me a form of betrayal. You trust someone with something personal and private and they break that trust and share the information with others.
Illustration. This happened to me years ago with a pastor friend. I saw a week or so before Thanksgiving, and I shared with him that my former wife and I were having our struggles, and we’d been to three different marriage counselors, each for more than 10 times, and it wasn’t helping. I happened to see him the week after Thanksgiving, and during our conversation he said to me, “You know my mother in law said you’re probably over-counseled.” I realized that at some point during the Thanksgiving family gathering we had been the topic of conversation around the dinner table. It felt like my personal information had been used for their entertainment. It felt like a betrayal, and it especially surprised me, coming from a pastor who’s trained to keep confidences. It’s part of our ordination vows!
3. Affairs are probably the most painful types of betrayals. I’ve heard people say it felt like they were punched in the gut when they found out.
Illustration. I knew a guy who was big, strong, fit, and more than a little confident. Some folks might have even called him arrogant. He had a job where he had to promote himself, so to speak, and he was very good at it. When he found out that his wife had been having an affair he immediately fell to the ground on all four’s. When I saw him a few days after that, his whole countenance was changed. I barely recognized him. His world had been shattered by a betrayal.
Betrayals give us something in common with Jesus, don’t they? “On the night Jesus was betrayed . . .” He ended up on all four’s, as he was beaten by the guards. The Apostle Paul said that sometimes we share in the sufferings of Christ – “the fellowship of his suffering.” This means that we can know Christ on the highest mountaintops and in the deepest valleys. The sense of aloneness and isolation that the betrayal creates can be turned into closeness and intimacy with Christ, who was himself betrayed. Jesus “walks this lonesome valley” as the hymn says.
I’ve thought about preaching this sermon for years, as I’ve pondered the question, “Why does the oldest version of the communion litany begin with these words, “On the night that Jesus was betrayed . . .”
Was it the disciples’ guilt over the ways they betrayed him?
Was it the disciples shock that one of their own, Judas, would hand Jesus over to his death?
I still don’t know the answer.
But I do know this – that phrase is one of the most ironic phrases in all the Bible.
“On the night Jesus was betrayed . . .” What’s ironic about that?
The One who was betrayed will never betray you.
The One Peter denied will never deny you before Heaven.
- Jesus is called our Advocate before the Father. He pleads our case for mercy. He is our Peace with God.
The One they turned their backs on will never turn his back on you.
The One they abandoned, will never abandon you.
And Jesus gave us this very meal of Holy Communion, so we’d never forget that.
Think about it.